As a young girl, I knew I had the best Daddy in the world. Although my parents were divorced, throughout the years, he’d come for me.
I loved it when he took me to the parks. My daddy may have been short, but he was a big kid at heart and loads of fun. He had a knack for mimicking different sounds. Children laughed whenever he cried out like Tarzan on the jungle gym. He wouldn’t hesitate to push me high on the swing. I squealed with delight when he ran in front and scrambled away right in time before I could kick him. He’d twirl me on the merry-go-round until we couldn’t go anymore and tumbled on the ground from exhaustion. Me from laughing hard; him from running in circles.
Daddy worked as the produce manager in a huge grocery chain store. He was a hard worker, a model employee. A friendly, robust, people-person, he never grew tired of chatting with his customers and telling them jokes. His dark eyes twinkled with glee. The mirth in his thick Puerto Rican accent, combined with his animated personality, charmed all.
Sometimes Daddy caused havoc, but always in fun. He often mimicked the sound of a kitten near the produce stand at work to see the children’s reactions. Once an elderly woman hunted everywhere for the pobrecito. Then another time while whistling like a bird, he had customers looking up for one. He even imitated a newborn’s cry.
“Excuse me, sir, but don’t you hear a baby crying somewhere?” a worried customer asked.
“A baby? No, no,” he answered. “No baby over here.” Daddy chuckled as he related to me how he watched the mystified customer walk away, shaking her head.
Daddy told me the story when a little boy in a shopping cart kept staring at him the whole time, while his mother across the aisle weighed her vegetables.
“I smiled at da boy and asked his name, but he dun say noteen,” Daddy explained. “He just keep lookin’ and lookin’ at me, like I’m ugly or somethin’.”
“Then what did you do?” I asked and chuckled.
“I dun do noteen . . .” Daddy’s eyes twinkled.
“Go on,” I persisted, knowing of his pranks.
“I just smiled big and stuck out my bottom dentures at da boy.”
“No, Daddy, you didn’t!” I laughed, remembering him doing that very thing before, enough to startle anyone.
“Yeah, but then da boy started cryin’, so I got outta there fast,” Daddy said guiltily. “I dunno where I get these jokes. You got a funny papi, eh?”
“Yeah.” I giggled. “Muy loco, all right. Tell me the story about the goat sucker in Puerto Rico,” I said, wiping my eyes.
“¡Oh, si!” Daddy exclaimed, slapping his thigh. “¡El Chupacabra! Dis thin’ dat went round to all the animales suckin’ their blood dry.”
“Yep, that’s the one,” I said.
“Man, da people get so scared and say it’s some kind of diablo. They say, ‘sierra la puerta’, close your door, El Chupacabra is goin’ to suck your blood!”
“Ya ever see one, Daddy?”
“No, no, I never see dat thin’ in my life.” He chuckled and added, “I dunno if I believe it.”
“Well, it’s sure an awful scary story.” I shuddered at the possibilities.
Yes, my daddy has always been a natural born storyteller. I could sit and listen to him for hours. “Tell me again about the first time you left Puerto Rico on the plane.”
“When I left my home town Utuado in 1952?” His eyes flickered miles away, as he mused. “Flyin’ in dat two-engine airplane made me so scared. I needed to go to el baño so bad. The stewardess want to tell me somteen. Pues, I dunno what she say; I dunno any English then. She talk louder but I dun understand; I just wanna go. I try to make her understand me, so I jell to her, ‘I no spic inglish! I no spic inglish!’”
As I listened to his broken English, I laughed until my sides ached and my eyes watered.
My Papi, Benjamin Pérez
“Daddy, you didn’t know how to speak English when you were nineteen?”
“No hija, I didn’. Later, my cousin in New York explained to me that da stewardess just wanted me to put my seatbelt on. Ay bendito nene,” Daddy laughed. “I didn’ understand noteen.”
“Hey Papi,” I said, wiping my eyes. “Ya know what?”
“¿Que mi vida?”
“Ya still have an accent.”
“Ju tellin’ me, man.” He laughed.
Thirty years later:
My world shattered into a thousand fragments.
Along with my heart.
How so? When my husband at the time blurted, “I’m just not happy.”
After much heated words and screaming fits, I was relieved when he stormed out of the house. I felt ashamed knowing that Daddy and my stepmother were visiting us and within earshot in the guestroom, and had heard everything. By the time I went downstairs, Daddy was on his knees praying in Spanish by the bed. I stood by the doorway listening to his prayer, forgetting to move. Daddy, crying, glanced up and reached out his hand toward me. I went to him and collapsed, sobbing.
That day was Father’s Day, 1991.
The following day at the airport heartbroken and devastated, as we kissed and hugged to say our goodbyes, words stuck in my throat. He didn’t know what to say. He wasn’t sure what to do. But my daddy’s silence comforted me and it was enough. He wrapped strong, loving arms around me. I was a few inches taller, but felt smaller. At that moment, I wished I could stay in his arms and be a little girl again.
Today, with Father’s Day soon approaching, I remember how special my daddy has always made me feel. I still feel his love across the miles when we speak on the phone. At any given time when we’re together, I can still feel secure and safe in his arms as we embrace. His eyes still carry that familiar twinkle during his story telling.
Before long, we are reminiscing, we are laughing, and we are enjoying the magical moment of father and daughter.
(Work published in La Respuesta Magazine, as well as in the Homepage of Sofrito For Your Soul)
© M.A. Perez, 2013, All Rights Reserved