November 15, 1950 is the day mi papi was born. November 16, 1950 is the actual date recorded on his birth certificate. As the story goes, mi abuelito got a bit drunk the day of my dad’s birth that he forgot to register him. So the next day, in the midst of a hangover officially recorded my dad being born November 16! The details are murky but we don’t delve deeper into this kind of interesting mythology. All we know is that my dad was born on the 15th but we celebrate on the 16th.
We sat in a circle this year as a family commemorating 60 years of his existence. We began by sharing “things” our dad taught us. With 5 siblings it was entertaining reminiscing of the wisdom he parlayed to us. Here are some examples:
“My dad taught me that if I have something in my eye I should spit on the ground 3 times because what’s in my eye will flush out through the saliva.”
“My dad told me that if I were ever chased by someone with a gun that I should run in a zig zag to avoid being shot.”
“My dad taught me to chew water. That way I can break up any molecules that haven’t been broken down.”
“My dad told me that when I’m walking I should always have my head up and fist cocked just in case someone attacks me.”
“My dad told me that I should learn to sew holes in socks. He told me that when I marry someone it will be good to be able to fix the holes of my husbands socks.”
“My dad taught me that if a dog barks at me that I should hiss like a snake because dogs are mortally afraid of snakes.”
We laughed really hard at all these “lessons” because despite their preposterousness in one way or another we still live by them. Even though we are all older and wiser we are still influenced by the words of our dad. There is something about the impact a dad has that can escape us sometimes. Sure they tuck in their t-shirts into their jeans and wear socks with their sandals, but it’s not their fashion that makes them important. There is something profound about a dad passing on wisdom to his children.
Perhaps, the greatest wisdom I learned from mi papi was when he drove me down to Calgary for an internship I was doing at a church. I was only 19 years old and was insecure about my new role. I had been involved in a Hispanic congregation so I was comfortable within my own culture. This was a completely different experience for many reasons. 1- It was a paid position. I had never been paid for “church” work before. 2- It was in a city I had never been to. I was going to be away from home for 4 months. The longest ever at the time. 3- The church was comprised of 99% White middle class families. I was used to my small Latino congregation with their “alleluyas” and “gloria a Dios” that I wasn’t sure what a “Canadian” church would be like.
I didn’t say anything as we silently waited in the foyer to meet the pastor I was going to be working with. Somehow my dad could read the deflation and nervousness in my face that he told me something I would never forget. “Stick your head up and your chest out. You are not better or worse than these people. You have something to teach them and they have something to teach you. Don’t be ashamed for who you are. God has sent you here for a purpose. Don’t forget that.” Those words didn’t mean much to me then. I don’t think I had the maturity to confront my insecurities. Today, I understand the depth of what my dad said in a whole new way. It’s a lesson that I will pass on to my children one day and when I do I’ll remember to say “my dad told me…”