Monday, February 3, 2014

Remembering My Father

It seemed less than three months ago I had lost my dear uncle Enrique (my father’s younger brother) when I had heard that my father was rushed to the hospital and placed into the ICU. The debilitating effects of pneumonia and pulmonary fibrosis would take my father’s life a week later. I suppose I should have seen this coming or perhaps I already knew. As much as people told me (my mother included) that he was getting better I knew he wasn’t going to make it. He had been talking about dying for the last year so often; I wondered if he knew something he wasn’t sharing with me. I suppose it doesn’t matter now. He has left this earth leaving me with a few photographs and a long history of memories.
I cannot say we always had a good relationship. In fact for much of my life he treated me more like a rival than a father. His education always came first and often at the expense of my own. But despite my complaints, I never knew what it was like to go hungry or to worry about keeping the lights on or if I would have a place to live until I set out on my own. He made sure my mother and I were always comfortable even if he went out of his way to make me uncomfortable.

My father (seen on the right) was the eldest of three siblings who at the age of 12 or 14 lost their mother Rosablanca at the young age of 35 to what was then believed to be Lou Gehrig’s Disease. My father was always resentful to my grandfather for pulling him out of school at the age of 14 to go work for his oil business in Mexico. He would always complain to me how he could have grown up to be an engineer or something. For my father, he would not only struggle, he would overcome every obstacle and persevere. My grandfather Luis Rosas-Sanchez later remarried a couple more times and as a result would have two more daughters that for many years had lost contact with. So growing up I only knew my dad’s brother Enrique and his younger sister who spent a lifetime making everyone pay for losing her mother at a young age but we won't get into that here.

My father had to serve in the Mexican Army in order to follow my grandfather and immigrate to the United States. He served two years in an army that back in those days you had to pay for your own uniform and use of a rifle. He would rise from the rank of Private to the rank of Lieutenant before leaving for the United States.

My father first arrived in Los Angeles living somewhere off Alvarado Blvd. That’s a dangerous place today but in the mid 1960’s not so bad or so I was told. No sooner than my father got his citizenship, he was drafted into the US Army which sent him to Vietnam. That’s like being punished twice for the same thing. 
It was there during 1966-67  in Viet Nam my father served with distinction with the 1st Air Cav made famous by the film “Once We Were Soldiers” and under the same commander Hal Moore. My father served as a “Crew Chief” aboard a Huey Helicopter synonymous with the Viet Nam War and ferried many troops in and out of battle. With what surviving photos I have inherited I will later write a book about my father’s war. There isn’t too much to tell largely because he didn’t like to talk about it but from what I do know will make an interesting read. His “ship” was shot down six months into his tour. He survived the crash but took some Vietnamese shrapnel in his knee and was sent back to the rear in Saigon for the rest of the war until his return home. Of course, his sister alleges he made the whole thing up but then again she wasn't there. After one soccer game in 1980 exposed some shrapnel still lodged knee he was forced to get what was then considered "state of the art microsurgery" to remove that piece of metal which put an end to any doubt to his sisters questionable allegations. I never doubted my father for an instant.
After the war my father would meet my mother a year later. Before too long they married at a Catholic Church in Oxnard California where shortly afterwards I came out. My dad took a string of jobs from delivery truck driver to early aircraft mechanic. He eventually took a job at Condor Helicopters at the Oxnard airport all while attending classes at night at LA Trade Tech and later Ventura College. I don’t remember seeing much of my father when I was young. He was always working or at school. We lived five years in Ventura before moving to Oxnard in 1973. My mother’s family had more or less migrated from Calexico California and resettled in droves in Oxnard. My Grandfather, My dad’s sister, and for a time my Uncle Enrique too settled in Oxnard. For an only child, I had so much extended family but rarely saw my father. 
In the summers he would work in Alaska for the Arctic Air Service repairing helicopters and bush planes. He did that for a couple summers in a row while I lived with my mom and grandmother Sophie (my mother’s mother) in Oxnard. This was the 1970’s and for a time my father had me come with him when he worked on weekends to help clean airplane cockpits while he serviced the engines. Other times he took my flying in a rented Piper Cub. I guess I could say my fondest memories were at 10,000 feet just me and my old man taking turns at the controls. This is where my love of flying was born.

But not all was bliss. While my dad had many friends and was a popular man, for some reason around family particularly at big family gatherings my father was a different man. He would snap at nothing and hit me in front of everyone. I don’t know if it was Vietnam or his own upbringing, whatever it was made me afraid of him. He could be so cool sometimes, even funny then at the drop of a hat become this abusive man who loved to berate me and beat me. It got so bad at times I became afraid to see relatives in fear of another humiliating incident. I hated him for it and things got worse as I became a teenager in the early 1980's and our family moved to Camarillo. By then my father was full time mechanic for the Air National Guard before working for the Air Force as a civilian. He was one of those guys in the late 1970's who didn’t like women in the engine shop and routinely disparaged them and other minorities. So much so it got him in trouble. He had many complaints against him from women and blacks. So when he had no one to fight with at work guess who he came home to fight with? Yes you guessed it. Me.

Eventually my father got with the times and got over many of his "old boys club" prejudices. He became an exemplary serviceman. He would eventually see all of Europe, South America, and even Japan. In the 80's he worked as a civilian for the Air Force on the Space Shuttle Main Engine and Peacemaker Missile before working for the Navy prior to his retirement in 2001. It was kinda cool to say I was the only kid on my block whose father bought nuclear missiles for a living. My father loved to tell jokes. Often they were funny if not outright politically incorrect by today’s standards. But if he was angry, his jokes became personal and very mean spirited. He cleaned up his act at work but brought it home. I in turn didn't help that situation by rebelling and acting up getting into a lot of trouble which only made relations reach a boiling point until I eventually moved out on my own. And now that he has passed on I discovered that in that time after I left home my father decompressed from the stress of our conflicts and became a happy man. It kind of makes me sad to know this. It was almost as if he blamed me for all his unhappiness. My father was no drinker but he was a workaholic. He continued with the Air Guard and traveled all around the world. He would go on to get multiple academic degrees starting with his first two AA’s, BS, and later his Masters Degree. Believe it or not, I was proud of him. He earned it. I only wish he would have invested in my education the way he did on his own but then again no one helped him. And in hindsight, I believe he thought I would follow his footsteps and make it on my own. But instead of living up to his bold example, I fell flat on my face.

I can’t say it is all my father’s fault that I have failed so much in this life. But his never ending mantra’s of how I would never be anything or anyone unless I joined the military didn’t help me. It instilled doubt and a sense of low self worth. As a result I made many bad decisions starting with my first marriage which he was opposed to. I became somewhat of a source of embarrassment for him which often led to his rejection. I would always run to my uncle Enrique for advice and sometimes for help when my father would not. And to both of them I am sorry for that. I was a lost soul trying to survive. I only wish my father would have taught me to succeed in life rather than relying on the Army to make me the man he wished I would have become. He never planned on what would happen if I didn’t go in. In a sense of Irony, the very War he fought in put in place a law stating that only children could not fight in future wars. Thanks to Richard Nixon, I still could have served in Desert Storm but what would have been the point? I didn’t need the military to show me how to fly a desk so naturally I passed.

For the next twenty years, we argued over my estranged children, politics, and my repeated failures. As angry as I made him he still bailed me out of trouble. Somewhere along this line I started to get things together and returned to Tech College and got two Computer Science Degrees which made him happy. He once told me I would never get a college degree so it was fun to see him eat some crow at my graduation. No seriously, it was one of those few moments my father was actually proud of me instead of ashamed of me. And when my big corporate IT career imploded in 2008, he begged me to start over. He couldn’t understand how desperate my position was for I had burned him out years earlier with one career failure after another. But here in this last year I produced a small children’s book Ichiro Dreams In Color and got my work printed in a local Japanese paper The Cultural News. He was rather impressed and believed I might be onto something that may finally work. But it has come too late. He never got to see my epic novels published or see me climb out of dire poverty.

My father was many things to many people. He was loved by his coworkers and military friends. He was envied within the family for his accomplishments. And he was loved by my mother who stayed with him for 47 years. For me, I have always had a complicated relationship with my father. There were parts of him I loved, admired, feared, and hated. He was my war hero. He was my savior. But to him, I was his ungrateful son, an embarrassment, and in some ways his academic rival which I never understood. My mother’s family often found themselves at odds with him as he was very outspoken and very opinionated. He was the kind of man who was always right even when he was wrong. I always used to ask him why he supported so many right wing dickheads. He always said it was because of Viet Nam. I really couldn’t see that connection but there it was. And while it had been years since I had been that troubled teenager, my own grown up children had their own complicated relationships with him. But despite all of that he loved my girls Ilse and Eirika and I know somewhere they loved him too. But his love was never more demonstrated than for my youngest child Mia Naoko who was born with multiple birth defects and continuing medical conditions. He agonized with many heartfelt tears over her and often prayed for our child to one day have a chance at a normal life. He loved her dearly and helped us raised money for her medical expenses. He may have never been that proud of a father, but he loved his grandchildren. I hope he watches over them particularly little Mia. 
Like my uncle Enrique, I will miss my father. I’ll miss our stupid arguments, and shared thoughts of hope for the future. I so wanted to make him proud and fell so short. I won’t miss the times he made me mad especially since he left me with a mess to contend with in his wake. I am aware I won’t be getting any inheritance and perhaps that was his way of paying me back for all the time he bailed me out of trouble. Despite it all, I still loved the man. I will miss calling him every Sunday or Skype with him. Mia loved that dearly. I used to get so angry at him I would complain to my mother’s family but the minute they attacked him I felt inclined to defend him. I used to say; Sure, he can be a bastard. But he’s my bastard. No really. He was my father. Loved him, hated him, feared him, admired him, miss him. Deep down he really did have a good heart. At his military funeral, I heard from so many of his friends about what a great and wonderful guy he was. My reply: I wish I knew that guy; he sounded like someone I would have loved to have known. Well for all it is worth, I was proud of his accomplishments and the man he had become. I only wish I was half the man he was. And now there are no more men in my family. 

As I returned to the Pima Air Museum to complete the tour my father and I had to cut short due to his collapse from heat exhaustion, I contemplated our last visit. No more talking about airplanes or war history. I will now associate that Huey on display with my old man for that was the model he flew in the war. I will miss my father and I am so sorry I could not make him happy or proud of me in this lifetime. I’ll never know if I was some expensive inconvenience or an experiment in parenting gone wrong. It doesn’t matter. He is with my grandfather and my uncle Enrique now. He knows I grieve for him despite anything his surviving troublemaking sister has to say. Heaven will be my judge, not her. 

So I say to my father: 
Thanks for everything pops. 
Sorry for all the grief and anguish I caused you.
I hope one day I can still do something to make you proud.
And then perhaps you may smile down on me from heaven.
Vaya con Dios. Love you dad.
Rest in Peace

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