I’ve been struggling with whether or not to keep writing here. Its not like I am a reporter, i don’t break stories, and while I do my best to adhere to a set of blogging ethics, I’m not a trained journalist or observer. I have opinions, though many are not necessarily set in stone, but i think most of us who have done this for awhile have figured out that despite our best intentions and efforts, it is nearly impossible to resolve conflict or even engage in healthy debate in this format. So, i end up commenting on the events of the day. (Or week, as i frequently find myself well behind everyone else) Anyway, I decided that for now, I’ll continue to post about whatever is on my mind, but that I want to write about things i want my children to know, at least from time to time. I thought about password protecting these as “private”, but I decided to give those that wandered by here a chance to read or not, and comment, or not. My experience with the internet has taught me to use nicknames anyway, so its not likely anyone not familiar would really care enough to uncover an identity. So, I’m keen to get started...
My father was not a happy person. Sure, he had his moments, and the rest of the family never really knew how to deal with him when he was uncharacteristically joyful. He was explosive, violent, moody and reclusive. Until he returned from WWII, he had little education. His father died when he was young, probably from a combination of hard work and alcohol consumption. Not much is known about my father’s youth, the few stories passed down (almost always from his brother) portrayed him as a serious young man, prone to brooding and violence. I’m pretty sure that he never knew how to show his love except by providing, which he did well. He was detached, yet controlling.
Almost all of my memories of my dad at home are of him sitting in his chair, reading. He read everything. He spent so much time in the local library that, when he passed, the library dedicated an entire bookcase to my father’s memory.
I have spent much of my adult life wondering what it is that drove him . It was, I’m sure, a source of great pride that he went to college after the war(The G.I. Bill was and is a beautiful thing) and earned a degree in accounting. My mother was industrious, and between them they managed to move their family away from the barrios of East Los Angeles into a mostly white suburb 20 minutes from downtown L.A. We were the first Mexicans on the block. Our neighbors on one side were an older couple from Alabama. I don’t remember how they initially greeted us, but they were always nice to me. Spring nights would find me sitting with Frank in his carport, while he smoked cigarettes and listened to Dodger games. His wife, Ruby, would cook toast in their oven and it was remarkably tasty. After they died, my father bought their house and we were suddenly introduced to a Polish family from Bayonne, N.J., who rented it and became life-long friends. Our neighbors on the other side pretty much hated us from day one, and I only mention them because I took great pleasure tormenting them as a teenager.
My siblings are a good bit older than me, so their memories of both our father and our place on that street may differ from mine. I offer that disclaimer because, looking back, i realize how many different ethnic groups were represented in that neighborhood. The thing is, i had to look back to realize it. I had to look back to see that many of the things that bruised me as a kid were related to our ethnicity. I’d meet a kid at school, we would agree to meet and play after and often, when i showed up, the other kid would mumble something about not being allowed to play with me and ease back into his house. It was the same with girls as I got older. I swear to God, it never occurred to me that it was due to my skin color. I would be hurt and confused by the sudden change in behavior of my friends, but no one ever told me that we were different.
This may have been compounded by the fact that my father was a political activist, and, believe it or not, a successful politician. I remember the countless fundraisers. I remember going door to door in surrounding neighborhoods with my father while he talked to people on their front porches. I remember watching him and his friends build rickety floats to tow behind their cars. I’m pretty sure people didn’t like my dad, but they respected him, and equally important, they listened to him. My father kept an office in Los Angeles where he’d prepare tax returns for his clients. Sometimes, he would take me along while he visited various merchants he did business with; a Jewish deli where I fell in love with kosher meat, a Mexican gas-station owner that used to bum cigarettes from my dad just to try and tweak his nipple when my dad removed his pack from his breast pocket. Every business we went to was unique. Strange sights and smells, but i always felt at home, in fact, most of the merchants fawned over me to excess, and hell, who could blame them? My dad kept their books and did their taxes.
At work or on the stump, my father was affable, engaging, persuasive. Once home, though, he seemed to disappear into himself, and he seemed to slowly work into a rage about the state of our country, our city, our street, and even our house. This trait, along with his hairline, i seemed to have acquired from him. Thankfully, I didn’t acquire his habit of hitting the people he loved. I want my children to know that even though I took more than a few closed fist punches from my dad, I just can’t hold it against him. His life experience isn’t mine, and while I’m sure he scarred all of us with his outbursts of violence, I never for a split second doubted his love for me. I have an older brother who may not feel likewise, and I don’t judge him for it, as his experience was not mine. Ditto for my older sisters.
Though we never had this conversation, I’m sure my dad was a Liberal. I really do not recall if he was homophobic, if he was, it wasn’t based on any religious tenants, as he had zero use for religion, but, rather, probably just a knee-jerk reaction to something that was considered taboo by most in his circle. My dad lived the blue-collar dream, he wasn’t wealthy, but he was practical about money and invested in real estate, and retired comfortably. He was steadfast in his belief that the working man should get a fair shake. He loved the small business owner, back in the day when the term actually meant something. (I think the label applies now to a business that employs up to 300, IIRC.) He wanted Govt to work, and to be accountable, but believed that you got the Government you paid for. He served in the Army. He spent time in the CCC camps and learned valuable skills there, in fact, his time there was a source of pride for him. He knew poverty, and he knew that education was a way out, a way out that should be available to all that sought it.
I’ve tried my best not stray too far from telling a little about dad, and, in my typically clumsy manner, i have tried to introduce and interweave a little about being Mexicano, what that means now, to me and my children, versus what it meant then, to him, and to my mother and older siblings. I’ll have more to say about that in future posts, provided i can keep this up…transparency does not come easy to me. Its 2 fuckin 15 in the morning, and here i sit, hunched over my laptop, spilling my guts in permanent little electronic bytes. My kids better appreciate this when they are my age. My greatest fear is that they may well face some of the challenges that their grandparents were forced to confront, and that I am not adequately preparing them for that possibility, even as it appears imminent. Part of me thinks they are well served to know a little about the people they come from, even if we are pretty darned flawed…
Damn, I’ve got to be up in two hours, and the day ahead is filled with chores.