Of moustache wax and coffee smells

I’m not going to do a damn thing today. Work hard, relax harder. That’s my motto. Today is Saturday; today is a lot of days. Today I FaceTimed with my best friend in Seoul. Today, I spent a good hour listening to the voice of James Foley, the reporter who was beheaded a few days ago by ISIS. Who was this man? What was his life like? I can’t imagine being him. I don’t like violence. I don’t like pain or fear. I wonder if he was at peace at the moment he was killed. If he had any regrets. If he missed his brother, his parents, his teaching career. The mystery of life is only trumped by the mystery of death.

IMG_6997January 8, 2014–The first picture I ever took of Richard. Hoodie’s up, that’s right.

My vortex of missing is reaching out today. What is that thing that comes out of Donnie Darko’s chest? It probably looks like that. I am starting to really miss Champaign. And just like always, I really miss Tucson. I miss my sister and the rest of my family and the smell of monsoon. I miss the mountains and the desert dirt. I miss the CU quad and the green grass of Illinois summer and the feeling of anticipation and the raging, drunken excitement that comes with the start of the Big 10 academic term. But I’m glad that I’m here. I’m glad this is how it is.

Today is the day of my father’s birth. 60 years ago, he was born in what is now the edge of downtown Tucson, closer to the South Side. I’ve never celebrated his birthday with him. Someday. I want to talk about him, my dad. Part of me thinks it’s a little indulgent. It’s a little…sentimental of me. But I dunno…dads aren’t around forever, and I guess I just want to take this moment to appreciate him. The man of whom I am half. He’s a man of few words, so I don’t know much.  I do know that I owe half of my wit, half of my intelligence, half of my compassion, half of my love of beer, half of my perseverance, and all that Morales charm to my father’s influence. To the genes he contributed to the smoothie of me.

The life I know of my father… I’ve heard stories of his childhood, one of 8. Wearing his older brothers’ jeans (so he rolled them up. a lot of folds.); wearing his shoes down until they were sole-less; making his own toys out of bits they found around town. Making skateboards, throwing empty glass bottles, swimming at the pool in the Bear Down gym of the University of Arizona. Riding a motorcycle shirtless and getting caught by a barbed wire fence in the neck. That scar always captivated me as a child. Living off of food stamps (little me: “why didn’t grandma get a job?” dad: “she believed her job was staying home and raising her kids, not working.”), going to church for a minute at St. Augustine’s Cathedral, starting high school at Tucson High, becoming a Badger, wearing his red letterman jacket to the gymnastics meets where he flipped around on the trampoline, (have you seen Can’t Buy Me Love? THS), washing his clothes in the bathtub, falling in love with a girl he started dating at 15, dropping out and joining the Marines when he weighed barely 100 lbs, getting married to said girl, living in San Diego, becoming Private Morales, running in boots, shipped out on the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk, wandering the Philippines, living in North Carolina…getting divorced, having kids, repeatedly leaving Tucson only to return to Tucson.

He’s just a man, you know; he’s not perfect, but he’s taught me a lot about life. He’s taught me to work hard, as hard as I can, not because you owe it to anyone else, really, but because how else will you live with yourself? If you’re not working at your fullest capacity. He taught me that if I want something, to get it. 

Oscar Wilde: “The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself, with desire for what its monstrous laws have made monstrous and unlawful.”

My dad, who always smells like coffee and his particular brand of cologne and Bounce dryer sheets. He taught me that love is hard. He taught me to be selfish. That if I’m not putting myself first and doing what’s best for me, the rest will become shit. He taught me you don’t need words to express how you feel, but words will help you sort it all out, and usually matter a lot to the people you express those words to. He taught me it’s okay to be sentimental and to want to remember. He taught me that you are only as young as you feel, as young as you act. He taught me to appreciate fun; to appreciate a cold beer after a long, hot day; to jump in the pool and splash all the bystanders. He taught me to clean up after myself and pay attention. Be observant. He taught me to enjoy the quiet and sleep in and that dusting is not that important of a chore, but vacuuming probably is. Since he’s colorblind, he taught me that it doesn’t really matter if it matches, as long as you’re confident it does, it won’t matter when you’re questioned.

He taught me all of these things without ever saying so. I learned it from watching him, from seeing him. For example, I used to walk with him every Sunday to get the paper. He would share the comics with me, but I also noticed that he would carefully go through each section, and carefully review the state of the world. He doesn’t talk much about his time in the Marines, other than doing burpees in the sand, or learning auto mechanics, or the meaning of his uniform pins. Something, lots of things, formed an opinion in his mind about the armed forces, about conflict, about the United States’ government. He doesn’t vote. He doesn’t state opinions about what’s going on in the world, although during our time together, we watch the news every morning at 8am and again at 10pm.

He didn’t teach me to drive because he wasn’t around, but he did give me pointers the summer before I got my license. He didn’t teach me to swim, my cousin did that while he was working. He’s never given me advice on boys or love or sex, not after 5 wives and 5 kids and countless girls on the side. He has never told me to eat my vegetables. My dad’s idea of a salad is lettuce with caesar dressing.  He didn’t teach me how to ride a bike or fry an egg. He let me sip his beer once or twice when I was a teen. He let me watch It when I was young and impressionable. He showed me the best way to swing the bat to knock a hole in the piñata. We rented American Pie, and he laughed at all the sex jokes when I was too young to understand. He used to serve me coffee with lots of milk and sugar when I was barely old enough to string a coherent sentence together. He took me to see Scary Movie in theaters. He let me drink Pepsi out of a tall glass with ice when I should have been in bed asleep. I got to ride in the back of the truck with my cousins without seatbelts through the streets of the city. He used to comb my hair after my bath–straight back along my scalp. My sister and I used to comb my niece’s hair like that, “this is how grampa would comb our hair when we were little.” Dying of laughter at her sleek, wet look.

How do I characterize my relationship with my father? He’s never lectured me. I can only recount one time that he yelled at me, and I was hiding in his closet and crying at the time, it was so out of the ordinary. We go months without seeing one another, weeks without speaking. I didn’t grow up having in depth conversations with him about life and the world and people like I do with my mother. My memories of my father are all…active. He taught me to play racquetball. In the summers after working on his feet all day, he would take us swimming or to the gym to run, or he would walk while I would rollerblade. On the weekends, he would take us to museums, or we would watch South Park marathons together, or sit in the living room with the TV on in the background while we read our respective novels. We sit in the car and I hum to a song while he whistles and taps out the beat on the steering wheel. He’s traveled across the country and meticulously packed my shit into a UHaul while I clean a bathroom or carry clothes. He’s pretty cool, my dad. And he might feel like he hasn’t done much with his 60 years, but for me, just being a dad, in his own way, to me–has been enough.


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