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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The Social Media Baby

Social Media Baby

Another time-honored part of parenting is showing the latest pictures of their son or daughter to friends, family and anyone else who look at them.  Bringing stacks of pictures to summer cookouts, Thanksgiving dinner and cornering coworkers in the company break room is part of the tradition.

It’s been this way throughout history—you can trace it back to the caveman.  The paintings on the Lascaux Cave walls were primitive baby pictures.  Visiting guests endured an hour or so of the latest images of Junior before settling down to a meal of sautéed wolf paired with a nice Sauvignon Blanc.  White wine served with red meat—now that was primitive.

My parents were guilty too. Christmas Eve 1969. I'm the little guy on the right.
My parents were guilty too. Christmas Eve 1969. I’m the little guy on the right.

Pilgrims arriving at Plymouth Rock, brandished selfies and baby pictures taken aboard the Mayflower, sharing them with members of the local tribes during the first Thanksgiving Dinner and a tradition was started.

Technology improved over the years, film was replaced by digital cameras and Al Gore invented the internet.  Then came the iPhone, turning everyone a photographer.  Before you can say selfie stick a new phenomenon was born—social media.

It started with MySpace, the social media equivalent of the cave painting.   Before long it was replaced by Facebook and Twitter.  Soon distant relatives and complete strangers were posting, tweeting and pinning the most intimate details of their lives with reckless abandon for all to see.

Talk about building a better mousetrap, Facebook and Instagram gives users a virtual means of cornering family, friends and virtual friends, with the latest family pictures that are draining the storage from their iPhones.  It’s found a home for all those blurry, underexposed iPhone images of today’s lunch, the latest pictures of their dogs or cats, and their children’s everything.

I always said I’d never be one of those parents whipping out and showing off baby pictures to anyone within site, whether they wanted to see them or not, before I became a parent.  According to (multiple) family members that ship sailed long ago.  So far there’s been no intervention, yet    

Cristian is a Social Media Baby—he was born in the Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/You Tube era.  His birth announcement was posted on Facebook and Twitter.  Since we have family and friends (real and virtual) all across the Americas and Europe, it was the best way to get the word out.  He’s had iPhones or digital cameras in his face literally since birth.   

Used for Cristian's Baby Announcement
The Image used for Cristian’s Baby Announcement

I’m a Stay at Home Dad who blogs—sites like Facebook and Twitter is essential for promoting I’m Not Grandpa.  Blog posts and social media posts are made with an eye towards not embarrassing the baby.  Cheesy pictures of him could have repercussions, he’ll probably be taking care of me in my golden years and payback is a bitch.

Many fellow bloggers are careful regarding their children.   Pseudonyms replace their children’s names and some are careful regarding how much they share because you never know.

The flip side of the argument is this. Facebook has allowed me to keep distant relatives in Spain and not so distant ones on Long Island posted on all things Cristian.  Esther and I are amazed at how many follow our posts.  In November she took the baby to Puerto Rico, giving family members a chance to meet our newest addition.  She was surprised how many told her they checked their feeds daily looking for new pictures and updates.          

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Going Home

Dad in the mid-50's
Dad in the mid-50’s

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 and travelled the world collecting experiences that would be told after Christmas dinner and many summer barbeques 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.

Sure enough one night there was a knock on the door and Dad and two others were taken away.  Dad’s saving grace was he had a bank book and pay stubs with him.  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 Raymundo

Expatriates usually find others from their part of the world.  In Spanish Harlem Dad met another Gallego named Raymundo, who is an important person to our family.  Raymundo is Bob’s Godfather, and when he married, Dad was invited to the wedding.  At the reception he was introduced to a charming bridesmaid who 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 because we didn’t have any more 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, with Mom on one side and Bob on the other side reprimanding him.  He had a mischievous look on his face that said, “five minutes more and I would have gotten away with it.”

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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 to come.  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 later told me in her country they believe 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, but because of 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.

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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.

 

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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.

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