Remembering Dad A Year Later

Dad in mid conversation, probably talking politics.
Dad in mid conversation, probably talking politics.

A year ago today my Dad passed away and I’ve spent the past week with an overwhelming sense of déjà vu.  Whether it was driving past the nursing home where he spent his last days on the way to the baby’s My Gym Class or seeing images of him in a slide show at my niece’s Sweet 16 Party last weekend.  Last Friday night’s torrential rain awakened more memories than expected.

I remember a painful conversation with Mom as I drove her home from the nursing home in a heavy rain. I told her the doctor said Dad developed pneumonia, and probably wouldn’t make it through the weekend. That was the best case scenario—the worst case scenario was he wouldn’t make it through the night.  You would have thought a diagnosis of Pancreatic Cancer and three months of doctors and hospitals would have prepared us for this—it didn’t.

When my phone rang at 6am the next morning, Esther and I knew it was bad news.  How many early-morning calls are good news?  I felt numb calling Mom, my brother Bob and various aunts and uncles, informing them of Dad’s passing as I walked Chico.  The conversations were short and quick, the numbness stayed with me a few months.

We spent the weekend after Dad’s passing decluttering Mom’s house, devouring cold cut platters, and reliving memories.  I’ve always been amazed how people achieve saint-like status simply by dying.  I’ve written about my Dad several times he was a good man with many wonderful traits—but he was no saint.  We lightened the mood, spending parts of the weekend reliving stories of our favorite meltdowns or Mom and Dad bickering like George Costanza’s parents on Seinfeld.  Fifty plus years of marriage will do that.

Dad with my Maternal Grandfather in Puerto Rico in 1980
Dad with my Maternal Grandfather in Puerto Rico in 1980

A lot’s changed in the past year, Esther, Cristian and I moved in with Mom to help out with the house and dealing with losing Dad.  Esther and I do much of the former, Cristian handles the latter.  The numbness is gone—it’s been replaced with sadness and regret.

I regret not asking him more about the Spanish side of my family tree, about his dad and his brothers.   I never met them—they all died too young.  I regret being a stubborn child who didn’t pay enough attention when he tried teaching me basic carpentry and household projects.  I regret not thanking him for all he gave me, did for me, and for not saying I love you.

Dad helping pop a champagne cork to celebrate my 14th Birthday.
Dad helping pop a champagne cork to celebrate my 14th Birthday.

These days many people are concerned with their legacy.  Once considered the domain of athletes and politicians it’s now a concern among many average people.  Maybe it’s a product of the age we live in.  I doubt Dad put any thought into his legacy, but he did leave one behind.

To the many carpenters, electricians and other skilled laborers, most from Galicia, the part of Spain he was from, Dad’s legacy was helping them with a well-placed phone call to an employer or union rep finding them a job or a union card shortly after arriving in this country.  To him it was paying forward the kindness extended to him by a friend named Viña many years before.

Before writing this piece I thought about Dad’s legacy.  Was it fulfilling the American Dream?  He arrived in this country in 1956 with little more than the clothes on his back, a few dollars in his pocket, and a trade—he was a skilled carpenter.  Over the next 60 years, he married, raised a family, built a home, saved a few dollars, and gave his children a better life than the one he knew as a child.

Although impressive it’s incomplete.  As a father he taught me more by his actions and examples than his words.  He and Mom were married for 56 years and sure they bickered a bit as they got older—show me an old married couple that doesn’t—but it was his genuine concern for her in his last days that touched me.  He insisted I keep him up to date her latest doctor’s appointments, making sure she was taken care of.

Ever the doting grandfather, he waited 88 years for his elusive grandson.  Seeing his hazel eyes light up whenever I brought Cristian to the nursing home was one of the few bright spots for me during his last days–but there were sad memories too.  I’ll never forget him playing with his nine-month old grandson saying, “You’re beautiful!  What a shame I won’t be able to see you grow up.”

Today we’ll honor Dad’s memory, with a memorial mass for him and Esther’s Mom Maria—she lost her fight with Pancreatic Cancer three years ago this week.  After paying respects at the cemetery, I’m firing up the grill, serving up sardines and other grilled meats along with wine and beer just like Dad would do on any Sunday afternoon in July.  I can’t think of a better way of keeping his memory alive.

 

Grandpa's Stone

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A 5K Run to Honor Lola’s Memory

Lola's children, Esther, Rose Marie and Bobby will be back in Prospect Park tomorrow morning to honor Mami's memory.
Lola’s children, Esther, Rose Marie and Bobby will be back in Prospect Park tomorrow morning to honor Mami’s memory.

Tomorrow morning Esther, Cristian and I are running a 5K race in Prospect Park, okay Cristian will be riding in his stroller while I push him, but he’ll be participating.  Although we are no strangers to 5K races or Prospect Park’s notorious hill tomorrow’s race isn’t about goal times or P.R.s—this one’s personal—we’ll be honoring Esther’s Mom’s memory.

10298777In 2013, Maria Hernandez, Lola to her friends, lost her battle with Pancreatic Cancer so for a third-straight year her three children will be participating in the PanCan Purple Stride 5K Run/Walk to honor her memory.

Pancreatic Cancer is a brutal disease with an extremely low survival rate.  Besides taking the lives of celebrities like Steve Jobs, Patrick Swayze and Luciano Pavarotti, it’s affected the lives of many non-celebrity families as well.   Last year my Dad was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer.  Dad was lucky, if you can say that for any cancer patient, he died of pneumonia before the cancer fully took hold, Lola wasn’t so fortunate.

17171717Long-distance runners are no strangers to pain—it’s who we are.  I’ve run a 60K race, just over nine four-mile loops in Central Park on a cranky knee.  Esther started a marathon on a badly-injured ankle that got worse with every step taken—both were minor twinges compared to Lola’s battle.  She fought a tough fight, the worse things got, the harder she fought, but no one beats Pancreatic Cancer.

Since tomorrow morning’s weather forecast calls for windy conditions with a chance of snow I’m expecting less than the fifty people who came out last year.  Cold weather does that, but Esther, Bobby, Rose Marie, Cristian and I will be there regardless of the conditions.  This ugly disease took Robert, Lucas, and Justin’s grandmother.  Cristian will never know his La La Maria because of it, it’s our biggest regret.

If you know anyone suffering or lost someone to Pancreatic Cancer or are interested in donating to a good cause click here.

This entry is being posted to both of my blogs North Queens Runner and I’m Not Grandpa.

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For Dad

Preface – This is one of my favorite posts.  I wrote this as a new father reflecting on childhood memories of my Dad.  I’m reposting it on what would have been his 90th birthday.

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.

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I’m Nominated for a Liebster Award

liebster

I’m Not Grandpa was nominated for a Liebster Award by Jeremy Atkins of Go Ask Your Daddy. Thank you Jeremy!  Please take a few minutes and check out Go Ask Your Daddy.

Accepting this award is a great honor, passing it along to other bloggers is an even bigger one.  The Liebster Award is passed to newer bloggers from more experienced ones as a way of acknowledging the work put into producing and maintaining an exciting blog.

I’m Not Grandpa is written from the perspective of a 50-Something First-Time Dad.   The tales of this Stay at Home Dad are written with a mix of sarcasm and sentiment.

I started I’m Not Grandpa as a way of documenting the excitement fatherhood and have been surprised at how it’s been received.  Along the way I’ve enjoyed reading the work of many Mommy and Daddy bloggers as well as many well-written blogs covering a vast array of topics.  Facebook and Twitter allowed me to meet some amazing writers through various blogging groups and even more amazing people as we perfect our craft.

Here’s what Jeremy said about I’m Not Grandpa in his nomination:

 You definitely don’t see many first time dads at the age of 50, but Frank’s blog chronicles just that.  This is one blog that I will definitely follow and look for new posts about his adventures.  I became a first time dad 10 years ago.  I can’t imaging becoming a dad in my 50s.  An enjoyable blog!

Liebster Award Winner Rules:

1 – Thank the person/blog who nominated you and post a link to their blog on your blog.

2 – Display the award on your blog. This can be done by including it in your post and/or displaying it using a widget (note: the best way to do this is to save the image to your own

3 – Answer the 10 questions about yourself that your nominating blogger chooses for you (see my questions above).

4 – Nominate 10 blogs that you feel deserve the award. These must be new bloggers (less than two years blogging) who have fewer than 1000 followers.

5 – Create a list of questions for your nominated bloggers to answer.

6 – List these rules in your post (feel free to cut & paste!)

7 – Inform the blogs that you nominated that they have been awarded the award and provide a link for them to your post so that they can learn about it.

The rules of accepting the Liebster Award ask me to answer a few questions and post them to my blog.  Here they are!

1 – What inspired you to start your blog?

I’ve been blogging for about five years, mainly about running, my running blog is North Queens Runner.  During my wife’s pregnancy I read a few parenting books, although they were helpful, they were written mainly for by women for women.  As a sarcastic person, my mind went to the races and I thought this would make a great blog.

2 – What blogging goal are you currently striving for? 

Trying to post quality work on a consistent schedule, it’s not as easy as it sounds, while balancing work and caring for a 16-month old son.

3 – What activities do you enjoy outside of blogging?

I enjoy running I’ve run 12 marathons and two ultramarathons and am an avid cyclist.  I love movies, all periods and genres.  I’m a big New York Mets and Dallas Cowboys fan.  I enjoy spending quality time with my wife, which is harder to do since the baby was born.

4 – What tactics do you employ on those days when blogging is hard & frustrating? 

A writing teacher taught me, there are two parts to a writer, the Generator and the Editor.  The Generator takes the raw material from your head and gets it onto paper, a computer screen or whatever medium one uses for the process.  The Editor takes this raw material and crafts it into a finished piece.  On those days when I’m blocked I just write, not attempt to make every sentence perfect, just generate raw material, it can usually be cleaned up in future drafts.

5 – If you could have lunch with any famous person, who would you choose?  Willie Mays, probably the best centerfielder ever.

6 – What are your three favorite blogs to follow?

Pavement Runner, Dad and Buried, and Life as a Rambling Redhead.

7 – What piece of blogging advice have you found to be most helpful?

Write for yourself.  Don’t write with an eye towards monetizing your blog towards a mass market, focus instead on writing quality work.  If you consistently do this the rest will take care of itself.

8 – Are you a full-time blogger or do you also hold down a day job? 

I work from home as a consultant, it lets take care of the baby as I work.

9 – What is your favorite post on your blog thus far?

My favorite post is What’s in a Name.  It’s one of my first posts where I write about my wife and I picking our son’s name.  I got the sarcasm just right in that one.

10 – What social media platforms do you use and which one is most effective for you?

I’m on several, Facebook. Twitter, Instagram and I just created a Pintrist profile.  Facebook and Twitter allow me to promote new posts on my blog, they have allowed me to network with other bloggers and learn from them.

Here are my nominees for the Liebster Award.  You may accept if you like, it’s completely up to you

Syreeta @ Pecan Momma Tales  Syreeta is a wife and mother in a blended family.  Her blog is a support system for mothers and parents taken from her own experiences, offering encouragement, parenting, marriage and relationship advice.  Her posts are inspiring.

Suzanne @ maQ + Suz BlogA lifestyle blog by Suzanne Spiegoski, a freelance portrait and lifestyle photographer, as well as writer and published author.  Her posts are a mix of photography, fashion, food and recipes, health and fitness in addition to her day to day adventures.  Her posts combine text and images with such synergy, everything from NYC Street Art to the recent blizzard.  Great stuff!

Tanya and Nara @ Motherly AdventuresWritten by a pair of thirty-something friends who met a decade ago while backpacking through Europe.  Flash forward to present day where they are wives and mothers blogging about topics such as pregnancy, making life easier for new mothers and juggling family and career.  A good read.

Kirstie @ TEFL Teaching AbroadKirstie is a qualified TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) Teacher from Leiscester England currently living and teaching in Chiang Mai Thailand.  She writes about her experiences living in a new land and traveling through and exploring neighboring countries.

Michelle @ Hello Peachy Skin – Looking young and healthy has never been more confusing.  The cosmetic companies tell you their anti-aging creams have magical powers.  Doctors say Botox is the answer and every other week a new diet goes mainstream offering the answer.  Who do you believe?  Michelle investigates; her posts are based on what scientists have proven to be true.  Are they?  Follow her blog to find out.

Jeff @ Daddy is Best – Jeff is a blogger, writer, aspiring speaker, humorist, husband and father of two children.  I was drawn to this site because like me Jeff became a Dad is in 50s.   His posts are insightful real-life depictions of day-to-day life—he doesn’t sugarcoat things—he tells things like they are.  His posts keep me coming back for more.

Susan @ Skirt in the Kitchen  This lifestyle blog merges many things, food and music, and modern and vintage.  Susan makes it all work the way an excellent cook combines ingredients in just the right proportions creating an unforgettable meal.  Reading this blog makes me feel like I’m having a slice of homemade pie with a good cup of coffee at her vintage kitchen table.

Aly @ Small HopperThe parents of a blended family, Aly Stuckart and her husband are a combo of West Coast ease and Southern flair and hospitality all rolled into this crazy package.  This blog finds the humor in day-to-day life  There’s also a gallery where one is able to see family pictures.

Sam @ Raising my mini meSam blogs about life as a new mom. starting with the pregnancy. She gives pulls no punches as she writes about motherhood, gives product reviews and recently adding receipes.  All this from someone who doesn’t have a clue.

Now, for all of the 9 awardees above, it’s your turn to answer the questions below and post your answers!

1.) What inspired you to start your blog?

2.) What blogging goal are you currently striving for?

3.) What activities to you enjoy outside of blogging?

4.) What tactics do you employ on those days when blogging is hard & frustrating?

5.) If you could have lunch with any famous person, who would you choose?

6.) What are your three favorite blogs to follow?

7.) What piece of blogging advice have you found to be most helpful?

8.) Are you a full-time blogger or do you also hold down a day job?

9.) What is your favorite post on your blog thus far?

10.) What social media platforms do you use and which one is most effective for you?

 

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RIP Chico

Posing ChicoI started this blog because the thought a 50-year old first-time dad’s journey into uncharted territory was too good to pass up.  I envisioned light-hearted posts written with a mix of sarcasm and sentiment, along with a few serious posts.

At the time I had no idea, I would be writing two eulogy posts in three months

I will always remember 2015 as a bittersweet year.  Watching Cristian’s progression from fragile newborn to curious toddler is the highlight.  Burying my father after a long illness was painful.  Thursday night, Esther and I shed more tears, when we made the painful decision to put Chico to sleep.

I tried writing this post when I got home Thursday night.   After placing Cristian in his crib I sat down at the keyboard but my mind was flooded with too many emotions and memories.  The post just didn’t want to be written.
Chico in Hoodie

As a teenager, my sister-in-law Rose Marie, or Nequi, (her family nickname) wanted a dog.  One evening her father came home from work with a bag.   Placing the moving bag on the living room floor out came two puppies, Chico and Chica.  Chico staggered out and headed directly to Esther.

At the time the Santiago family knew little about caring for a puppy—much less two—that changed quickly.  Esther learned fast asking friends and co-workers and pet store owners for tips and advice.

Taken from their mother at about two weeks old the family took turns bottle feeding Chico and Chica baby formula.  Swaddling Chico in a blanket Esther carried him like a baby.   Neighbors rushing over to see a baby were greeted by a dog snout.

Caring for two puppies soon became overwhelming, so Esther found a home for Chica, keeping Chico—he was friendlier.  He spent the rest of his life rewarding that decision.

One of his favorite places, lying in a pile of laundry
One of his favorite places, lying in a pile of laundry

Esther and Chico were together for over 18 years—her longest male relationship.  He was her first child, running partner and weather dog.  When Esther worked for a special-needs preschool, Chico’s morning walks served a dual purpose.  If he hopped like a bunny through snowdrifts, she called her boss canceling the day’s classes.

He was with her through good and the bad like the birth of nephews and godchildren. My late mother-in-law Maria called him her first grandchild. He helped Esther cope with the loss of her first husband Luis, when he was killed in a car accident.

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At Shea Stadium for Bark at the Park Night.
At Shea Stadium for Bark at the Park Night.

I met Chico after Esther and I started dating.  Before my first visit to her apartment, she warned me, “He’s protective and barks a lot when he meets new people.”  She was stunned when we started playing shortly after my arrival.

We bonded immediately, Chico had a special vibe—he didn’t think he was a dog, he thought he was a person.  I remember waking up in bed with the flu and finding him stretched out next to me with a contented look that said, “Great nap Frank.”

When I became a runner, Chico’s morning walks were used to gauge the weather so I knew what gear to wear for the morning’s race.

Chico stayed with Grandma Maria, when we had a travel race.  Together they watched novellas and Sabado Gigante.  Whenever Esther and I went out of town he knew Ritz Crackers, Hagen Dazs and Don Francisco were on the menu.

Chico with Santa
Chico with Santa

As parents we spoiled him taking him on two-mile walks.  We admired the Tudor houses while he played with the neighbors dogs or searched for the perfect tree.  Trips to the drive-through window included chicken nuggets for Chico.

We took him on vacation with us.  He played among the pine trees in Maine, cruised the boardwalk in Asbury Park and walked among the brownstones on Embassy Row in Washington DC.  Chico sat on my lap with his head out the window during my first trip to Florida.

He was my practice child.  Yes I’m a aware caring for a baby is more involved than caring for a dog—I’ve blogged about it.  The responsibility and discipline I learned caring for my canine companion helped when Cristian was born.

Chico was with us through two miscarriages and three failed IVF cycles.  Sensing something was wrong he curled up with Esther offering comfort and warmth as if to say, “I’m here for you Mommy.”

Cristian’s birth was rough on him, he initially refused to acknowledge him—that baby was taking time and attention usually devoted to him.  He acted up demanding a walk when I was giving the baby a bottle and avoided Cristian, walking around him whenever the baby was placed in front of him.

Chico came around after a few weeks when he realized that baby wasn’t going anywhere.  Coming in from walks he sniffed Cristian’s feet and played with him as he rolled around on comforters.  He was good when the baby grabbed his fur or an ear.

The boys worked as a team when Esther and I assembled the Cristian Zone, the baby’s play area.  Cristian watched closely as Chico squeezed between the ottoman and the toy box—this was valuable information to be used for future escapes.

Wathing Sesame Street together in the Cristian Zone
Wathing Sesame Street together in the Cristian Zone

Chico started showing his age over the past months.  The sweet disposition was still there but after 18 plus years, his body started betraying him.  He hips weakened and he needed a diaper because he couldn’t hold his urine.  The vet, we took him to was shocked—he’d never treated a dog that old.

Last Tuesday night, he deteriorated further—his back legs stopped supporting him.  Wrapping him in a blanket, he and Esther came full circle.  Sitting on the couch with one eye on the World Series and the other on Chico was painful—more painful than Jeurys Familia’s blown save.

Chico fought back Wednesday morning, giving us hope as he struggled out his bed.  Determined to walk, he staggered around on shaky legs defiantly squeezing into the Cristian Zone.  As evening approached we realized it was a false hope.

Waking up Friday morning was rough, Chico’s bed was empty, there was no dog to walk.  I miss his morning walks, with a cup of coffee in one hand and his leash in the other.  The memory of him racing Esther as she hurried to the subway makes me smile as I type it.

His full name was Chicolindo, in Spanish, that means Pretty Boy.  In Esther’s family there is a long line of Chicolindos—until now.  Sitting in the vet’s waiting room, I suggested it’s time we retire the name.

We stayed with him to the end—I’m comforted knowing he went peacefully. He was an amazing dog who was more than a pet—he was part of the family.  We spoiled him giving him a great life and he rewarded us with better memories.

We will miss you my friend.

Chicos Paw Print

 

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