I hadn't spoken to, or seen my father in fifteen years but when I got the call from my sister that he was on death's door, it almost felt as if time hadn't passed and we were still father and son.
He was a bigger than life kind of man he had great passion and big dreams, but he also had a childhood filled with abuse and neglect that haunted him. Being the gregarious person he was, my father would give his shirt off his back to anyone who needed it, but he could also be calculating and down right malicious when feeling threatened. As a boy growing up in the mean streets of Mexico, he quickly learned to survive at all costs. It was this code that ultimately won out, leading him away from his own children for the rest of his days. Papa was a very complex man.
My father loved reading and discussing politics, culture, and history; bestowing upon us an immense respect for learning. Many of my core views, I can honestly say, were developed through those conversations. But he also raised us with an iron fist and he wouldn't hesitate imparting some lessons through sheer brutality.
I remember one afternoon (I was maybe eleven-twelve years old at the time) I had regrettably raised my voice to my mother. Mama was the sweetest woman in the world and she usually handled the disciplinary actions herself, knowing that my father would not take the news of our misbehaviors very well. It was only under severe circumstances that she would involve him. Unfortunately, this case was one of them. After I smarted off to mama she looked me straight in the eye and simply said, "Just wait until your father gets home." I knew immediately that I was in big trouble. I soon found myself looking out our front window every few minutes in search of my father's blue Buick. I then came up with a plan, upon seeing him pull up I'd sneak out the back and run away.
I timed it perfectly he walked in and I snuck out. I didn't know where to go so I hung out with some friends at the park. An hour into my foray my younger brother Cesar strolled up. Papa had sent him to get me. Cesar looked serious when he said, "Papi wants you home now." So without even saying good-bye to my buddies I solemnly walked home to meet my fate.
No one said a word when I walked into the kitchen. My father slowly got up from the table and calmly asked me why I had spoken to my mother that way. I didn't have an answer. Then suddenly in a fit of rage he peeled off his belt and with all of his strength gave me three whacks on my buttocks. As I felt that leather against my back over and over, I could hear him yelling from the top of his lungs, "Don't you ever talk to your mother that way again!" My little brother and sisters were in tears and my mother had quietly walked away into the living room; not wanting to see her son take the beating of a lifetime. When it was all over I couldn't sit for a week and I never again raised my voice to mama. My father was old world and he believed in unconditional respect for one's parents, and he was willing to instill this in his children by any means necessary. In today's society this may seem barbaric. Those times were different.
Papa also showed us love and affection. And he taught us to stand up for ourselves and to never back down from our beliefs. So even though we were estranged at the end I am nonetheless forever grateful for the good things that he did teach us.
My father was a pretty good sized man he stood 6'0 and weighed 200lbs. When I saw him lying in the ICU weak and dying I was overwhelmed with anger. I was angry that cancer was killing him at the age of 72. He was one of those people you would have thought would live until ninety, like his father before him. Things probably wouldn't have changed much between us had he lived another eighteen years, he was stubborn that way. I would have though liked to have had the chance to find out for sure.
Alejandro Diaz is a writer and filmmaker who simply writes what he feels.