Monthly Archives: October 2011

The older I get, the smarter my dad seems to be

When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years. — Mark Twain

As I crawled out from under the truck after fixing the brakes on my truck, I simply had to repeat what I have repeated a number of times – “thanks Dad.” This happens on a remarkable number of occasions – fixing a leaky faucet, laying ceramic tile in the kitchen, picking out good l umber at Home Depot. This isn’t because he was there to help me, but because he taught me how to do it.

Unfortunately, I can’t say it to his face anymore. My dad has been gone almost 6 years, but every day I do something, or say something, or react to something that reminds me of my dad. You see, I had a father, AND I had a dad. My father was the man involved in my conception, but my dad was the man who raised me.

When my mom and dad first married in 1966, it was quite a difference for my brother and I. My mom raised us as a single mom from the time I was about 2 1/2 and my brother was a newborn. The only male influence we had in our lives was my wonderful grandfather Arturo Rivera, who will be the topic of a later blog. The joke in the family was that my dad dated my brother and I more than he dated my mom, and it wasn’t far from the truth. While my mom worked, my dad took us out to look at cars so we could figure out how to put together the model cars that he had bought us. They got married less than a month after he first came to have dinner with us, and stayed married to my mom for 35 years.

But I digress. I thank my dad because he had the temerity to make my brother and I work around the house on Saturdays while the rest of our friends played. He bought old cars and brought them home, and Art (my brother) and I would help him fix them up. On Saturdays we went and emptied out scrap barrels of metal used in sheet metal shops and sold it at a scrap yard. He found and collected old copper and copper wire which we sold for scrap as well. I can’t tell you the number of times he took us out in the middle of the desert where we made a huge pile of copper wire, poured gasoline on it and set it on fire to melt of the insulation, waited for it to cool, and took it in to sell.

The thing was, my mom and dad did all right for themselves. We were never really poor (at least not after my dad came into the picture). He did not do it because we needed the money. He did it to “teach” my brother and I some important lessons.

The house my mom and dad bought in the Lower Valley in El Paso had a pool in the back yard. It was not working, and it was not practical to fix up.   As a family we decided to fill it in. Guess who filled it in?  Yep, my little brother and I spent a lot of weekends with a sledgehammer knocking down the walls and filling it in.

You know I am sure that these days someone would have turned my dad in to CPS and accused him of child abuse. What my dad was doing was not child abuse — it was his way of showing love to us. These two snotty, ornery kids that came as a package deal with the woman that he absolutely adored could have easily been ignored, mistreated, or worse. But he did what no one could have expected him to do. He loved us as his own.

Sure he was tough on us. Sure there were times I would have liked to just tell him to back off. What he was trying to do, though, was get us ready for our lives in the real world. The world where you have to earn respect, not expect it. Where you have to work for a living, not expect it to be handed to you. Where you help out a neighbor without expecting anything in return.

Did I love what we were doing? NO! Did I appreciate the life lessons we were picking up at the time? HELL NO!

As my dad got older, he called me a lot to ask me to help him with things. At times I wondered why he was asking me to do things that I knew that he could do by himself. With my busy life I have to admit that at times I was probably irritated that he was “needy.” Boy do I miss those “needy” phone calls. My dad was pretty lost after my mom passed away in 2002. What a perfect time it would have been for me to pay him back for all he did.

It’s not like I never thanked him. It’s also not like we did not spend any time together. More than ever I just wish he was around for me to show him how much he taught me.

One last lesson taught and learned by Art and myself. When my dad passed, Art said that my dad had taught him a lot. He mentioned all those things that I talked about, but he said the main thing my dad taught him was how to love.

Notice that I never called him my stepdad, just like he never called us his stepsons. We were his boys. He was proud of his boys. He talked to his friends about his boys.

No, my dad was not perfect, but he taught us almost perfectly what it was to love.
For that I can never thank him enough.

New Choppers

Hair is the first thing. And teeth the second. Hair and teeth. A man got those two things he’s got it all.
James Brown

Oh, well, one out of two isn’t bad.   From the time I can remember I have struggled with my choppers.  As a young teenager the dentist pulled out one of my front teeth to “straighten out” my smile.   It didn’t work.

In my late teens, I dove into a pool, didn’t pull up in time, and drove my front tooth into the bottom of the pool and chipped it off.  My mom took me to a dentist in Juarez, Mexico and he put in a crown.    It only lasted a few short years before it discolored.     After I moved back to El Paso and opened my law practice, I worked out a trade deal with a dentist and traded dental work for legal work.       Boy did he get the short end of the stick.  He put in a great crown that to this day looks absolutely awesome.

Unfortunately, that is the only tooth that has survived years of a constant battle with teeth that chipped, broke, or just rotted away.  No matter how hard I tried to keep up with the flossing and brushing, one by one my teeth kept falling apart.    Little by little, the one thing that everyone said that they liked about me, my smile, went away.  I was just too embarrassed to smile because of the horrible looking teeth that surrounded that one beautiful looking crown.    It even began to affect me at work because I noticed that I would try to keep my mouth from opening too much while I taught.   Lots of mumbling, apparently.

All this time my lovely wife has constantly told me that I did not have to suffer like this.  We constantly would hear commercials about dental clinics that would take care of this for me, but I kept putting it off saying that there were other things I needed to take care of first.  Part of it was fear of the unknown, part of it was not wanting to hear the lecture from the dentist about letting my teeth get to that point.    It’s not like I purposely let my teeth get that way.

The options were not pretty.   I saw my mom and dad struggle with dentures, and I saw how old it made them look when they had their teeth pulled and they waited for their new teeth to come in.   My mom and dad both would seldom wear both sets of teeth because of the pain, discomfort and inconvenience.  I just could not see me doing that.    Dental implants are a solution, but most of them require a full 6 months of healing before they place the final crown.  Taking care of all my teeth would have required several years of work at an enormous cost.   The only other option, I thought, was to let things go as they were.   That really was not an option.  Besides being unwilling to smile, it also affected the way I eat.

Anyway, in October my wife convinced me to go to a presentation from a clinic that specializes in implants.  They will remove all the bad teeth, place implants, and give you some temporary bridges the same day.  Permanent teeth go in 6 months after the implants fully heal.  Not cheap, but well worth the investment.  After a 3D cat scan, I saw exactly how bad my situation was.  Not only were my teeth failing, but I had some serious infections that could have permanently ruined my heart, kidney, liver, etc.  It also explained the constant sinus infections I had that seemed to last all year long.    The extreme fatigue and general feeling of malaise also could be attributed to it.     One good thing – the doctor told me that I was fighting a losing battle with my teeth.  Apparently some people have a genetic disposition to harbor bacteria and infection in their teeth.  I was one of them.

So, on November 9th I go in for my new smile.  It is going to take some adjustments.  For the first 3 months I have to eat nothing but soft foods while my implants heal.  Of course there will be some pain, discomfort and bruising after the surgery, but in the end, I will be able to do what I always have liked to do – SMILE.   It’s worth every penny.

I miss you dear friend

Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for a while and leave footprints on our hearts. And we are  never, ever the same.– Anonymous

Two years ago on October 6th I had to say goodbye to a very special friend.  When I was newly divorced, he was my companion and kept me from being lonely.  When my daughters moved 600 miles away from El Paso to San Antonio, he consoled me.  When I was critically ill, he sat at the foot of my bed for hours making sure I was OK.  He shared the good times with me and endured the tough times.  He helped me raise kids, provided them entertainment, and all the time showed constant unconditional love.  What a friend huh?

But as with all lives, they cannot last forever.  My friend was well over 100 years old when he drew his last breath.  He was almost blind, he was arthritic, and started having seizures.  In his last illness I basically spoon fed him, cleaned him up after his messes, and just held him in my arms to enjoy the last bit of comfort of his presence.   As I stroked his face and watch him draw his last breath, I could not have helped but wonder – Am I doing the right thing?  Should I let the doctors give him whatever medications he needed to keep him going?  Or was that just selfish?  Did he not deserve to die with dignity, and not covered in his own filth?  Can I just let him go like this?    As I drove away from the hospital after his passing I cried big old sobs like I hadn’t in years.  I knew that there would be a longing in my heart that would not be easily filled.  That seemed like the longest drive I can remember.  My wife Molly was at my side as we watched all this unfold, he had been a huge part of her life, and “our life” as well.

I know the quote I listed at the beginning of this blog talks about “some people” and not specifically about a dog.   Anyone that knew Viking thought he was partially human anyway.    He sat on the sofa with his butt on the seat and this front paws on the floor like a human.  He watched TV with the rest of us, not just sitting there enjoying our company but actually watching the screen and barking at the animals.  As a puppy (which for him was the first 7 years of his life) he stole food (goldfish crackers, chicken wings, pistachios and an entire jar of peanut butter) like any other hungry kid or teenager would do.    He could sleep for hours or stay up most of the night when my girls had a sleepover. 

Yep, Viking was a true friend.  He was someone who I could rely on for loving me despite all my faults and human inadequacies.  He didn’t just leave a footprint in my heart, he stomped a big old hole.    I miss you a lot my dear old friend. 

“A friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece  of nature.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson