Today was my father’s birthday. He would have been 99 years old. In honor of the anniversary of his birth I’m thinking of pineapple upside down cake. For that is the cake my mother would bake, year after year for his very low-key birthday celebration. It was his favorite kind of cake and it soon became mine, too. How I looked forward to my father’s birthday, just to have a slice of that once-a-year cake, lovingly made for a one-of-a-kind dad.
And if I learned anything from my father, it’s just how important family is. He loved us with complete devotion and indulged us whenever he could. I’m pretty sure he would have given us the moon if he had figured out a way. And yet, as good as he was as a father, he could also be at times exasperating, frustrating, and impossible.
When he died, almost 17 years ago—and just five months after my mother’s passing—a cousin put it like this:
“Your poor mother. Your father only gave her five months of peace. Now he’s up there with her, surely giving her a hard time again.”
What’s done is done and it doesn’t matter now. My father is gone and we are left with genuine appreciation for what he did for us, and the legacy he left behind. My brother, Cesar, has put his feelings to words, summing up a life worth living in a way that has humbled me, and given me pause. For me, it is a good reminder of what I once had and I find myself comforted by his remembrances. Cesar writes:
This is how I remember him.
He moved his family to the U.S. to take care of Jose Enrique (my father’s son from his first marriage), who needed hip surgery as a young boy. Because of my father, Jose Enrique got the best medical attention in the world.
He took a job in the States to be with his family.
He loved having us sing in the backseat of the car. And he would take great pleasure taking us to the beach and then seeing us play on the trampolines, which we passed on the way home.
He attended and studied, and put himself through New York University—at the age of 52.
During that time, he studied the rules of baseball so he could volunteer as an umpire, just so Rafael (our brother) and I could play Little League Baseball. I think we played Little League for four or five years with my father ump-ing the whole time.
He put four kids through college; three of them attending expensive, private universities.
I remember my father driving to Boston, to pick up Regina (our sister) from school, loading her stuff in the car and then driving back to Long Island in the same day.
I remember my father, at age 70, standing on a ladder on top of the inclined roof of the garage, painting the house.
I remember my father, at age 74, driving an hour and a half to my house in Westchester so that he and my mother could visit their granddaughter.
I sincerely hope there’s a heaven and that they got there ok.
Happy Birthday, Papá