It's been 20 years since that cold day in 1993 and I still haven't forgotten how I felt. I was 18 years old, in the middle of my freshman year of college at my father's alma mater. My father and mother had helped me move into my dorm merely five months earlier. I had just spent winter break with my parents and four siblings, laughing as my brother and father danced hilariously together on Christmas day.
Of all the sadness I've felt for losing my father at a young age, I have two great sorrows. The first is that I didn't get to know him as an adult. I was living away from home for the first time when he passed, and I wish I had had more time to be away so that I could return to him as my own person, not just his child. I like to think I would have begun to understand him better and that he would have started to see me in a new light as well, no longer as only his youngest daughter.
The second sorrow is that he did not get to know my children. In my mind's eye, I see him taking Monkey and Munchkin and tossing them into the sky, laughing loudly as they giggle. I see him kicking the soccer ball around in his black shiny shoes and letting them win. I hear him correcting my children's Spanish, just as he corrected mine.
When I look at Monkey, I see so much of my father in him that it's eerie. It amazes me that someone of such mixed heritage could be born with so many traits of the one person he'll never meet. After all, he knows Daadi and Daada--his dad's parents--and he knows my mother, Abuelita, but he can only look at pictures of Abuelito.
In the past year, as Monkey's comprehension has grown, I've talked about my father. Monkey will often ask where is Abuelito so I tell him the same story my mother told me when I was growing up. My mother said that our deceased loved ones were con los angelitos--with the angels--watching over us, as, I told Monkey, is Abuelito. In Spanish the words for sky and heaven are one and the same, cielo. Despite my Catholic upbringing, I like that the word cielo leaves a certain ambiguity and is not weighed down with other people's definitions of heaven. The other day, Monkey was making a flying motion and when I asked what he was doing, he said his hand was Abuelito, flying over us with the angelitos. I like that, at the age of three, Monkey can have a concrete image of an abstract concept.
As my father's birthday approaches, I imagine him watching over us. I wonder what he thinks of my siblings' accomplishments, their spouses and children. I think he watches most closely over my mother, the love of his life. I'm sure he is laughing and dancing, wherever he is. When my father died, his two kind and brilliant friends, Jack and Charlie, eulogized him. Most of my friends I have in my life now never met my father, so in his honor, I leave you with the first paragraph of Charlie's eulogy. With it, you get the essence of the father I knew and the man I wish I'd known better.
A little bit like a tailor, I have the honor of cutting out a farewell suit to clothe the memory of my dear, dear friend Alberto. But how do we take the measure of Alberto, a man whose memory acts like a child rich with life: it won't sit still, it's a blur of energy, appetites, enthusiasm, talents and--always--the agitated pulling of love and affection. What's more, the only cloth I have right now to try to make the suit is my own feelings and words of pain, loss and sadness. And like a child rich with life, his memory won't wear that kind of cloth.
Charlie was right, my father's memory couldn't be clothed in pain and sadness. Instead, he is joyful and boisterous and, according to Monkey, flying right above us.