And a Cuban dad- no offense to anyone else but…. He didn’t change a diaper, wash a dish, or clean any surface in the house until he was fifty. Up until he died, he would infuriate me by pushing his dinner dish in front of me when he was finished- on the assumption that it was my duty to take care of it. He was never handy. Things broke around him and stayed that way. But as a Dad, he was amazing.
I was cursed and blessed that he worked overnight at a textile mill when I was very young. He slept most of the day and wouldn’t let me stay outside with my friends, the rubiecitas, despite their mother’s entreaties and promises to watch over me. Even in those days of innocence, he was terrified something would happen to me.
Instead after lunch, he would wake up and take me along with him in his travels. We might stop at the hardware store (for what I don’t know) or at Dave’s Deli, or about once a week at the comic book store. It was a very dark, dingy candy store in an old Victorian tenement. The comics lined all the walls all the way up to the thirteen foot ceiling, so the owner would stand me on top of the Coke case. He always made a pit stop at the Cuban restaurant that had opened on the corner. Sometimes he made an exception and left me with my friends; others I tagged along. Whatever else, Dad would always order a cafecito. Then he would pour some for Macho in the saucer. It was like a mysterious ritual, known only to Cubans.
He took me all sorts of places- theme parks, beaches, Yankee Stadium, even Miami. Once after a prolonged campaign, I got him to take the subway into Manhattan to see the dinosaurs at the Museum of Natural History. He was ridiculous when it came to school. A stellar report card would result in a speech. Why wasn’t it a hundred? Didn’t he get me everything I wanted? And what was the only thing he asked of me? It was tough, because there was nothing I asked for that I didn’t get.
He was already dying when he would come early on a Saturday morning to take his beloved granddaughter to practices of The Nutcracker because her working mother had refused, when he would pick her up after school and make her BLT’s, when he took us to get a Christmas tree the first holiday after my marriage broke up, and my daughter and I were like refugees from some godforsaken country: broke, alone, disconsolate.
When he did die, I remember thinking, all common sense flown: “Who’s gonna make me homemade hot chocolate when I come in from playing in the snow?” No one was ever again going to have the irritating habit of pushing my hair behind my ears and asking my mother, “Isn’t she beautiful, Rosa?” I would never again feel safe quite the way I had all those years with him behind me.
So Fathers’ Days are sad for me. I find comfort, though, when I see my brother with his daughters- the same tenderness, indulgence, protectiveness. And then I think to myself, “He’s really not dead.” Fathers, too, touch the future.