Today is my dad’s 59th birthday. Or, it would’ve been, anyway. My dad died in 1993, 18 years ago last November 19. I was 19 at the time, he was 40, just a month shy of turning 41.
I don’t talk a lot about my father, especially not as much as I do about my mother. It’s not that I loved him any less, it’s that he’s been dead longer and I’ve had many years to bring that pain down to a semi-comfortable numbness. There’s also the simple issue that I didn’t know my father well.
My parents divorced when I was 2. My father had a problem with drugs and my mother wasn’t gonna have that. My father went through rehab, completed it, relapsed, and rehabbed again. During this process, my entire early childhood, I only got to see my dad on a few occasions. I really didn’t grow up with him, though everyone did their best to make sure he was somehow in my life.
The picture above was taken when I was 10. By then he was living in the States, doing (I would only learn later on) ministry with other men who’d gone through the same problems he had. By the time I hit my mid-teens, my dad was an established youth counselor working with troubled teens in Florida. I visited him over one summer and went camping with some of those kids. It was the summer I had my first cigarette and saw my first pair of real boobs, up in the North Carolina mountains.
He was a youth counselor for years, and even if I didn’t entirely grasp all that he did (he did not like to talk too much about his cases to protect his kids’ privacy), I was fucking proud of what he did. The flip-side was that I was jealous that those troubled kids got a lot more of him than I did. But he lived in Miami, and I in Puerto Rico, so we did what we could.
He died suddenly. He went in for a check-up, and two weeks later he was dead. My dad had done a lot of damage to his body over his youth, which was worsened by some serious car accidents he’d been in over the years (many a result of the stupid decisions of his youth). I used to say my dad was stuck together with spit and a prayer, and I wasn’t far from the truth. His time came up and I was left without him just as I was getting to know him as an adult.
As angry as I am at G-d[rel]Yes, I get angry at G-d at times. Faith is a struggle, not a joyride.[/ref] sometimes for my mom’s death, over the years I’ve been far more angry over my dad’s. As much as I love my paternal grandfather and uncle, they aren’t him, and there’s a lot of things I’ve left unsaid over the years because he wasn’t here. There will be more. It is what it is.
I have learned a lot more about my dad in the last 18 years. I have acquired documents relating to his life, essays he wrote for university, letters he wrote my mom over the years. I have built a better picture of him, of the real him, though it remains (and it always will remain) incomplete. I’m pretty sure I have in me a story about the process of getting to know my dad after his death; one day it’ll emerge.
All this said, today isn’t a day to remember his death. Today is a celebration of his life. Today I remember my dad as the guy in the pic above, or as the guy who took his 16-year old son around Miami early on various Saturday mornings to attend some Star Trek or comic convention while he visited from Puerto Rico. As the guy who, though he fucked up during his own youth, more than made it up by helping to steer hundreds of other young kids away from drugs and violence, a good number of them successfully, too.
That is my dad. That is Miguel Angel Perez, Micky as he was known to most; just Papi to me and my brother. Happy birthday.