I grew up in my parent’s church; it’s hard to think about how all-consuming that life was. The intensity and the pace would not have been sustainable. Once my father left the church, the strict norms the church adopted were eased at our house. Still a holy man with a personal relationship with Christ, he supported my mother’s faith and insisted we accompany her and be raised in the church. My father, the impenetrable instrument of God, smoldered down to a gentle simmer. He would still read a lot and study the word of God. Old habits die hard.
When we would ask him, “why did you quit,” he would say that there were philosophical differences between him and the church’s leaders. He had dedicated his life since a young boy in El Salvador to serving God. First through the Catholic church, but once he got to Mexico and eventually the states in Christianity.
I think I’m thinking of him so much right now because he has Covid-19 and is in a very high-risk category (health and age). He is doing fine; he’s had it for over a week and mostly asymptomatic, which is baffling. My wife says that our terrible fathers will outlive us all. While terrible might be an exaggeration, he ruled with an iron fist and burned with fanatic energy. I remember the first time I hugged him years after being in the military—the monument of strength and a source of fear whittled down—I could feel his bones. “I’m tired,” he tells me, and you can see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice when you talk to him. I ask him again why he left the church. He continues to tell me philosophical differences. But more than the mystery, it’s the fact that he did it at all. For over 20 years, he was dedicated in servitude to the church. I haven’t done anything for 20 years and yet to think he walked away from it all. He had less than a year to graduate from his bible college.
I show my brother my writing, with a grim face, he tells me, “take it easy on the old man.” I write to understand and to know. My father laughs as I tell him his legend; his story will outlive him, and if I get this writing thing down, it will outlive me. Truly a man who came from nothing and has bared the brunt of life to provide much better life and opportunities for his children. My brother and I are in awe of his industriousness. Even on his days off he’s working gardening, adding to the second tool shed, replacing support beams in the house, working on the vehicles to which he has added years and years of life extension.
I’m not sure where to end this post but I wrote the following paragraph for a creative nonfiction writing class years ago, and I’m thinking about him.
“I’m going to start tearing up the floor board right now.” My father says coldly as I pack. “But dad its our last day why don’t you spend time with the kids?” No answer. He begins to tear up the side planks and I begin to help him. Once again I am thirteen and in my old room where I threw a shoe at my brothers face, he went to Sunday school with a huge welt on his face, I went to Sunday school and it hurt to sit down. The floor of my brother’s room has rotted out. The weight, tension and humid heat of Houston Texas has worn down the body down to the bone “I cant talk to him we have nothing in common” my brother says “we just run out of things to say.” I try to prove my brother wrong making conversation as we work but as soon as I absent mindedly bump the wall helping him move the bed he curses under his breath. The old flames of memory rekindle to my fathers days where he would burn his eye lashes reading all night about the Lord and the blessed men burning with the sanctity of the Word. But with old age the flame smolders, like cool orange ash, too cold to cook anything of worth. But with great speed he tears up that floor, destroying it to rebuild it once again.