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?

 

Share This:
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedin

RIP Chico

Posing Chico

I started blogging because the thought a 50-year old first-time dad’s journey into uncharted territory was too good to pass on.  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 memories and emotions.  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 brought her a mysterious bag as a birthday gift.   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, 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.

When caring for two puppies became overwhelming, Esther found a new 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 after a heavy snowstorm, she called her boss canceling the day’s classes.

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

.

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

I met Chico shortly 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, I used Chico’s morning walks to gauge the morning’s weather so I knew what gear to wear for that 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 many vacations 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 written about it but 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 a rough adjustment for 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 we placed the baby in front of him.

After a few weeks Chico accepted the baby, or maybe he realized that baby wasn’t going anywhere.  Coming inside from walks he stopped and sniffed Cristian’s feet and played with him as the baby rolled around on comforters.  He was patient when Cristian grabbed his fur or an ear.

Before long the boys started working 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.  Wrapped in a blanket, on Esther’s lap with the World Series as background noise 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 to the subway as she hurried off to work 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 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

 

Share This:
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedin

Just Roll With It

Cristian and his Godfather relaxing in the yard.
Cristian and his Godfather relaxing in the yard.

Responding to and meeting challenges is a big part of life, because you are constantly thrown curveballs.  Since Labor Day Weekend Esther and I have faced our fair share, making us long for something simple, like a sleepless night with a cranky baby.

Over the past years my Mom cared for Dad—putting her life on pause and neglecting her own health.  56 years of marriage makes you do that sort of thing.  During Dad’s illness, Mom and I spoke about her health, and maintaining the house as I drove her to and from the hospital and nursing home.

Eighty-five years old and restricted to a walker, those tasks are considerably tougher than they were five-years ago.   The neighbors helped, sweeping sidewalks, shoveling snow, and bringing in trash cans.  While much appreciated it’s not the sort of thing one can expect done on a consistent basis.

After many conversations with Mom and Esther both separately and together, we decided it was best if Esther and I moved in with her to.  Moving in with your mother at 51 is never an easy proposition—moving with a wife, baby and 18-year old dog, is a reality show in the making.

After Dad passed away in July, we started the twofold process of packing our apartment and decluttering Mom’s house—no small task. I come from a family of pack rats—it’s in our DNA.  My old bedroom looked more like an oversized walk-in closet than Cristian’s new bedroom.

Clearing a home after someone passes away is never easy—especially if you are doing while keeping an 11-month old baby entertained.   Fifty years of memories needed to be dealt with, old clothes, old pictures, and just plain old junk.

Moving day was the Friday before Labor Day Weekend.  Our team of friends and family (those who didn’t go away for the long weekend) squeezed the contents of our two-bedroom apartment into an already cluttered house.  It was like recreating the set of Sanford and Son.

Cristian’s room was priority one.  One group unloaded the truck moving things into various rooms, the garage and the backyard.   A second group reassembled the crib and looked for boxes marked “Baby’s Room.”

Chico enjoying his new front yard
Chico enjoying his new front yard

The first day was the roughest.  Boxes and packing bins were piled high everywhere creating an obstacle course.  I worried about the boxes in the backyard, many were covered but some weren’t.  Fortunately it didn’t rain.

Sitting in the basement on a third of my disassembled couch with a slice of cold pizza and a beer watching Chico navigate his new environment, I got twitchy wondering if we could put things in order. Making things worse my godmother called with bad news, her 18-year old grandson was killed in a car accident.

As usual Cristian provided stress relief after a chaotic day.  Peeking in on him he looked up from his stuffed animals, giving me a Hi Daddy smile.  Watching the baby play in his new room with Mom, reminded me why were doing this.

406

When Esther and I planned the move, we knew there would be adjustments.  I love Mom but she’s old-school and a little blunt—sometimes more than a little.  At times her concepts on parenting differed from ours.  We came to help, but never lost sight of the fact.  We were in her house, not ours.

A main priority was maintaining normalcy in Cristian’s life while we adapted to our new environment.  This meant, not missing his My Gym classes, exploring new parks for him to play in and devoting time to him before during and after the move.

Esther and Cristian playing in the park
Esther and Cristian playing in the park

The rest of the weekend was a blur of boxes, bins, and garbage bags.  The stack of boxes shrunk as things took shape.  More than 70 bags of clothes were donated to the Salvation Army and I filled an entire donation bin—one of those huge containers one sees in your local supermarket parking lot.

Over 100 bags of trash and stacks of discarded cardboard boxes, and recycled items, ensured I’d become fast friends with the garbage men.  Maintaining the relationship Dad forged with them over the years was important, because months of dumping, organizing and decluttering still remain.

The house has a finished basement with a separate kitchen and bathroom.  We set it up as our apartment, with a newly constructed play zone for the baby—The Cristian Zone

In the reassembled "Cristian Zone."
In the reassembled “Cristian Zone.”

Tuesday night Esther, Mom, Cristian and I drove out to Eastern Long Island for my cousin’s wake.   It’s sad when someone dies so young—you wonder what might have been.

The next morning, Esther went to work while Cristian and I took another trip out east for the funeral.  Leaving the church for the cemetery, my phone rang.  A neighbor named Valerie had more bad news—this time about Mom.

Mom’s had issues with varicose veins for years.   I planned on asking for a referral to a specialist during her next round of doctor’s appointments—we never got the chance. Valerie and my cousin Annie were visiting when Mom’s vein popped, spewing blood, a lot of it.  She also fell out of the chair she was sitting in, crashing to the floor.

Valerie called an ambulance and escorted Mom and the paramedics to the hospital.  I called Esther, and asked if she could meet them at the Emergency Room.  Turning the car around I hurried home.

Thanking Annie for her for help and wrapping Mom’s leg as I took her home. I then dropped Cristian off with the babysitter before heading to the hospital.  Esther updated me on Mom’s condition-which tests were run which still remained.  When I finally saw Mom, she was literally white as a sheet.  She lost about a pint of blood and the doctors debated whether or not to transfuse her.

Bob joined us in the ER—the three of us listened as doctors updated us on her condition.  After spending most of the day in the ER, Mom was admitted to the hospital and placed under observation.

The next two weeks were spent visiting Mom in the hospital and consulting with doctors amazed at the lack of common sense.  During my first visit I was sent home for her walker.  Isn’t a walker something a hospital provides?  I guess not.

Although Mom looked better, she still didn’t look right.  Hospitals seem in a rush to discharge patients before they get sick—I thought treating sick people was a hospital’s function—silly me.

Two weeks later, Mom was sent to a rehab facility to regain strength and balance.  Cristian and I visited every morning—it was therapeutic for Mom and her roommate.  Mom’s room was a popular destination during our visits, nurses, aides and physical therapists stopped by to play with the baby.

During a visit Esther’s phone rang.   Her facial expression told me, it was bad news. Her aunt called from Puerto Rico informing her of an uncles passing.   He was only a few years older than me.  This was our families fourth in the past year—that’s too many.  I wondered if the Grim Reaper has the family on speed dial.

FullSizeRender (81)After a month in the hospital and rehab facility Mom was sent home, we were happy.  When she was away, Esther and I felt like children left alone while their parents were on vacation.  Fortunately for all involved, I didn’t do the Risky Business Dance.

Since Mom returned home I’ve worked with social workers, visiting nurses, and home aides and we’ve had appointments with specialists, managing her care.  When it gets overwhelming, I look at Cristian. His big smile and bigger personality tells me, take a breath and just roll with it.

Share This:
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedin

Happy Birthday Cristian

1st Father SonI can’t believe it’s been a year already.  A year ago I spent the night in a hospital room keeping friends and family updated via Facebook posts as nurses induced Esther—it didn’t work.  It turn out, Cristian like his parents is stubborn.  How stubborn we didn’t know at the time.

At 1:26 pm Esther gave birth to a 9 pound 3 ounce   21.5 inch boy, whatshisname.  We hadn’t agreed on his name yet.  Asking me to calm our crying and unnamed son, by speaking to him, I put on my best Darth Vader voice and said, “Son I am your father.”

The first few weeks were a blur or feedings, diaper changes and friends stopping by to see the baby.  Sequestered in our apartment like jurors on a trial while we took turns watching Jeopardy, napping and playing with our new son, the memory still makes me smile.

father-son-chill

I dove headfirst into my stay-at-home dad crash course.  I was introduced to the Sprout Channel, Peppa Pig and Sid the Science Kid and scrambled like a contestant on a gameshow folding laundry, sterilizing baby bottles and grabbing a quick shower while Cristian napped.

In March we enrolled Cristian in My Gym, a children’s fitness center giving him a chance to meet other babies socializing him through structured activities and giving me a chance to compare parenting notes with other parents.

The many faces of Cristian
The many faces of Cristian

Esther and I were amazed as out son grew from a fragile newborn to a chubby cheeked toddler.  His smiling face every morning made us forget the, sacrifice, sleep deprivation and occasional blowout.

As Spring arrived my time was split between caring for my son and managing my father’s healthcare first in a hospital and then in a nursing home.   My blogging suffered as my world was turned upside down, but Esther and I insisted on keeping as much normalcy in Cristian’s routine as possible.  My Gym classes and trips to the park were sandwiched between hospital visits.

Family Selfie
Family Selfie

Cristian will never know the joy he brought his grandfather during his last days or how much his cheery demeanor helps grandma cope with Dad’s loss.  His days consist of playing, crawling and general mischief. His electric smile and big personality changed Mommy and Daddy’s lives in ways we couldn’t comprehend a year ago as we anxiously monitored his vitals as nurses induced his Mommy.

Happy Birthday Cristian!

Cristian and Me

Share This:
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedin

Going Home

Preface – This is a personal post.  It’s long and doesn’t quite fit the theme of this blog.  Some of the content appeared in previous posts.  It’s a very touching story about someone who meant so much to me.

These past weeks were rough — after three months of fighting Dad passed away due to pneumonia related to Pancreatic Cancer.  I’ve written about him, here and here and am comforted by the fact he died in his sleep of pneumonia before the cancer got him.

Dad had been in out of hospitals over the past ten years.  His procedures included a pericardial stripping , hip replacement, and a gall bladder removal — complications put him in the ICU for two weeks after he developed sepsis

When a doctor explained the details of a lung biopsy needed because of years of abestos exposure on job sites, the doctor stressed the recovery period would be painful.   He then asked Dad when he wanted to schedule the procedure, Dad’s reply was classic.  “Can we do it now?”

Mom and Dad celebrating Bob's second birthday party
Mom and Dad celebrating Bob’s second birthday party

My father was no stranger to death, his older brothers Manuel and Francisco died serving in the Spanish Civil War when he was a child.  His father passed shortly afterward of a broken heart.  He spent many years on merchant ships and freighters surviving two shipwrecks — he was one of only three who survived the second one.  Dad cheated death so many times, I wondered, how many lives does he have?

The past few weeks are a blur of funeral arrangements, phone calls and memories.  Some knew him as the man who installed a door or helped them put a new roof on their house.  Others knew him for the backyard barbeques he hosted and the huge spreads of grilled meat and sardines, homemade wine and sangria—but many knew little about him.

A familiar site, Dad working the grill.
A familiar site, Dad working the grill.

Jose Priegue was born the youngest of five children in 1926, in El Freijo, a small village in rural Spain.  Like his brothers he learned a trade, carpentry, at a young age, out of necessity.  Building and selling rowboats brought in money helping feed and clothe the family of seven.  Home Depot didn’t exist in the 1930’s so Dad and his brothers cut down trees and dragged them home for the wood needed before going to school.

In 1946 he was twenty years old.  Spain’s economy was still recovering from the Spanish Civil War and Europe’s was recovering from World War II, so he joined the Merchant Marine.  When he left home my grandmother told him, “Go find a better life for yourself, but remember if things don’t work out, you always have a home to come back to.”

With Mom and their Godson
With Mom and their Godson

So he went, travelling the world, he collected experiences. He told those stories after Christmas dinner and many summer barbeques.  Usually after a few too many glasses of wine or with a glass of cognac in his hand.  Bob and I didn’t fully appreciate stories of his many trips through the Panama Canal, or time spent in Pre-Castro Havana or arriving in Argentina a few days after Juan Peron was overthrown until we were older and had a few of our own life experiences.

After ten years of sailing on freighters Dad settled in Camden New Jersey where he caught a break.  A friend named Viña needed people for a project he was working on — The New Jersey Turnpike.   Viña  found him, and others like him offering jobs and giving a few a place to live, but there was a condition.

Dad and the others were what would be referred to today as undocumented aliens. Viña had a work visa and wasn’t going to jeopardize his status.  His condition was this…if immigration officials came looking for any of them, he wouldn’t hide them, he would give them up.

One night there was a knock on the door and Dad and two others were taken away. That night, having a pay stubs and a bank book in his pocket saved him from getting deported.  He insisted every employer withhold taxes from his paycheck, although he wasn’t a citizen, he enjoyed the benefits of this country and felt it was the right thing to do.  On that night it made a difference, the immigration agent realized this was a hard-working guy who needed a break, and let him go.

5678998For years he told us stories, Dad loved a good story, about working on the Jersey Turnpike but he never told us what he did.  Years later Bob and I took Dad to DC for a weekend trip so Bob asked him.  He helped build the concrete forms for 23 bridges.  I could see that, he was like a mountain goat, totally fearless when it came to heights.

Dad never forgot Viña’s kindness — in fact he paid it forward.  During his wake an older gentleman named Serafin came to pay his respects.  Walking up to Bob and me he told us, “I owe your father a tremendous debt.  When I came to this country he was the first person who helped me out.  He found me a job and got me into the union.  I saved my money and was able to start my own company.  My grandson started working for us last week.”

Growing up our home was a popular stop for newly arrived Gallegos.   Dad was from Galicia, the region in Northwest Spain sharing a border with Portugal.   Those from Galicia are known as Gallegos. Of all the stories I’ve heard over the past weeks, Serafin’s touched me most because this was part of Dad’s legacy.  Over the years he made many phone calls vouching for carpenters, plumbers and electricians with employers and union reps while Mom served them a home-cooked meal.

From Camden he moved to Spanish Harlem, it wasn’t his first choice — it was out of necessityHe quickly found out Spanish Harlem was a safe haven because immigration officers were afraid to go up there.

Dad with Raymundo
Dad with Raimundo

Expatriates usually find others from their part of the world.  In Spanish Harlem Dad met another Gallego named Raimundo, who is an important person to our family.  Raimundo is Bob’s Godfather, and when he married, Dad was invited to the wedding.  At the reception a charming bridesmade, captured his attention, but there were two problems.  First, she was with a date, and second he was not very confident speaking to women.

A few weeks later, when she and her boyfriend broke up, Raymundo called him up and told him, “I know you like her and the boyfriend is out of the picture.  If you’re still interested, this is your chance, get a move on.”  To make a long story short, Bob and I call this charming bridesmaid, Mom.

Mom and Dad married in 1959 and moved to Brooklyn.   After starting a family Mom and Dad moved to Queens.  He built the house Bob and I grew up in and where Mom still lives in 14 months of weekends and vacations assisted by a crew of skilled Gallegos.  Serafin and my Tio Francisco did most of the brickwork and half the roof.

Working hard to provide for his family, he worked overtime, and worked many side jobs rarely taking a vacation.  We weren’t like the other families who went to Lake George or Disney every year, Dad saved his vacation time.  When we took a vacation he made them count, taking 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.

Dad with his niece Marilola, taken during the 1970 vacation.
Dad with his niece Marilola, taken during the 1970 vacation.

I was six-years old in 1970 so my memories consist of 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.

Besides vacations, he had a family to raise.  This was before parenting books, websites or blogs.  He was old school, he was our father, not our best friend.  He didn’t give us everything we asked for, but we lacked for nothing.  He taught me that actions are more important than words.  Anyone can make a flowery speech, he backed it up.

I remember how proud he was when Bob joined the Navy and making him promise not to get a tattoo before he left for basic training.  Years later when Bob and his wife Alicia were building their dream home, he insisted on installing the kitchen cabinets.  He didn’t trust anyone else to do it.

As for me, he had my back when I changed my major from business to photography.  Before my senior year, one of my professors let me use his studio for a photoshoot.  For a third-year student this was like hitting the lottery.  I needed someone to help me bring props from home to the Manhattan studio, Dad, drove me in.

This trip was everything he hated.  After work he liked to watch the evening news with a beer and unwind, but off we went.  We headed to Manhattan on the Long Island Expressway in rush-hour traffic to the Midtown Tunnel.  In those days there was no E-Z Pass so you had to throw quarters into a basket to get through the tollbooth.

I handed Dad ten quarters and he missed the basket.  Rushing out of the car and scooping up quarters, amid the sounds of honking horns, and screaming motorists was rough.  I could only imagine him venting to Mom when he got home.

Driving through the tunnel, he turned to me and said, “You picked a field I know nothing about, so I can’t help you.  If you were a carpenter or electrician I could teach you and introduce you to others who could look out for you.  Just remember this, if you need me for anything, I’m there and remember you always have a home with us.”

Dad with Katie
Dad with Katie

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.

As he got older Dad didn’t like receiving gifts, Christmas, Birthday, Father’s Day — his response was always the same.  “Why are you wasting your money, I don’t need anything.” So last year on his birthday, I gave him a gift he could appreciate.

Dad meeting Cristian for the first time.
Dad meeting Cristian for the first time.

Taking him to a doctor’s appointment I told him, “Esther was having a boy — you’ve got your grandson.”   Words weren’t necessary — the smile on his face is my second favorite memory of him.  My most precious memory of him was putting Cristian in his arms so he could hold his grandson for the first time.  His smiling face showed me how precious a gift it really was.

As you get older, things are taken away from you, that’s how life is.  First your doctor may tell you to cut down on the red meat, or wine.  Then you are no longer able to do tasks you were able to do when you were younger.  Like fix a leak in the roof.

I remember when the roof leaked, Mom convinced Dad, who was in his late 70s to let Bob fix it.  She reasoned, “he’ll come by on Sunday, bring the girls, we’ll barbeque and have fun.” Dad agreed — a little too quickly.  So when Mom left to do some grocery shopping, Dad took out the ladder.

I arrived late but remember Dad sitting at the picnic table in the backyard.  Mom was on one side and Bob on the other side reprimanding him.  The mischievous look on his face said, “five minutes more and I would have gotten away with it.”

4270

Then your friends and loved ones start passing away.  Over the past ten years I’ve attended too many wakes and funeral masses.  Some losses hit harder than others but none are easy.

Dad loved a good story so it’s only fitting his funeral gave us one we’ll be telling for years.  Leaving the church the skies became cloudy and turned dark gray upon arriving at the cemetery.   The light drizzle we felt upon getting out of our cars became a driving rain storm.  A friend told me if it rains during a funeral, it’s God’s way of acknowledging receipt of a good man.

Huddled together under umbrellas we listened to the priest’s final prayers. Due to the slippery conditions it wasn’t safe for anyone to climb onto the platform and place roses onto the coffin.  The family took turns tossing them towards the casket but they all fell in the mud.  It was bittersweet but due to the circumstances understandable.

Mom sat with my Godmother in Bob’s car holding their roses during the rainstorm.  Restricted to a walker, she was unable to make it through the mud to the gravesite. Looking at us upon returning to the car, we knew exactly what she wanted.

Turning to me Bob said, “Mom asked us to do this, so let’s do it right.”  Taking their roses we marched through the heavy rain and mud without umbrellas.  Climbing onto the platform we placed our roses on his casket and said our goodbyes to Dad.

Although I’m sad Dad is gone, I comforted that he’s gone home.  Home to the parents he loved, home to the brothers whose lives were taken too soon, home to the sisters who doted on their baby brother.   I’m sure he’s sharing wine and sardines and swapping stories with those who passed before him.

625659

I remember arriving at my uncle’s home during vacations.  After the hugs and kisses on both cheeks, like they do in Europe, Dad told his sisters, nieces and nephews, I missed you.  We are going to have a great time but remember one thing, I won’t be here forever.  There will be a day when I have to leave.  When that day comes I don’t want to see any tears because we were lucky enough to share this time together.  That is as apt an analogy for a six-week vacation as it is for 89 years of life.

 

Share This:
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedin