Today, I am grateful for my father. My dad came to California from Mexico in 1954 when he was just 18. He came to work the strawberry fields. His oldest sister was already here so she helped to set him up. In 1956 he left for Illinois due to billboards Abbotts Laboratories had posted all over about new jobs.
When he arrived in my hometown, Waukegan, Illinois, he needed a green card to work & his friends new my mom who was bilengual so they took him to see her to get his paperwork sorted. The FIRST time Dad saw Mom after “hello”, his first words were, “I’m going to marry you!” Dad was 21, Mom was 32 at the time. Mom threw back her head & laughed. She considered Dad to be a “silly pipsqueak.”
However, one marvelous trait of my father is that he was like a dog with a bone. He would never let go until things were exactly as he had envisioned them. Once he had his green card he began bringing mom his junk mail to translate and read to him. He kept asking her out, but Mom kept laughing at him & telling him no, find someone your own age. But Dad persisted.
Mom finally did go out with him, then got really mad because he bought her a very cheap meal. She told him to never come back. Broke Dad’s heart. Then his friends told Mom the reason. He was sending ALL his money, except what he needed for room & board, back to Mexico to his mother because he was putting his youngest brother through college (my uncle now has several degrees, including 2 doctorates). Mom then felt bad & agreed to see Dad again so they began dating.
Four YEARS later my grandfather put his foot down & told Mom, “Listen to me! You either marry this guy or get rid of him because he’s driving me crazy!” So Mom & Dad were married on Jan. 28, 1961. I came along on June 19, 1963 & was their only child due to my mother being physically challenged by spina bifida. All the doctors said it was miracle she carried me to term.
My dad was never an educated man, yet he was one of the smartest people I ever met. My dad was never rich. He never even had much money and we had to scrape by pretty much all the time. Yet he never allowed me to want for anything. He always made sure I had everything I needed. My dad knew the value of a good education so when I was old enough to attend college instead of making me go out to get a job to pay for it, he took on a second job and he made my mom go back to work after she had been home raising me for 18 years. He told her that no child of his would have to worry about work AND grades. He only wanted me to focus on my grades. I went to the very best in our area, Northwestern University, which is far from cheap, and I excelled. I did so not for myself, but for my parents who sacrificed everything for me and especially for my dad because it was so important to him that I get a college degree.
My dad was wealthy growing up. His father owned a chain of successful grocery stores. He was used to having everything he wanted, but his dad spoiled him & after a teacher hit him one time he never made my dad go back to school. I never knew the story until I was in the 7th grade. I had a very cruel sewing teacher (to this day I have a sewing phobia, no joke, it makes me physically ill). She would find something trivial to scream at me about every single day. Once it got to the point that my last words at night would be, “I hope Mrs. Milligan doesn’t scream at me tomorrow,” Dad took action. He went to the school & showed up when I was in sewing class. Dad was already president of the PTO (Parent-Teacher Organization) & had been so since I was in 1st grade. So everyone knew him & he was very popular. Dad marched right into class & began screaming at Mrs. Milligan asking her how did SHE like it? Then he picked up a pair of pinking shears, held them up to her and said, “you are not fit to teach PIGS! Do you understand me? If you ever yell at my daughter again, or if she tells me you are yelling at someone else’s child, I am coming back for you!” She ran from the room screaming. It was FREAKING AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!
My dad was my hero. He was also hero to many children. When I would tell him someone was being bullied by a teacher, he would go to the school – take time off of work when our family could ill afford it – to get it all sorted out for the kid. Often without the involvement of the parents because the parents were too afraid to say anything, but my dad was fearless. He was a typical Leo, so when his kid was threatened or any of my friends, the lion came out. He was so loved by the school kids that when we would go on field trips (for which he always served as one of the Room Parents) they would actually have fist fights to get into his group of kids! Dad would buy each kid in his field trip group an ice-cream or a coke. Anything he bought me, he bought for all of them, too. The kids adored him nearly as much as I did.
My dad gave me everything I ever needed. A good, stable, loving home. A strong, loving relationship with my mother. The knowledge that he had my back no matter what. A college education. Good morals and ethics. He made sure I had all of this and more.
I adore my father and miss him desperately. He passed away due to Parkinson’s Disease, dementia, and heart disease on September 20, 2009. A man who clearly did NOT deserve to go in such a manner. It was my greatest heart break to see the once great man I knew and adored turn into someone who didn’t resemble my father at all. So for me, my father actually died in October, 2008 when he began to lose his mind. I made sure the body was well taken care of out of respect for my father, but I knew the essence that was my father was gone.
My dad was the best. All the kids at school and around the neighborhood also called him “Dad.” He was loved and respected by all, a man who was uneducated and never had any money and who thought little of himself for those very reasons. When he got sick and began to lose his mind his dementia made his low self-esteem much worse and he became so depressed. I would remind him of all the wonderful things he did not just for me, but for my friends. He would smile and say, “Yeah, I did do that, didn’t I? And it was a good thing.”
Yes, Dad, it was a good thing. And you, you were THE BEST. I love you and miss you every single day.