A promise is a promise.
As time went by, one of the toughest things to see my dad lose was his sense of humor. He was always trying to be funny, but getting old was no laughing matter for a guy who always saw himself as near-bulletproof.
So whenever he forgot about his aches and pains and decided to just plain old be silly, it was a grand time. During those times, he was one of the least self-conscious men on the planet. Just ask a cousin of mine who saw him jump in the pool in his skivvies at her wedding. Don’t judge, everyone else got in the pool, too.
This picture dates back to 1994, my first Halloween in America and the only time I ever saw my dad don a costume. He felt a little silly, but he still managed to have a good time. We must have been a sight: the grim reaper, a sheik and the Devil driving to Mill Creek in a 1979 Toyota.
At one point during this party, another lady whom people said had a crush on my dad showed up. This lady walked in front of the camera as my mom was posing in her she-devil costume hexing the camera. As a result, the picture shows my mom putting on a devilish hex on her supposed rival.
My dad rarely said no to a party, but he never ever said no to a dinner with friends. Few things gave him as much pleasure as cooking did.
Now that he has died, many people have sent me messages of solidarity and love, and at least five of them have mentioned how at one point my dad either cooked for them, or fed them or taught them something about cooking. One of these messages came from a friend named Dave.
Dave, two other friends and I carpooled from WSU to Seattle one time for break. As a thank-you, my dad invited them to lunch. I was used to my dad’s cooking prowess, but not even I expected what he delivered that day. There was hardly any room left on that table for the forks and knives. If it was edible and it was in our cupboard or fridge, my dad had cooked it for my friends and I. Beef, chicken, pork, salads, catfish, salmon. I was never more popular around Stimson Hall than when we all returned to Pullman and word got around the dorm about my dad’s cooking.
My dad was never one to gloat. Whatever gloating he did, he did it hoping to get a laugh from you (like when I was little and he would flex biceps and say to me ‘Whaddya think of Tarzan here?’). But when I told him about my friends telling their friends that “Seabass’ dad cooks like a champ,” I could tell he was pleased.
As always, he made a joke out of it. And as always, he used the catchphrase he said whenever he did something awesome. “Well, ya know…artists like us, that’s how we do things.”
My dad loved being a man. He loved having two boys. And he loved watching those two boys grow into men, not that it was always easy. But he celebrated each of our triumphs like it was his own. At my wedding, on the receiving line, he gave me a big bear hug and said, “look at my grown man, all married!”
And he really loved having a grandson. Carrying on the family name was a big deal for my pops, as his three brothers had a total of seven daughters and three sons. Two of those sons don’t have children yet and the third one has two daughters himself. So when Matias arrived, he was elated. He loved his granddaughter Valentina, my brother’s incandescent child, and she loved him. But there was something about having a grandson that just thrilled him.
In May of 2011, he met his grandson for the first and last time, a fantastic weekend of Central Washington sunshine that grows more memorable with each passing week. So happy was my dad with his grandboy, the sixth consecutive generation of Moraga males, that he actually said to me, “Now we don’t have to worry about it. You’ve already paid your dues.”
Although he only lived to see Matias turn one year and a few months old, having him around helped me plenty in the early weeks of Matias’ life, when a doctor suggested he might have hydrocephalia.
Back in 1979, a doctor told my dad the same thing about me. So, having him around helped me stay somewhat sane when it was my time to hear the words and deal with the aftermath. I still wanted to strangle the doctor, but I knew how my father had dealt with the diagnose, how he had responded to it and how it all had shaken out. I knew the odds were on my side. As it turned out, we were right. My boy not only had the Moraga last name, he had the Moraga big noggin, last seen in his pops, grandpops and great-grandpops. As always, my dad was squarely on my side. “There’s no way that boy has hydrocephalia. Show that doc a picture of me, show him a picture of you and that will be that.”
This last picture is my very favorite photo of my dad and I. I once said I wanted to be buried with this photo. I still feel this way, but there’s a few real cute ones of Matias that might nudge this one out of my breast pocket. My dad would understand.
This photo encompasses everything I ever got from my dad in 33 far too short years. Companionship, protection, safety, love, warmth, and an stare straight ahead. Nothing matters but the future. The past is in the past. Tomorrow is another day, another chance to make your mark, to create, to build, to reach out.
I won’t get all maudlin and sad. In fact, this ending will probably be a little unsatisfying to some of you. That’s OK. I just want to thank you for reading along.
Once more, and for always, rest in peace, my Tarzan.
And thanks for everything.