log poetry...prose commentary


Sunday, June 15, 2008

Mi Hijo!

Whenever I interrupted weeks of silence with a call or came home after absence of months and sometimes when I walked into the kitchen or woke him from a nap my dad’s face would hold a momentary look of surprise. It was the look of someone not expecting friends waiting at home with balloons and birthday cake. Then, he would grin and exclaim “Mi hijo!” And we’re not even Mexican. At all.

He said it with a rising tone that went beyond pleasant surprise. He said it with awe and wonderment. He said it like he was completely blown away by our existence and presence. He said it like Little John said it in the Kevin Costner Robin Hood.

Little John’s wife is in labor and the baby is breech. Both mother and child are at risk of death when a mysterious Muslim Morgan Freeman volunteers to perform a crude cesarean section which he has only practiced once…on a horse.

The mother survives and the baby is born! Little John steps out of his Sherwood Forest hut into the presence of all the merry men. He lifts the newborn victoriously over his head and proudly shouts, “My son!” Then the dancing starts.

This is how my dad said it. But in Spanish. And he didn’t usually pick us up over his head.

He called me his son like he’d just got me back from the jaws of death. He said it like I was a miracle. (I was.) He said “mi hijo!” like I’d just returned from a five year journey. He said it like I was the love of his life, the source of his pride, the root of his joy.

He “mi hijo”ed like he was about to laugh and cry and sing and dance. It was somber reverence. It was humbly thankful. It was shock and awe. It was “I thought I’d never see you again!” and it was the first time he held me. It was steady and safe. Wild with whimsy. It was Peter Pan grown up with a wife and kids but still crowing.

I didn’t know it until now, but it was one of the best things he ever said.

Usually, I tried answering with “mi padre.”, a Polo to his Marco. But, it never carried the same weight.

Until now, I thought it was just a quirky catch phrase used out of habit. My “mi padre” was definitely that. It was a label, a formality, an acknowledgment returned. That’s okay. There are few times in history when son love has matched father’s. They usually involve senility and bodily fluids.

My dad loves me. When next I walk into his room or wake him up I hope he gets that shocked look, smiles at recognizing me and says “mi hijo!”

I’m thankful I can still remember the way he said it. It makes me feel like a kid raising midnight prayers from under warm blankets in a comfy bed in a safe house. He folds his tired hands, manages a whispered “Our Father…” and falls asleep.

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