by Marvin Ramírez
On June 12, 2004, just days before Father’s Day that year, my dad passed away. I received the call at around 11 p.m. from one of my sisters: “Mi papá just died.” He was 87 years old, but I had wanted him to live to 100.
When I received the news, everything suddenly turned hollow inside me. We had been expecting this for a long time. There was no cure for his illness: cancer in one of his kidneys.
He had been in agony for more than a year since the cancer started eating him up, little by little. He was just skin on bones by this time.
The last time I had gone to visit him at the house of one of my brothers in San Leandro – where he suffered through his final days – I couldn’t hold back my tears. He was being fed liquid food through a tube in his stomach. I wanted to disconnect him, badly. But just for insinuating it, my siblings screamed at me.
Throughout my whole life, my father’s words of wisdom had kept me on a positive path, especially when making important decisions at the crossroads of my life. His words saved me on many occasions; when conducting myself as a journalist, interacting with other boys of my age or by preventing me from acquiring vices, like smoking.
When I was about 7 or 8 years old, I asked him why he didn’t smoke, as I never saw him with a cigarette in his mouth even though in those days it was very common for people to smoke. He responded in a wise way.
“Son,” he said, “when I was about 14 or 15, I used to wait at exactly 11 p.m., sitting on the sidewalk in front of my house, for a man who would give me the butt of his cigarette. I smoked that butt and then went to bed. I couldn’t go to sleep without smoking,” he said.
I still have memories of my father’s story, of the man coming home from work every night. I imagine him in the middle of the night walking on the dark streets of old Managua which were lighted with low-intensity light bulbs used by the municipality in the 1930s. Most homes, I suppose, used candles to light up their homes, so by 11 p.m. there were usually no other people around and the city was asleep.
I thought of what my father must have gone through, waiting every night on a dark, lonely street, for a few puffs on a butt of someone else’s cigarette before he could even go to bed and the humiliating things this addiction caused him to do. I knew I didn’t want to have an addiction like this in my life. I was so glad he had the strength to give it up.
Oh, dad, because of that story, I was never a smoker. Thank you, Papacito.
For some special reason, I usually listened to my father, unlike many people who disregard their old man’s words of wisdom. And I tell you, even though he spoke little and never gave advice that wasn’t asked for, his words had power for me. When I approached him for advice, and he spoke, his words resonated in my ears and stayed in my brain for years to come. And today, as an adult, I still feel him near me and hear his voice telling me which way I should go.
In the neighborhood where I lived in Managua there was a kid in our neighborhood whose father owned an auto battery shop and factory. He drove his parents’ car and bragged all the time around us other kids. As I recall, he was around 18 or 20. I admired the guy, despite his arrogant personality. I was impressed to see him working in his family shop and dressing so well.
One day I asked him if I could get a job there – after school of course. I was about 10 or 11 years old and I loved the idea of making some money.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have the body size for that work.
“No, Marvin,” he said, “those batteries are too heavy for you, you could get a hernia.”
After that, I was disappointed, but continued the friendship.
One day, I found out that he had tried courting a girl in the neighborhood, who happened to be one of those pretty 15 or so years’ old girls who flirted with everybody but would not go with any guy. She was someone who had rejected him.
He approached me one day and proposed that I should be his hit man – yes, his hit man.
“Marvin,” he said to me, “I’ll pay you good money if you beat up this girl…”
This took me by surprise. I was confused, wondering about the opportunity of making some money…., by hitting a woman? “What? How can I do that?” I said to myself.
The next day, when I saw my dad at my grandma’s house, where I lived, I asked him what he thought about the proposition from my friend.
“Son,” he said, “are you a gangster? You’re not a gangster who could even think of doing something like that. Only criminals, low-class and bad people could ever do that.”
Those words are still in my memory, as fresh as if I had heard them just yesterday. What I learned from my father were huge and important lessons of compassion, empathy and love. Again, thank you, father for making of me a man of principles.
José Santos Ramírez Calero, born in Managua, Nicaragua on Dec. 24, 1916, was my role model. His journalism career spanned more than 50 years and was a beacon for me, like a lighthouse at a port is for a sailor.
On this Father’s Day, I want to say to my Dad that even though his body might have turned into ashes at the cemetery, his spirit, love and words made me so much of what I am today, a sensitive human being who cares about people. My admiration and appreciation for him is why I became a journalist , just as he was, and his father before him.
Right now, as I write these lines for my El Reportero’s editorial, I only have five minutes to close this for now, as my friend Jan will edit it, and then I will translate it into Spanish for my readers.
I want to say, to those of you who are fortunate enough to still have your father with you – listen to him, respect him and love him, because he might be the greatest and most sincere friend that will ever have. – Vale, Marvin Ramírez.