Archive for the ‘fathers’ Category

Over the next three years, my father was sent to specialist after specialist.  We lived in San Jose, less than an hour from San Francisco.  He had to go to UC San Francisco Medical Center for a series of treatments.  The visits to the clinic took all day.  He couldn’t go alone so we took turns going with him and mostly, waiting in the car all day.  There were hearings and visits to psychologists, physical therapists, surgeons, and lawyers.  My dad was never able to return to work and it was finally agreed, by the experts, that he was permanently disabled.  The State Rehabilitation Department decided that they could not retrain him to do any kind of work so at the age of 37, he was declared disabled.

Battling the Social Security Department was another long trip which took many years.  If memory serves, by the time his Social Security benefits kicked in, I was in college and it was around 1975.

Our family life changed drastically.  There were still six of us kids living at home, four of us completely dependent on my father.  My mother had never worked outside the home and having dropped out of school in seventh grade, had no marketable skills. My older brothers contributed everything they could from their part time, minimum wage jobs.  My oldest brother dropped out of college after the first semester so he could work full time.

My parents have both always been very proud; too proud to go on Welfare or any kind of state aid.  He did finally give in to accepting food stamps and medi-cal benefits to keep us fed and to get medicine for my sister who had developed medical problems.  There was no cash income as his Social Security benefits had not yet kicked in and the small amount he got for state disability was not much help.  My sisters and I did what we could, babysitting in the neighborhood, so we could buy our own clothes and shoes and what we might need at school.  Even so, we couldn’t afford a lot.  We went without.

It was very difficult to see what the whole situation did to my father.  He started drinking even more heavily than he had before the accident and he began to mix his liquor with his prescription pain killers.  He felt ashamed of not being able to provide for his family.

These were also very interesting times and in a way, very inspirational.  Because we had no income, my Dad had to resort to his hidden talents.  The most productive of these being his ability to talk people into almost anything he wanted to talk them into or out of.  This manifest itself primarily in my dad making a living by buying something very cheaply then turning around and selling it at a substantial profit.  We never knew what my father would find to make us money by browsing the “magic mini ads” which were free two line ads in the local newspaper.

Once, my dad bought a portable bar which held and tapped a keg of beer.  He kept it for one week before he sold it at 100% profit.  With the profit, he bought himself another portable bar which he kept for himself and a portable sauna.  The sauna was traded the following day.  The trade yielded a talking parrot and a 25 gallon aquarium, complete with exotic fish.  He sold the parrot and traded the aquarium.  The deals yielded him in excess of 150% profit plus a yellow headed parrot.

This parrot was very young and did not yet talk.  My three sisters and I took care of that very soon.  We placed the cage on the counter next to the telephone and within a couple of weeks, he was talking.  We had taught him to say “hello,”  “how are you,” and his name, “Loco.”  He used to go crazy saying “poco loco coco” over and over and over again.  Although he was the family pet, I grew very close to him and all these years later, I wish I still had my Loco.  I cried when we had to sell him a year later.  We needed the money.

Another time, my dad surprised us by coming home with a huge metal cage which held a very large and heavily sedated monkey.  The monkey’s name was Jimmy and he was a Macaque (pronounced MaKayk).  Jimmy was so close to being human that it was frightening.  He acted like a baby when he wanted to get his way.  If it didn’t work, he’d throw a tantrum, like a two year old.  He would grab a hold of his cage and shake it from side to side, almost knocking it over.  Those times were pretty scary.  What would happen if he escaped from the cage during one of his tantrums?

Jimmy was capable of escaping from the cage.  He proved this to us on a number of occasions.  Once, my oldest brother, Carlos, was in the living room washing windows.  He looked up in time to see Jimmy on the outside of the window, mocking him, then Jimmy waved at him and ran off.  Carlos was speechless but managed to compose himself quick enough to run down the street after Jimmy!

Jimmy began to have more and more violent tantrums, especially when my sister’s boyfriend came to visit.  He was very jealous.  My parents had to sedate him.  They would crush one of my father’s valium pills and put it in Jimmy’s food.  This only worked the first time.  After that, Jimmy would carefully dissect all food given to him and wipe off anything that looked like pulverized medicine!

Eventually, my parents felt it was time to get rid of Jimmy because of his violent fits.  They sold him to a man who lived on a large ranch and promised to build a 9′ x 12′ cage for Jimmy so he’d have a place to move and be free. When Jimmy left, it was clear that he was crying right along with the rest of us.

Once Jimmy was out of the house, it was time for more deals.

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When my counselor called me in to tell me about tryouts for the Junior Miss Pageant. I considered it for just a few minutes, before putting it out of my mind. But, my sister knew. She was in the first year Journalism class which met at the same time and in the same room as the fourth year Journalism and Newspaper staff that I was in and she knew I had been called to the office for the pageant information. That night my mother asked me about the pageant because my sister had told her. I told her if I wanted to do it, there was an application to fill out and then I would have to show up at a meeting for information and an interview the following Saturday. She surprised me when she said I could go. I had not even thought of filling out the application. So when she said I could, I filled out the application and my mom signed it.

After making it through three rounds of pre-selection, I was officially one of twenty contestants for the pageant and I started to dream. The following month was filled with rehearsals, public appearances, including the Thanksgiving parade through the streets of downtown San Jose. I was also working part time at Sears, after school and some weekends. Luckily, I had committed to the pageant before committing to Sears so when they hired me, I told them up front that I was in the pageant and would need to work around pageant rehearsals. They agreed. My month was very hectic. It was a happy hectic. (more…)

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I saw my father cry and inside I cried too. She was being mean and I didn’t recognize her like that.

My father didn’t live with us anymore. He lived on the other side of town with a woman and her three children. He didn’t come around much. I was still in college four hundred miles away so I rarely got to see him. I knew what he had done to my mother, how it had torn her apart, crushed her. But I thought she was okay now. It had been years. They had attempted to reconcile several times. He would eventually leave and stay away for months. But he sometimes came and visited with my mother and they would drink and laugh and talk then he’d leave again. So I thought she was okay. (more…)

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I sometimes feel bad about not being in touch with my father.  He lives hundreds of miles from me.  His phone number changes often and he never notifies me.  Years go by with no contact, only wondering how he is and what he is up to.  I sometimes long to be in touch with him.  It hurts to not have him in my life.  Then I begin to think and the memories come flooding back and the need to stay in touch with him subsides.

I try to bring good memories into my mind but I struggle with it.  I remember how he got drunk on my birthday EVERY year.  He got drunk a lot but it hurt me that he did it on my birthday and ruined the specialness of it for me and everyone else.  My birthday is on Christmas day.  Year after year, he’d be drunk by noon.  One year he almost drowned in the tub when he passed out while going to the bathroom and fell into the tub where my mother had just given my sister her bath.  Had it not been for the fact that we were all sitting outside the bathroom, at the kitchen table, ready to have Christmas lunch, he would have drowned.  My brothers, each under ten years of age, had to go in and help my mother pull him out of the tub and get him to bed.

I remember him humiliating us in front of our friends.  He was nice and funny and interesting when he was sober but he’d drink when our friends were visiting and he’d get drunk.  I remember the one time I was allowed to go out on a date and when the boy picked me up, he said something about him being a telephone pole.  My date was over six feet tall.  My family is all short.  My dad is five feet five inches tall.  I never wanted to bring anyone home again.  And I didn’t.  That meant I couldn’t go out because the rule was that if I didn’t bring someone home to meet my parents, I couldn’t go out with them so I didn’t date.

The night that I was a contestant in the Junior Miss Pageant, he drove, drunk, to the event, making me late.  Then he said I looked like a whore all dressed up and with makeup on.  I got out of the car in tears and he drove away while I still had the door open, almost running me down.

I remember how, instead of being proud of me for winning a full academic scholarship to one of the most prestigious private universities in the country, he fought me and disowned me for going away to school (I went all of 20 miles from home).  I remember how he refused to be a part of my life at college.  He never set foot inside my dorm.  He never agreed to meet any of my college friends. 

I’m trying to remember something positive.  I loved my father when I was a little girl.  I rarely saw him because he worked many hours.  He drove a forklift at one of the canneries in town and so during the canning season, which was a long one, we rarely saw him.  He’d leave home before 8 AM and not return until after 10 PM.  He worked seven days a week from April until late November.  His work was nearby so in the summertime, he would sometimes come home for dinner long enough to barbecue for us then he’d have to rush back to work.  He was a wonderful provider.  We didn’t have a lot but he gave us everything he could.  I won’t deny that.  I knew it then and I know it now.  I admired him for that. He tried to give us what he had not had as a child.  He hadn’t had much.  He had no father.  He had no education.  He had no family.  He had very little but the drive to go on and survive.

When my father turned 37, he had an accident at the cannery and was never able to work again.  He still had six of his seven kids at home, although my brothers were in their late teens and working.  He spent years seeing doctors, trying to get his back in shape to return to work.  He spent years seeing lawyers and workers compensation people, but was not able to return to work or provide for us in the way he wanted to.  This led to more drinking and more fighting between him and my mother.  Eventually, my father abandoned us and my mother.  I was in high school when he moved out and moved hundreds of miles away.

The last time I spoke to my father, it was on Christmas Eve of 2004.  He called to wish me a happy birthday and kept me on the phone for over an hour.  I enjoyed the first part of the conversation and I began to feel that maybe now we could have a relationship and my kids could get to know him.  Then he blew it.  He began to criticize me again.  He ended the conversation by telling me about how he and my oldest and only remaining brother no longer speak because of me.  He told me the reasoning behind that and blamed me for something I didn’t even know about; something I had nothing to do with except that I was the topic of a drunken conversation between my father and brother.  He blamed me.  Then it went downhill from there, as the booze he had been drinking during the early part of our conversation took over. He became belligerent and I ended up making an excuse to hang up.  I hung up and cried for a long time, realizing that I would never have the relationship with my father, that I had always wanted.

Last night, on Father’s Day Eve, I had a dream about my father.  I dreamt that I had gone to visit him.  I remember being happy and excited about seeing him.  He answered the door and began to berate me for gaining weight and for not dying my hair to cover the gray.  He criticized me because I looked old.  In the dream I began to cry, silently.  I woke up, my faced soaked in tears.

I still love my father. I still hope he has a wonderful day today. But I now know that the father I remember as being loving and funny, is gone forever. Except in the positive memories I choose to run through my mind.

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