Each Father's Day, I Remember

I never had the chance to celebrate Father's Day. My father had only been in this country for four years when he passed away. He was 36 years old and had come from Colombia, South America. But for the four years that I did have him as my father, I was star-struck -- in love with him -- and I will never forget him.

A few summers ago, when Pirates of the Caribbean came to the theaters, I was sitting in the audience with my husband and our three children. When Orlando Bloom crossed the screen, I shot up in my chair. "Oh!" I gasped, "He looks just like my father!"

"Cool, mom," my children answered, putting handfuls of popcorn in their mouths, their eyes glued to the screen.

For me, I couldn't concentrate from that point on. I watched the rest of the movie with a goose-egg sized lump sitting in my throat. It was my father on the screen, and my heart was making me feel like rushing the 30-foot-tall figure on the screen in front of me, so I could say, "I love you, and I miss you."

My father was the color of a new penny and had green eyes that stood out against his skin. His smile, lopsided and favoring the right, made me grin wider than my little mouth should have been able to.

Growing up, we had a radio in the kitchen, a beige plastic rectangle with golden dials. My father would turn the radio on and The Beatles were just about the only thing playing on every station back then. From wherever I was in the house, I'd come running, ready to dance the Twist for my dad. He would see me shake my small body back and forth while I'd sing, "Oh he was just seventeeeeen!" He'd laugh, loud, clapping, and the double dimples on the left side of his cheek would get so deep, they'd look like they were drawn in with magic marker. I would dance every time I heard The Beatles on the radio, just so my father would laugh.

My parents would have parties in our basement and the old records from South America would be pulled out. My father, with a brown bottle of beer in his hand and the always-present 1960′s fixture of a cigarette hanging from his lower lip, would slide his feet back and forth until he was in the middle of the room. I would watch him from where I would hide around the corner of the steps. The sight of him made me want to run across the floor and jump into his arms more than anything else in the world.

He didn't talk much; his English was limited and he was self-conscious about it. But he had the power of presence in my life. With just a special wink from him, I'd cover my mouth with both hands, unable to stop my explosion of giggles. He knew it doesn't take a grand gesture or a lot of words to show love to someone who loves you; it just takes a stand-still moment of unshared attention. Time, frozen, where it's just you and that person, where that time is yours and no one else's.

I would watch for my father as he'd come home from work every day, leaning my forehead with all my might against the front screen door so I could see as far out as possible. I'd wait for his grey coat to come down the road and then I'd burst out of that front door like a horse from a gate. I'd run down the front steps not thinking about temperature, rain, shoes on or not, and cry out his name, "Papa!" He'd see me and his dimples would crease up on the left side. One day, the mesh on the screen door popped out from the force of my body and my father had to replace it.

My father was larger than life and his delight in me was clear; I had no doubt how important I was to him. He did this through the grandest of actions, the undivided minute or two for only me. These short, four years of memories with him have lasted me a lifetime. I still see his face, with his eyes closed, dancing in our basement, the palm of one hand softly on his stomach, his other one held up in the air, swaying his shoulders side to side.

I had my father for far too short of a time, much too short for a little girl who adored him. He died suddenly when I was in the first grade; a shocking, unexpected suicide -- a death so abrupt that no one could get me to stop looking out of our front screen door for him.

I remember you, my wonderfully loving father. I want you to know that I have never forgotten you. Thank you for four years of love that were strong enough to fill my heart 40 years later.

Feliz Dia de los Padres, mi Papa bello. Happy Father's Day, my beautiful father.