This is my father when he was a boy.
He was born in an area near El Paso, Texas, called Smeltertown. It was called Smeltertown because of the smelt from the nearby mines. I don’t think the name of the town is very appealing, but, when I was little I would hear stories of his childhood, and I would think that Smeltertown sounded like a fascinating place.
Sometimes my dad’s childhood stories were tales of his struggles growing up, being raised by his adoptive mother, and his adoptive grandmother. My dad’s mother died when he was just months old. His mother’s cousin, and her mother, raised him in Smeltertown. They made their living, in part, selling masa to make tortillas. My dad worked alongside his adoptive mother and grandmother.
My father was raised by these two strong, independent women. They loved him and cared for him, but were strict disciplinarians with him. The only male presence, my father’s step-father, was largely absent. When my dad was a teen they came to California and settled in a pretty rough neighborhood in East Los Angeles.
He stayed out of trouble and eventually joined the army, which gave him more discipline, and offered him greater opportunity.
My dad got out of the army and lived the single life, until he met and married my mom. They started their family right away, with three kids born in just over 4 years. When my dad became a father, he had very little personal exposure to what being a father in a nuclear family looked like. Nowadays, they call that “modeling.”
But the lack of “modeling” has not deterred my dad. He learned a lot along the way. We have learned a lot along the way together too. Sometimes the lessons were rough. But, always, we knew he loved us and took care of us. And always, along the way, we have built new memories and created our own stories.
He took us on family vacations.
Many times these vacations involved one of his favorite activities, fishing.
He sang us songs.
He coached my brothers in sports.
He has become a devoted grandfather.
When I was little people would comment how much I looked like my dad. I would cry because I thought they meant I was chubby and had a mustache.
But, now I understand that they meant we had similar features. Today, I know that my dad and I are similar in ways beyond our physical appearance, and even beyond some of our similar behaviors. My dad and I share a similar understanding, and appreciation for each other. We have struggled. We are flawed, but we love each other. He is my father. I am his daughter. We are familia.
Happy Fathers Day, Dad.