In April I go to release the ashes of my late-father with my sisters. Dad was my hero. He passed away at the turning of midnight from 2014 into 2015. Though he was eighty two, his loss was devastating for me. I was tethered to my father. He was my prayer buddy, my counselor and an ever-present force in my life, even after I moved thousands of miles away at the onset of college in Boston. Our connection was a constant one. We thought the same and there was fluidity between us. Many a times we would remark to each other on our extra sensory perception of each other. We would call each other up with something to say and it would be the same thing and we would say to one another, “I was just about to call you to talk to you about that.” To this day I look into his eyes and can here him say, “Son, I love you and I am proud of you. Go get’em!”
Dad was magnanimous in the life of his children. He would wake up every morning like a machine at 5:30 to do his exercises. The dude (and I) would warm up with calisthenics, do an obscene number of push ups, sit ups, core-work, then run five or six miles, pray, do pull-ups in between, sprint and finally come home drenched in sweat and with the happiest of attitudes for his children. He would eat ‘Total’ cereal and load it with fruit aside from making himself an unGodly drink in the blender with everything he could find. Vegetables, fruits and whatever was alive, into the blender it would go. He would chug it down between mountain yoddles to his kids and one-liner affirmations to ‘go forth and seize the day.’ He would talk as if he was John Wayne or as if he was talking to a general overlooking an army about to enter battle. That was Dad. A blond, green-eyed, California-boy and veteran of the 101st Airborne Rangers and the U.S. Marine Corps.
During this same time, such hero-actors as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone were the larger than life leaders of righteousness on the silver screen. Much of the time, they symbolized an unstoppable spirit and hope that mirrored the gallantry of the U.S. Armed Forces, and the strong man who is the voice of the weak. At least that is what they represented to me. Their roles always seemed to be that of the ‘good guys’ who did the right thing and were humble, principled tough men. Who can forget Arnold as ‘Commando,’ or Stallone as the champion underdog, Rocky Balboa. Nothing could stop them and their focus. Like my father, in my mind, they were armies of one. Mighty men unafraid to face great forces alone. Dad was like this to me.
My father and I were both born in La Jolla, California, but I came of age in Puerto Rico, where Dad married my Cuban mother and settled as the islands ‘Resident Gringo.’ My eldest sister and I lived a surreal existence with multiple cultures ingrained in our minds and hearts. The Cuban heritage was just as strong as Dad’s overwhelming All-American presence. The walls of our homes were lined with my Cuban grandmothers (Mami) paintings and Dad’s life. Pictures of Dad parachuting or about to launch the worlds first atomic scud missile hanged next to Mami’s paintings of women, nature, and soft urban scenes. Dad would often speak of his life to us. He would relate to us flashpoint in his life, such as the day the authorities came to take away his Japanese-American boyhood friend and his family to the American internment camps, or the time he went to Little Rock, Arkansas with the 101st to defend the African-American children’s right to a fair education. Dad showed me pictures of him sitting in discussion with top generals and Richard Nixon and spoke of his secret expeditionary mission with the U.S. Marine Corps into Korea prior to the official start of the war.
At the same time, my Cuban heritage was tremendous as well. My maternal grandfather was a living, breathing legend who flew his entire family out of Cuba when Castro took over. ‘Papi,’ as we affectionately called him symbolized a gentle cross between a lion and an elephant to me. He doted on his children and grandchildren and was a rock of love to the whole family. Family was everything. There was nothing he would not do to make it better for all of us. It was him who took the time to teach me chess year after year. It was Papi who showed me the importance of just being a presence of love is enough and that it is not what we do but who we are that creates that person we choose to be. The mind and heart we choose to have creates the conditions and dictates our actions. Being strong and loving in the face of adversity, like Rocky in his quest, or Schwarzenegger’s Terminator robot being humanized with empathy amplified my experience of Papi’s show of love, his patience, his fortitude and my father’s unbreakable and unstoppable spirit. These heritages carried in my heart form the man I am today and make me sensitive to different cultures, the plight of the powerless, the downtrodden and the very universal concept that we be our brothers and sisters keeper in service to one another.
Catch no cold, only my essays next week on the America’s actors who have served the country and world-at-large as symbols of righteousness focused on exemplifying the importance of doing the right thing.
They have been sources of inspiration and mirrors of the men and women who serve our country in different ways. They have been servant leaders in their own right, influences in my life, upholders of hope, communicators of the the countries emotions and therapists through their films. These men and women did not throw hand grenades at the bad guys in real life, but they have become a part of, and shaped the quilt that makes up America in a very real way. They have served with their heart and souls bared before us and have brought to life different aspects of who we are as a nation. Politics aside, each has given their all. These servant leader are heroes of the heart.