My dad was an engineer.
He was, I could argue, pretty brilliant. (as engineers usually are)
He was also uncomfortable around a lot of people. (as engineers usually are)
He was always known as “Verdés” – as if calling him by his first name would have been sacrilegious. No one called him by his first name. Not even my mom.
My dad was a quiet man, but quite witty. He never said much. But when he spoke he commanded attention and often surprised us with a clever observation. He was not overly demonstrative, but always (ALWAYS!) greeted us with a warm hug and kiss. There was never a day when I wondered if I was loved. He didn’t say it. He didn’t have to. But he constantly showed it.
To this day, I often wonder how this quiet, reserved, brilliant individual ended up with six offspring. A son and FIVE daughters. FIVE! How he and my brother survived those many years of estrogen dominance in the family, I’ll never know.
I can report unequivocally that he was not prepared for being the punchline of this particular cosmic joke.
Starting with my mom, the women in my family are all noisy, opinionated, passionate and demonstrative. And so, the quiet engineer often came home to noisy discussions and conversations (can you call them that when Cubans – particularly Cuban women – are talking loudly over one another?) and plots and plans as only girls can have.
He adored (to the point of veneration) his grandchildren. There were no little people more clever. None more amazing to him. And they were his. He reveled in their presence.
The scene in my big, fat, Cuban family was always noisy, big, grand. And this was not counting holidays or parties.
My dad would sit in the center of it all, a fixture, if you will, smoking his puro, and drinking in the ambiance.
All those girls. All those kids. We were his. And he was quite proud of the family he had managed to bring about.
I lost my Papi on this date in 1999.
I still mark this anniversary and make some space amid all the Noche Buena and Christmas preparations to remember and celebrate and grieve. I’m glad (for lack of a better word) that if he had to die in December, it was in the first half. I don’t feel like I can comfortably begin my celebrations until I’ve pushed through this particular day.
When my sisters and I are together, I inevitably think of him and how he used to often say at this time of year:
“El que tiene hijas, celebra la Noche Buena.”
(“He who has daughters, celebrates Christmas Eve.”)
I think it was his way of celebrating the abundance and life that having so many women (life-givers) in his home gave him.
I am still proud to be one of the Verdés daughters.
No matter what my last name is, that will never change.
Te extraño, Papi.