For Dad

My Grandmother holding my Dad when he was 3-years old.
My Grandmother holding my Dad when he was 3-years old.

Becoming a father has made me a think a lot about my Dad. In my mind’s eye I relived memories of him seen through the eyes of a small child, teenager and newly-minted Dad. He turns 89 tomorrow so I decided to write this post about him.

In his prime Dad was a small energetic man whose childhood was so much different than mine.  Born in 1926 the youngest of five children in El Freijo, a small town in rural Spain.  Since they were able to grow what they ate the family survived.

Dad and his older brothers Manuel and Francisco became carpenters out of necessity.  Building and selling rowboats enabled the family to buy food and other necessities to survive. Through this difficult time my grandmother Mama Maria fed as many hungry children from other families as she could.

In 1936 a Civil War broke out in Spain taking an estimated 500.000 lives, including both brothers, I was named after Francisco.  His father died a few years later, apparently of a broken heart.

Twenty years old with little opportunity or future in post-World War II Europe Dad joined the Merchant Marine. When he left my grandmother told him, go and try find a better life for yourself but remember if things don’t work out you always have a home to come back to.

My Brother Bob and I during our 1970 family vacation in Spain. I'm the little guy on the right.
My Brother Bob and I during our 1970 family vacation in Spain. I’m the little guy on the right.

In 1956, after ten years of travelling the world on merchant ships Dad settled in Camden New Jersey.  I remember the colorful stories of his experiences shared with family sitting around a table usually with a glass of wine or cognac after holiday dinners. It took a few years and some of our own life experiences until my brother Bob and I truly appreciated Dad’s stories of Pre-Castro Havana or arriving in Argentina the day after Juan Peron was overthrown.

Dad moved from Camden to Spanish Harlem, and then to Brooklyn where he married.  After starting a family Mom and Dad moved to Queens.  He built the house I grew up in and where he still lives in 14 months of weekends and vacations.

Working hard to provide for his family, he rarely took a vacation, but when he did he made them count.   We took us to Puerto Rico or Spain for six or eight weeks.  If you asked him he would say his favorite was taking us to Spain in 1970.

I was six-years old so most of my memories consist of my brother and I running through corn fields, feeding chickens, and riding in an oxcart El Carro de las Vacas with my aunts.  I also remember meeting my grandmother, Mama Maria and how much she spoiled us.  He always said bringing his kids to Spain so his mother could get to know them was the best gift he ever gave her.

Dad blowing with his three grandchildren getting ready to blow out a pre-birthday candle.
Dad blowing with his three grandchildren getting ready to blow out a pre-birthday candle.

Dad became a grandpa when my niece Katie was born, he waited 74 years.  Two years later a second granddaughter, Jenny was born.  Bob and I immediately noticed he was different as a grandfather than he was as a father.  This wasn’t our strict old-school father, he was a doting grandpa.  He adored his granddaughters spoiling them like our grandmother spoiled us but one thing was missing—a grandson.

Dad holding Cristian. He was the best gift I could have given him.
Dad holding Cristian. He was the best gift I could have given him.

Collecting thoughts for this post I realized we have more in common than I originally thought.  Besides being engaging storytellers, we are both the youngest child, share a sarcastic sense of humor and posses a stubborn streak.  Don’t believe me ask my Mom or Esther.  We also are the child who moved the family name forward another generation.

Dad doesn’t like receiving gifts, Christmas, Birthday, Father’s Day—his response is always the same.  Why did you have to get me that?  So last year on his birthday, I gave him a gift he could appreciate, I told him, the grandchild we were expecting was a boy.  Words weren’t necessary, the Kool-Aid grin on his face spoke volumes.

That memory is special but it’s no longer my most precious, it was replaced when I placed Cristian in his arms the first time.  Seeing his smiling face I truly understood how special a gift it was.

Share This:
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedin

The Revolving Door

Cristian with his Titi (Aunt) Neiqui
Cristian with his Titi (Aunt) Neiqui

Shortly after Cristian came home we were ready for the next part of the new-parent ritual—people stopping by to see the baby. This time-honored tradition once featured on a Seinfeld episode is required of all new parents.  Of all the experiences from finding out Esther was pregnant through present day, I dreaded this one most—more than hormones or changing my first drippy diaper.

Throughout Esther’s pregnancy, images of guests showing up in large groups taking turns riding my couch while taking selfies using my son as a prop before posting a Facebook update haunted me.  “Who’s next?”  Maybe my protective instinct kicked in a wee bit early. Who me?

After spending a week or so as tag-team parents, hosting guests provided a welcome change of pace.  Here are the highlights.

With niece Katie with her Baby cousin
With niece Katie with her Baby cousin

The Revolving Door-Visits started small—first it was grandparents stopping by to see the baby. Then a few college friends showed up after work.  Soon friends and relatives called for visits like they were making dinner reservations at a fine restaurant. “We have on opening on Thursday at 7:30.  How many will that be?”  Our lobby was like revolving door, I’d be walking two guests out as another group was arriving.  “Don’t forget to stop at the gift shop on the way out.”

Don’t Be Shy When People Ask What Can I Bring-Lamaze class taught me many things, breathing, pain management and that I reminded the instructor of her husband. Apparently he’s sarcastic too.  Finding that out cost me a look from Esther.  What I remember most was not being afraid to ask friends to bring dinner.  We ate well, home-cooked meals, Chinese, Filipino and Japanese food and lots of empanadas. Just a head’s up if you’re bringing Chinese food, I like the spicy mustard.

The Baby Whisperer-Every family has at least one.  The aunt or family friend found at family gatherings with a baby in her lap. Whether the baby is her grandchild or the neighbor’s child is irrelevant, the experience imparted from these Baby Yodas is priceless. “A diaper change he shall need.”  Need someone to give you a breather or keep your baby awake for extra hour call the Baby Whisperer.

Does this dress look like Esther or me?
Does this dress look like Esther or me?

He Looks Like-From his first sonogram our loved one started playing the Who Does He Look Like Game, five months later, the game’s still on.  I’ve heard he looks like Esther with Frank’s skin color or his hair is the color Frank’s used to be to the distant aunt who sees my dad or her cousin etc. It’s kind of like “What Color is this Dress.”  To date my favorite has been the friend with no relation to either of us insisting he looks like her when he smiles.

Share This:
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedin

Tag Team Parents

1Our first days as parents are a blur.  In the hospital we had a non-stop parade of nurses, family and friends. Everyone was greeted the same way—with bloodshot eyes and a goofy grin.   The first night we had the option of keeping him our room or putting him in the nursery overnight so we could sleep.  It was a no brainer—he stayed with us.   It was our baby boot camp.

We got a lot of advice those first days, one piece stayed with me, a phone call with my cousin Leslie.  After congratulating me she said, “You just experienced the best day of your life, enjoy it.  Your first night at home with the baby will be your worst. “

The training wheels came off when Cristian came home.   Tired and with no system in place that first night was rough.  Camping out in the living room, because our bedroom was too cold, rushing out for formula after Baby’s R Us and Buy Buy Baby closed (Cristian had not gotten the hang of breast feeding yet), not sleeping as we changed and fed our crying baby.  Walking him around at 3am Chico gave me a look that said “Can you keep him quiet—I’m trying to sleep here.”

Esther prepping Cristian to come home
Esther prepping Cristian to come home

Walking Chico the next morning, I checked with the neighbors as they headed off to work, making sure we were the only ones Cristian kept awake.  They assured me of it, but staggering along like a punch-drunk boxer with a coffee cup in one hand and a dog leash in the other made me wonder if they were just being polite.

Cristian napping upon coming home from the hospital
Cristian napping upon coming home from the hospital

early Cristian (2)That next morning Esther and I became tag-team parents taking turns napping while the other watched the baby.  “You sleep, I got this one.”  One changed him while the other kept family members updated.  “Mom remember how Dad said, he wanted to take the baby home with him? You can pick him up anytime.”

For me it was on the job training. We spent time watching the baby in his Moses basket and Jeopardy on TV, “Diaper Change for 200 Alex”.  Patterns developed.  “He’s due for a feeding, or time for a diaper change.”

I quickly learned diaper changes required undivided attention—you could get peed on or worse could be cleaning the carpet afterwards because you took the diaper off too soon.  The first week seemed like a juror being sequestered during a high-profile trial but the perks were pretty good too.  My crankiness and sleep deprivation was rough, but they were forgotten every time Cristian flashed me a smile.

Share This:
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedin

It’s Showtime – Part 2

machines 2In the hospital we watched Jimmy Fallon as Esther lay in bed hooked to machines and an IV Drip I knew we were in for a long night.  Sitting in a cushy recliner next to her bed listening to my son’s heartbeat all we can do is wait.  After 41 weeks, Baby Priegue is ready to arrive, but like his parents he’s being stubborn.

Leaving the doctor’s office, we stopped for Esther’s “Last Meal.”  We went home to walk and feed Chico, and called friends and family letting them, it was go time.

Let me hit the highlights so this post isn’t too long, of course I still can’t promise it won’t be really long.

SInce you're up could you go to Dunkin Donuts and get me a cup of coffee?
SInce you’re up could you go to Dunkin Donuts and get me a cup of coffee?

Facebook Posts Instead of Phone Calls-Knowing this was going deep into the night or into the next morning we kept friends and family updated via an ongoing Facebook posts.  Apparently we weren’t the only ones who had a sleepless night.  Several friends woke up hourly checking for updates.

No All-Night Maternal Slumber Party-Anticipating what awaited us; I pushed the recliner back at around 3am to get a few hours’ sleep.  It didn’t sit well with my better half.  Esther expected the type of all-night maternal slumber party she had when her sister gave birth to her son.

Let me give you a little family history.  My sister-in-law Rose Marie, or Neiqui, her family nickname, was in labor for over 20 hours.  It’s become something of an urban legend (tell me about the doctor using the Jaws of Life again) and Esther was with her kid sister every step of the way.   

Esther and I before she went into the O.R.
Esther and I before she went into the O.R.

“When Neiqui had Justin, I stayed awake the entire night,” She mentioned with a very disappointed look.  “I’m happy for you,” was my tired reply, “but the doctor said he won’t be here until 8 am, we have a long day ahead of us.”  I went to sleep wondering if I’d wake up to an irate wife smothering me with a pillow.

A Moment of Calm-Upon waking up the nurses told me Induction wasn’t working—we were probably having a C-Section.  Hungry and a little anxious, I stepped out for a quick breakfast sandwich and coffee (yeah coffee will help those nerves Frank).

Looking at the newborns when I returned to maternity wing gave me a sense of calm.  Tuning around, I saw Steven, Esther’s doctor watching me.  I don’t remember what he said but it removed any remaining anxiety.  I guess his services extend to expectant fathers too.

In our room Esther napped as induction continued.  Listening to the baby’s heartbeat, I knew we were in for a long day.

We’re having a C-Section-Around 10am Stephen and the anesthesiologist confirmed the C-Section.  Let’s do this I thought.  Since a Caesarean section is surgical procedure, the nurses brought me a package of surgical gear, hat, mask, white coveralls that looked like a hazmat suit and a pair of little booties to cover my shoes.

I was gearing up when they came for Esther.  Rushing after her I forgot to put my feet through cutouts of my “hazmat suit.”  Straightening up the suit started tearing like clothes off the Incredible Hulk.  It was the icebreaker we needed.   Mentioning it still brings a smile to Esther’s face.

Selfie in my Hazmat Suit
Selfie in my Hazmat Suit

It’s Go Time-Outside the O.R. I watched Esther being prepped as I paced.  Turning around I saw Stephen, who must have been thinking, not again.  He told me, “You will be sitting behind a screen with Esther, when I call your name, stand up and starting taking pictures.”

Holding Esther’s hand, we waited and listened.  Hearing a gurgling sound Stephen called me. I stood up and saw my son for the first time, I was awestruck.  Stephen called again. “Frank, start taking pictures!”  Turning to Esther I said, The C-Section was right decision, he’s huge.

Snapping pictures I felt guilty, Esther carried him to term and could hear him crying, but still couldn’t see him.  Taking a few pictures, I went over so she could see her son.  When they cleaned him up, they put him under a heat lamp.

After cutting the umbilical cord, yes I cut the cord, they weighed the baby. The scale said 147.  147?  It was 147 ounces, which is 9 pounds 3 ounces.  That’s a big boy!  Stepping out I called my mom to let her know she was a grandma again, then made the obligatory calls, while watching my son through the O.R. Window.  With that done, I fired off a Facebook post with a picture saying, “We have a boy!”

Esther holding Cristian for the first time.
Esther holding Cristian for the first time.

Returning to Esther’s side she mentioned, we still have to name him.  You pick.  We narrowed the list to two names Cristian and Daniel.  I wanted Daniel.

Growing up, was my best friend was Danny.  He was the popular kid, who was good at sports and picked the kids no one wanted when we chose sides. He protected a lot of us from bullies.  As an adult, he coached baseball and soccer taking the kids the other coaches passed on.  The kids loved playing for Danny.  Sadly he was killed driving to work when a drunk driver crashed into the car he was riding in.

Esther knew this story and I knew she preferred the name Cristian.  Thinking of everything we went through to get here, how and she had the hard part through all of it, I looked at our son in his mother’s arms, he looked like a Cristian.

Share This:
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedin

It’s Showtime – Part 1

Two posts ago I covered the highlights of Esther’s pregnancy, but there is more story to tell—a lot more.   I split this post into two parts to make it easier to read.  Hey it worked for Quentin Tarantino in Kill Bill I and II.

For me one of the joys of pregnancy was creating something that’s part Esther and part me.  Certain things, like who the baby resembles were obvious immediately, (our friends started with the sonograms) other traits like habits, temperament, and personality may take years.  It started for me upon being given the baby’s due date.

Which one of us does he look like?
Which one of us does he look like?

Esther comes from a strong gene pool, so I knew Baby Priegue would look like her.  Just go to a Santiago family event—there are mini-mes everywhere.  I was ok with that, I fell in love with that pretty face (other things too but I’m getting sidetracked).

Upon receiving an October 1st due day my mind, and sarcasm, started racing.  My brother and I are both punctual—we get that from Dad.   Dad got twitchy if we weren’t early for family gatherings—many times we arrived for weddings while the waiters were setting the room up.

Esther has many wonderful traits but punctuality isn’t one of them.  Let’s meet at six means arrive at six not leave home at six.   My theory was if Cornelius (just checking to see if you are paying attention) was born before October 1st, he’d take after me and Esther if he was born after the 1st.

Let’s cover some highlights before this post gets too long.

mapNesting-Described by Parenting Weekly.com as “an uncontrollable urge to clean one’s house brought on by a desire to prepare a nest for the new baby, to tie up loose ends of old projects and to organize your world.”  I guess Esther’s been nesting since I met her.  After Labor Day we worked on the nursery, translation Esther planned the layout and design and I moved furniture back and forth, and back again and again.

The Baby Bag(s)-In early September we each packed a “baby bag” and left them in my car.  Two bags quickly became four—yes we both over pack.   The bags were packed and repacked after last September’s Indian Summer.   I spent the month figuring out how to sneak Chico into our hospital room.  He fits in the big bag, doesn’t he?

Belly’s Everywhere-Our building had five new babies last year, including our next-door neighbors Shawn and Nika.  We met them, five-years ago when Chico walked right into their apartment as they were moving in.  They married a month before we did and had their daughter Sydney Rose a month after Cristian was born.  Shawn and I shared more than few beers while the women compared notes on all things pregnancy. How does another cold one sound Shawn?

More Humor-Esther’s OB/GYN was Raveco Medical, whose primary physicians are husband and wife Doctors Steven and Claudia Ravins.  Besides being excellent doctors their sense of humor appealed to me.  Claudia was the first one who got the Cornelius reference, without it being explained.  When I joked about videotaping the baby’s birth so we could show him in a few years when he asks, “where did I come from,” Steven played along, joking about strapping a Go Pro Camera around his forehead during the delivery.  Esther’s response, usually with her legs in the stirrups was always the same, “Hello remember me?  The patient.”  For the record, we didn’t record Cristian’s birth, something about therapy being expensive.

Esther and her ginger-ale filled champagne flute.
Esther and her ginger-ale filled champagne flute.

 Not So Smooth Sailing- Although the pregnancy was pretty smooth—we had a few scares along the way. About four months in, Esther fell down a few steps, requiring a trip to the emergency room.   It turned out to be nothing, but I remember the baby’s pissed off look on the screen during the sonogram.  Late in the pregnancy she developed a skin condition called PUPS, an itchy uncomfortable rash on her legs.

Our biggest scare came during an early-morning appointment.  Claudia was concerned with the baby’s heartrate—it was too low.   After trying to raise her blood sugar level with ginger ale, served in a champagne flute, didn’t get the desired result Esther was sent for a carb-rich breakfast.   It turned out to be a false alarm, but after months on a strict diet, doctor’s orders never tasted so good.

Esther finishing her last 5K race at Met Life Stadium in July.
Esther finishing her last 5K race at Met Life Stadium in July.

The Walking Tour-The baby kept growing as late September faded into October, but Esther wasn’t dilating.  Trying to stimulate contractions the doctors suggested extensive walking—three hours’ worth every night.  It was Esther’s first intense activity since her last 5K race in July.  Keeping it interesting, we walked a different park every day.  We walked Cunningham Park, Flushing Meadows Park, Kissena Park, Central Park, and Prospect Park as well as touring Fresh Meadows, Flushing, Howard Beach, Jamaica Estates and Malba, but it didn’t help.

Its Go Time-After 41 weeks and much discomfort Esther was ready to pop, but the baby wasn’t cooperating.  On our way to yet another doctor’s appointment, she vented.  “As soon as we get there, I’m telling him, Induce me or C-Section me, I’m ready.”  I was surprised when she repeated this verbatim to Steven.  Without missing a beat, he replied, “How about tonight?”

After few phone calls, he told us to be at the hospital at 8pm, so they could start inducing. This gave us a few hours to tie up some loose ends.  Leaving the doctor’s office, Esther called her sister and nephew, asking them to meet us at Applebee’s for her “last meal.”  When the meal was done, two-year old Justin launched into a wicked tantrum.  Foreshadowing, I wondered.  Looking at Esther, I said, “Too late to turn back now.  Let’s go.”

Share This:
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedin