I want you to know it wasn’t all bad. When I close my eyes and think of safe, it is a peach sherbet golf polo.
When I was three or four, I went to my grandparents’ house on Highland in Nogales. My cousins were all there playing out on the driveway while my mother and aunts watched. I didn’t know how to play or share toys, so I sat in the back of my aunt Bernice’s hatchback. The hydraulics must have been broken, so the back door was perched on a stick or a baseball bat. I don’t remember. I just remember waking up on a cold table, in a room by myself, being told by a voice to lay still.
It was an X-ray room at Holy Cross hospital. The stick had become dislodged and the door had slammed shut on my head. I must have blacked out.
It was scary to wake up like that. When I was allowed to get off the table and return to the room next door where all the adults were gathered, everyone looked scared. As a kid who had trouble processing emotions, I just took a cue from everyone that I should be scared, too, and maybe I’d done something wrong. And then my dad appeared in a peach sherbet golf shirt. He picked me up and held me. I put my head on his shoulder and cried. I felt safe enough to cry. That was a huge deal.
My dad loves The Beach Boys. He and I used to sing along to them when they came on the radio. We spent a lot of time together, just him and me. He could always make me feel safe. Even when I did dangerous things around him, I knew things were going to be ok. I think I look for men who make me feel safe because of him. I think I look for men who make me feel safe because I know too intimately the feeling of not being safe. Maybe this has been a saving grace in dating strangers. My feelers are always up. My boundaries are reinforced. At the first sign of weakness or bad decision making or menacing behavior or neediness, I am out. I can smell it on men. I will call them out. I will play my cards however I have to in order to get away from them. Even after the couple of times I came close to being sexually assaulted in my mid 30’s (not strangers…men I knew), I got out of there relatively unscathed because I know how to maneuver around danger. Even when I was mugged at gunpoint for 40 minutes.
Here is something I wrote for him for Father’s Day 2018. It’s all true. I love him. It makes things harder when you love someone who will take advantage of you. But maybe that was another lesson he taught me as well. If every cloud has a silver lining, every experience, especially the bad ones, has a lesson.
Happy Father’s Day Dad! I didn’t have any macaroni for an art project, so I wrote this for you instead:
My dad is a guy’s guy. He golfs with the same foursome each week. He drinks tequilitas with his compadres at their mansions on the weekends while the women trade recipes and gossip. And he goes on deep sea fishing trips with his friends to fish casually and talk shit seriously, in matching shirts of course.
This man’s man, who worked as a cowboy for John Wayne and survived a tour of duty as a downed helicopter medic in Vietnam, never got his boy. To an American, it might sound a bit arcane to our current sensibilities. But in Mexican culture, the honor…the puro orgullo… of looking into your son’s eyes and passing on your given name to the sangre of your sangre is no small deal. Having a junior is more than just vanity. It is the way that Mexican men pass down traditions tied to patrilineal surnames. It is the way that Mexican men ensure their legacy. It is the way that Mexican men show they are men. And my dad, macho that he is, had the misfortune to miss out on the gender lottery, not once, but three times.
And so I became his son. I have his face, his hands and feet. I have his sense of rhythm and love for dance. I have his sense of humor. I have his uncanny ability to talk to strangers and make quick friends.
He taught me to fish. He taught me to ride quads (and not tell my mom when I flipped them). He taught me to play gin rummy and pool. He not only taught me to drive stick, but how internal combustion engines work and the difference between four wheel drive and positraction.
He drives to Tucson to trim my hedges. He makes special trips to Mexico to buy tortillas for my friends. He offers to drive me to the airport no matter what time I have to be there. He calls my dogs his grandsons.
We talk business, politics and sports. We talk about my aspirations and how to make them realities. He reminds me always to recognize how fortunate I am to have my health, my upbringing, my talents, and my opportunities. He’s my biggest cheerleader and he makes me want to be the person I see reflected in his eyes.
He may never have gotten his boy (although his grandsons are just as special to him), but I hope I was the next best thing…even if I never quite got the hang of a golf club.