I could feel my cheeks getting hotter by the second as blood flowed to my face turning it red. The culprit?
I was about to start middle school and he was on the school grounds digging through the trashcans looking for cans and plastic bottles. I hoped I didn’t see any of my friends. If that wasn’t enough, I had to accompany him on weekends to his job cleaning offices in the industrial part of our town. Suffice it to say I did not look forward to my teen years.
I never thought of us as poor. After all, I was the first kid in the neighborhood with a brand-new Atari 2600. I can’t recall one single day that we went without food or had to worry about sleeping in a warm bed. And when I turned 16, I had my own car—all thanks to my dad.
A 10-year old can never fathom the extent of sacrifice parents will make for their children until it’s too late. My father was building some sort of legacy for his first-born son. It was measured in things he never had growing up in Mexico. I can’t believe this isn’t something all fathers want for their own children. I know that he started to look towards the future in America just as soon as I was born.
My earliest memories are made up of visits to the Immigration Center. The building was situated in a park with a small lake with geese. I suppose the trauma of being chased by domestic fowl can leave a permanent mark on an impressionable toddler. By the time we were granted permanent residence, my father and mother were leaving their homeland and heading to California with, not one, but two children.
When I was about to start high school, my father had just purchased a house and me and my sister welcomed a new sibling. Our family was complete. My teenage years turned out to be filled with teen angst, dating, partying, and contempt for my parents; in other words, I was a typical American teen.
In 2014, my father called: our usual bi-yearly phone call. I live about 600 miles away now and it’s difficult to visit frequently so we do the usual phone call. This time he called to say he was deeding the house to me and my two sisters.
“I want you to know that this house is yours whenever you need it,” he said. A small lump gets caught in my throat. He knows how much I’ve struggled to make ends meet since I moved away from home so many years ago.
I visit my parents in 2017. We talked about me moving back into the house since everyone else has moved on to form their own families and mom and dad plan to return to Texas.
As we say our goodbyes out on the porch, he grabs my hand.
“I’m sorry I never paid for your education,” he says. It’s the one regret in life he shares with me. “I wanted to make sure I could pay off this mortgage. You’ll always have a home if you fall on hard times.”
I feel a lump rise in my throat. I hug him as I get ready to go. I tell him I’ll be back in a month. That image of him sitting on the porch remains seared in my mind. It is the last time I will ever see him. He died just two weeks after myvisit.
My partner and I are about to close escrow on our very first house. This is made possible with my portion of the money from the sale of the house my father left us. It’s a bittersweet transaction. I have not honored my father’s wish of keeping it in the family. He worked so hard in his life to leave some kind of legacy firmly rooted in that house in California.
My sisters and I live in different states now. At last, we all own our own houses. The families we are forming are vastly different. We are well on our way to starting our own legacy first started by our father.
I don’t know if he realized that in all his sacrifice—collecting cans, random cleaning jobs, and hand-me-downs—his legacy has grown from the confines of one location in Southern California to a bigger portion of the United States.