Sunday is Father's Day.
My father died on April 3, 1967. He suffered from arteriosclerosis, or as we were told, hardening of the arteries. In those days, the treatment involved taking nitroglycerin pills and baking fish for dinner every night.
As the end grew closer, we decided to take a few day trips and short vacations. I wasn't told, but I knew that his days were growing short. At one point, he was put in Cooper Hospital, in their Intensive Care Unit. When he got out, it was still against the rules for a child to go up and visit him. My mother hid me inside her raincoat and got me into the elevator so that I could go up and see him. I remember how happy he was to see me and getting a big hug from him. How could a hospital deny a child the right to see his father, I wondered in my child's mind?
This was the man who threw my first baseball at me and allowed me to hit left-handed, even though most of the world hit right-handed. We sat at his tape recorder and told jokes from books to each other. He laughed, even though he knew the punch line.
He told me war stories. He talked about what "great guys the Germans were" and how they used to sit around and tell jokes to each other. Later, I found out that he spent the war in San Francisco, protecting the California coast from the Japanese invasion. I think the reason he told me that the Germans were great guys was because he didn't want me to hate people because of where they lived.
He took me to Phillies games, usually on Sunday. I remember getting up and seeing him at the breakfast table, looking over the schedule in the newspaper.
"Bunning and Koufax today," he said. "Let's go." Mid-morning, we'd be off to a sporting goods store in Oaklyn to buy a couple of tickets. We would arrive obscenely early, in time to watch batting practice. It's probably the same reason I get to the ballpark at 5:00 for a 7:05 game.
We lived through the historic Phillies' 1964 collapse together. I was 7, and I remember him telling me that "we'll get World Series tickets" when they won. They did not win, but I never doubted his word that we would have gone to that World Series together.
At his viewing, our family and friends showed up - of course. Among the well-wishers was a co-worker of his. The thing that struck me about it was that he was the only black man at the service. He came to me and shook my hand, introduced himself and told me how much he liked my father. Even though I didn't realize it at the time, in later life I would come to appreciate this as an example of how race doesn't matter - that friendship makes race irrelevant.
One lesson he taught me was that I should treat everyone with the same amount of respect. Regardless of whether they cleaned the toilets or ran the place - people are people, and we are equal. That sentiment was brought to life when a (so-called) human resources representative at work told me that "your father was wrong" after I was reprimanded for daring to speak-up to a superior. My father was not wrong.
Sunday will be the 46th Father's Day I have spent without my father. Perhaps his disease is the reason I am so devoted to physical fitness? I have greatly out-lived him but I have no legacy. My great regret in life is that I have no children to teach those same lessons to. The lessons of racial tolerance, equal treatment and his good humor.
We can spend a lifetime wishing things were different. I think that, when our lives change as children we fail to realize what is happening at the time. I had no idea what was going on. Dad died in our living room. The doctor came to our home and attended to him, even though they knew it was too late. My mother exclaimed, "I can still feel him breathing!" as she held her hand near his nose. The doctor told her that it was the air being expelled from his lungs. How can a child be exposed to that and not be changed?
I was sent to a neighbor's house and waited. I remember seeing the doctor's black Cadillac outside our house and how insensitive my neighbor's children were to my plight. I was angry, but I didn't know why. The next few days were a blur. I was taken out of school and attended the viewing and funeral.
Among other things, my mother had to sell his 1967 Volkswagen Beetle. I wish I had that car today.
So, there it is. Another Father's Day without my beloved father. As it turns out, I'm more like my mother than my father, but I suppose that's because she bravely reared me and encouraged me and supported me thoroughout my adult life.
I have no idea where I would be if my father had survived. I know that I would not be any stronger. I would not be any less tolerant or have a greater sense of humor. My early adulthood might have changed because he would have been able to put me through college. As it was, at the age of 40, my employer and I put me through college. By then, I had established who I was.
However, that person was in large part due to the man he made me into.
I hope he would be proud, because I am proud of him.
Happy Father's Day, Armondo. I'll always love you.