Wednesday, October 12, 2011

My Father's Best Advice

My name is Ernesto Rivera. Roughly a week after my fourteenth birthday my mother came into my room and said that my father wanted to speak with me which came as quite a shock because I had never seen him before in my life. While my mother was pregnant with me he left her for his mistress and in the years since he had never come to see me. Not for when I as in the school play, not for any awards I've received, not for any of my futbol games, not even ever on a birthday. As a matter of fact I have never even received so much as a letter, a birthday card or a single present from him although he did make sure that he was never late sending money every month to my mother, presumably to help in my upbringing. So you can imagine what a surprise it was to hear my mother speak those words.

I looked her with a blank expression on my face, dumbfounded. Had I heard her wrong? Surely that must be the case. But she confirmed that he was there and wanted to talk to me. I asked why and she merely shrugged her shoulders and said for me to go to him in the living room. As I walked into the room she disappeared into the kitchen although I am quite sure that if one were to be able to float through the walls like a ghost she would be found with her ear on the other side of the door straining to hear what was being said. Upon seeing him for this unusual first time I must say I was not impressed. Throughout the years I had built up stories and images in my head that could explain why he had not been involved in my life, after all, I was his firstborn child as far as I knew. He looked nothing like the covert spy or adventurer that I had imagined him to be.

I sat down quietly and looked at him even more intently. He was shorter than me, was starting to put extra weight on his middle and his hair was thinning quickly so he mistakenly chose to leave it long and used a hideous combover to make believe he had more than he actually did. He looked like any other man I would see walking on the street. There was nothing about him that stood out. His clothes didn't seem to match the person, as if he were trying to disguise who he was, to make himself appear younger and more attractive. Instead they failed miserably and only drew attention to the aging that he was trying so desperately to hide. Underneath a nauseating coat of cologne I detected a faint odor of alcohol emanating from his sweating pores and he looked as if his nerves had gotten the better of him. He mustered a quickly fading smile and greeted me.

Hello son.

Hello sir.

I have come at this time because it is your fourteenth birthday and you are now becoming a man so I thought it would be appropriate for me to give you some life advice.

But my birthday was last week.

Ah, a few days do not matter!

He tried to smile again and I only looked at him, stone faced, devoid of emotion, not speaking. His smile faltered once again.

Well, to start, as you are getting older you will start having feelings for girls and they will try to trick you, to make you think they love you when they don't. They are sly devils who only look to get a man in their clutches so that they can sponge off of him and have him take care of them for the rest of their lives. Just like your mo..... well, never mind that. They will play you against your friends or other men if you allow them to. Do not do so, if you do you will have a lifetime of problems. Do you understand what I am saying?

As my mother had done to me a few moments before I merely shrugged my shoulders. This was all mystifying to me, even more so as to why he was even here in the first place.

Well, I'm sure it will become all too clear to you as you get older. Now then, here are some simple rules to live by. Number one, never go with a girl that weighs more than you. There is nothing sadder than a woman physically dominating a man. It's disgraceful and emasculating. Second, never marry a lazy woman. Pick one who understands it's her place to work in the house and cook and take care of you. If she leaves the house dirty while she lays on the sofa eating candies and watches her soap operas, if she makes you cook for yourself or get your food elsewhere then it makes you appear to be less of a man. You do not want to invite that kind of condemnation from your peers. It's degrading. Also, do not let her mother come between you or insert herself into your lives, they tend to be very intrusive when they get old and if they can they will always create problems. Lastly, never choose a woman you have to explain yourself to. You are the man and as such you should never have to explain what you do or say to a woman. You must rule the house without questions from her. There, with those simple rules you can make your life much easier and not have too many problems. Do you have any questions?

I wanted to scream DO I HAVE ANY QUESTIONS? OF COURSE I DO! WHY DID YOU LEAVE US? WHY HAVE YOU NEVER SEEN ME BEFORE? WAS SOMETHING WRONG WITH ME? WAS I NOT GOOD ENOUGH FOR YOU? WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU? I wanted to scream that and much more at him but it was not correct, it would be disrespectful and not proper so instead I tried to mask what I was feeling and appear contemplative. What next came to mind now was why after fourteen years, after all of my life, did you come to me now with this? This information is what you felt you needed to share with me? This horrible information that even I at my inexperienced age could tell was completely wrong and out of place? That's the best you could do? Yet even this I could not say to him. Instead....

Well, I guess, that is, no, I better not....

It's okay son, go ahead and ask me what your question is.

It's just that I was wondering which of those rules was the one you didn't follow? (As I blurted this out a confused look spread across his face. Now that I had said it I couldn't stop myself.) I mean with my mother, which of these rules did you not follow with her?

His face immediately turned a bright red and he started to stammer and shake as he attempted to control himself. He stood up quickly and for a moment I thought he would strike me for my impudence but instead he pulled out a handkerchief and wiped his face with it.

Yes, well that's a subject for another time as I have some pressing engagements that I must attend to. Please consider what I have said to you. It will really help you later in life, trust me.

With that he turned on his heel and started to leave the room. He was halfway there when he put his hand in his pocket and stopped as if remembering something. Slowly he turned and I could see that he was still visibly shaken by my comment. It was almost enough to make me feel sorry for him, almost but not quite. He pulled out a crumpled card and gave it to me, no longer trying to make eye contact.

This is for you, it's not much but I thought you might use it for something, uh, for something that you like. Perhaps for some of those history books you like to read or you could go see one of those American movies that you like so much. Well, use it on whatever you feel like. Goodbye son.

Once more he turned on his heel and this time he did leave the room, going out by way of the garage and I followed so that I could lock the door, there were thieves here after all and as I walked back into the living room I looked at what he had given me and saw that it was a old birthday card with a clown on it, clearly intended for someone younger than I and immediately I thought how pathetic it was. When I opened it a 50 soles bill fell out and then I noticed the inscription. "Son, I know I haven't been there for you and I am sorry. Please forgive me. Papi"

Now I was the one confused. What did this mean? How old was this card? How did he know about my reading and the movies that I liked? I heard a sound coming from the kitchen and thought what did I really know? Is there something that my mother hasn't told me? I started towards the kitchen but halted, unsure of what I would say or do if I went in there. Instead I slowly made my way back to my room but could not bring myself to enter it and then changed my mind and climbed the steps to the roof. Once there I laid on my back and stared at the sky, barely noticing the clouds as they drifted across a rare sunny sky for this time of the year. My mind instead was on all of the questions that I now had and they threatened to overwhelm me. Before long I fell asleep with none of them answered.

Written and Published by Don Leach. May not be used without permission from the author.


Gary Rivera said...

WOW! Qué Buena historia!!

Cuando comencé pensé que era una adaptación de Pez en el agua de Mario Vargas LLosa porque el comienzo es parecido, me llamo la atención lo del apellido porque podría ser la historia de mi propio padre.

Yo a mi padre no lo vi por 11 años imagine que estaba muerto y cuando lo iba a perder de verdad me di cuenta que a pesar de todo lo sigo queriendo porque es mi padre. Pero la mejor lección que me ha dado es que al verlo Yo he decidido no cometer sus errores, tal vez cometa unos nuevos, pero no los suyos, he visto que traen sufrimiento.

Yo he escrito hace mucho tiempo mis recuerdos sobre ese detalle y siempre pensaba si publicarlos o no, creo que lo hare.

Los consejos que dio el padre de Ernesto son sin lugar a dudas desechables. Algo así como una lista de lo que NO debe de hacerse.

Que buena historia! Me ha gustado mucho, Ernesto me ha conmovido, me he identificado con el, su padre me ha indignado y el que logra conmover con palabras tiene un DON.

By the way DON means gift in spanish.

Samantha Bangayan said...

I absolutely loved this piece, Don, and I really hope you continue it! =) I especially related to the part where the father gives advice. It really speaks to the stereotypes of gender roles in Latin America and I often live through those kinds of expectations here in Peru, even as an expat! =)

Keep on writing, friend!