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.