As Father's Day approaches, here's a classic from my memory bank.
When we were little, my dad was working as a landscaper at Pepperdine University in Malibu. He would leave the house by 5:30 a.m. to be at his workplace by 6:30 because his shift started at 7. My dad has always been an early riser and an early arriver. He will forever be a hard worker.
We used to live in a two-bedroom house in South Los Angeles and my brothers and I shared a room. My mom opted to get us a bunk bed so that we could have more floor space for toys and for our wrestling matches.
We had a HUGE backyard and I remember that my dad would play us, three on one, and we would hang off his leg and try to shove him so he wouldn’t score on us. It was some of the best moments I ever had with him.
It wasn’t always easy living in South L.A. during the 90’s. We couldn’t be outside past a certain time, crime was commonly high, and no matter how nerdy my parents dressed me, I would still be solicited to join a gang almost on a weekly basis. Somehow, any and all qualified for recruitment.
It was hard for a kid like me in that neighborhood but I wasn’t miserable at all. I had really good friends. My mom would surprise us randomly on school days and take us to Six Flags, Disneyland, Hurricane Harbor, or Universal Studios every single year. We even got to bring friends a few times. I’ll never forget that I would ask why my dad wasn’t with us on most of these trips and my mom would tell me, “he’s working so you could enjoy this.” It was so neat to come home, drained from a day at the theme park, to tell dad all about it. I’m sure he was tired from working all day in the sun but he would listen to me anyway. I know that I would forget to thank him for making those trips possible for us. Yet, he was delighted that we had had so much fun.
My dad signed us up for soccer because he thought we could actually be good at it. He would come to our games and cheer us on and continued to do so even when we played in High School. I didn’t turn out good at all. I just wasn’t dedicated. I’d play one year and refuse to play the next. So when my senior year came along and I made the team, I pretty much rode the bench all season. Yet, if I looked over my shoulders at the stands, there sat my dad waiting to see his son get into the game.
I would feel so embarrassed when I didn’t play at all because I knew he had taken time out his busy day to come support our team. I never gave him that proud moment I’m sure he didn’t want to miss. You know, the one where I score a difficult goal to win the game and I point to him as my teammates rush me in celebration while he explodes with excitement. You know what I’m talking about right? Well, it never happened.
As much as I knew he wanted that moment, I wanted to give it to him even more. I couldn’t shake it off and it stuck with me for a long time. I felt like I owed it to him for all the times he took me after work to kick the ball around, for driving me to my practices and games, for buying me good cleats every single season with his hard earned money, and for always being there as a fan.
The thought of letting my old man down was excruciating to me. I was still his son though. He didn’t disown me because of it. I think that I just made it a bigger deal than it really was. He was always sure to let me know how proud he was of me. Nothing could beat that.
There were moments in my life where I thought that I had disappointed him to the point where he must have been embarrassed of me. I don’t know where that came from because nobody in our home received more affirmation than me. When those thoughts would come up I’d get frightened, and he assured me with his gestures that he couldn’t be happier for me. Here’s one particular instance where that was true.
In 1997, I graduated from the 5th grade but that isn’t the memory I most recall of of that year. It was actually a few days before that. The Los Angeles Unified School District held a school soccer tournament and I made the team that made the tournament. We showed up to the game site only for the referees to tell us that we couldn’t use our soccer cleats because their insurance would not be held liable for cleat related injuries and that we had to play in our sneakers.
I told my dad that I couldn’t play because mom would be upset if I ruined my new sneakers and he said, “don’t worry about it – I will talk to her when we get home, and if you need new sneakers I will buy them for you myself.” So we played great that day and my dad was so happy to see us reach the final game.
After the tournament, we ate some tacos and I realized that I had left my cleats at the soccer field. My dad drove as fast as possible back to the field and I was just praying to God that my shoes would still be there. We searched for 20 minutes before we gave up. I was sure he was going to be mad at me for losing them. It didn’t help that he was silent during the drive home. To my surprise, dad wasn’t driving home. He took me to get sneakers AND cleats! He said it wasn’t my fault and that I had played well.
That’s who my dad was: a man who shielded me and protected me. Sometimes that protection was psychological. Sometimes it was physical. More often than not, it was spiritual.
So when my dad would wake up to begin his long drive to Malibu, he would follow a certain routine. He’d shower, put on his green uniform, tie his work boots on, and come into our room to lay hands on us.
I remember that I would hear him pray over my brothers as they slept. Then he’d reach his hand over the top bunk where I laid and he’d touch a foot, a shoulder, my head, or my hand. And when he would make contact he’d pray, “Lord, thank you for my son. Protect my son from any danger. Keep him alert at all times. Bless him with your wisdom and your love. Teach him to honor you with his actions this day. Amen.”
And with that he would leave to work.
Please take time today to let your father know how grateful you are. Give them a call and express your love. Don’t wait until Father’s Day to do so.
And I would love for you to share a positive story of your father. Please leave a detailed comment below and tell me what memory you hold dear.
Thank you for reading this. Tomorrow, I’ll post what I learned from the mistakes and successes of my father. God bless!