Monday, August 10, 2015

Dreams From My Father

There have been errors in media pieces about me... Early on in the process someone gave me the sage advice that it's probably wisest to stay away from watching or reading them and certainly from reading the online comments in the modern age. I have done so both to keep a perspective that an single dad with brain cancer deserves little if any praise for loving his kid while putting one foot in front of the other.

The early factual errors ranged that the marathon was the first marathon I ever ran or one of many marathons I'd won or one of several I'd done with a stroller, that I didn't start running till cancer. For the record I have ran my whole life, ran many races with Kiana, won only two ever with a stroller, a half and a full marathon. These types of errors or many other details are inconsequential to both history and my future life so I've never felt the need to address them since ultimately I don't care.

The E60 piece corrected all that and told the story more

broadly. As is likely no surprise I was out running while it was airing since it would feel weird to watch but my family was watching it and a few friends in a few places had watch parties (if you haven't see it and wish to, it will apparently be online in due time). I am humbled and amazed by both people I know and people I'm meeting and the kind words they've shared. I have some friends who are focused on details and have picked out some things that could have used better fact checking but only one stands out to me as something that absolutely has to be corrected especially by me. 

I have no idea how decisions about editing media pieces get made. They interviewed two friends and two doctors and my mother and Kiana. Only they and I apparently made it in.  I have no complaints about my mother and daughter being the stars of

the piece or my life since they are the woman and the little girl who are still raising a kid with a damaged brain remembering them with each beat of my heart. In simple honesty my hope was those others would be pointed out because I woke up from a seizure with Sean. Todd, another is the executor of my will so I'm literally entrusting him with many things if anything were to go wrong. The doctors are ones I whose hands I have placed my life. Thanks to each and every one of them I believe I've gotten at least a few more years and a lot more quality of life. Perhaps ESPN got it right in the narrative they chose for their medium and their time frame but here in mine let me say thank you to those heroes of mine.

However, the correction I need to make is that there was a reference made in the piece apparently about my mother being a single mother of 3. There were zero days of my life or hers that was true. I've written about the ESPN interactions and contract many times and so I know this project went through many producers hands and got dragged out over two years so it would be easy to pass the buck and say it was their fault. I do not think that's correct, I believe the fault is mine. It is perhaps that if my daughter and mother are the stars, there was someone who was the lights and sound. And the lights and sound we usually don't notice except if they get something wrong. I've gone too much of my life without noticing because nothing has ever really gone wrong. 

You see Ascencion "Chon" came into my life when I was 8. He married my mother and is my little

brother's biological father. It wasn't long after my mother took his last name, Leon, it would also become mine. It's the Spanish word for lion and that creature and a cub are tattooed on me to represent me and Kiana. A drawing I love of it is currently one of my social media profile pics. I was born a Leo and my high mascot was the lions so perhaps this was the universe connecting some key points.

There was never a single time he called me his step son, it was always mi hijo or my name. If there was a single time where his attention and affection was different for the one son who shared his genes and those who came by marriage, I never noticed it. He was the vision of what Hispanic fathers, myself included, were expected or dreamed of to be: a quiet stoic provider who provided discipline as necessary and affection in a quiet contained manner.  Perhaps we've raised the bar since then but he was hitting that one and more which is praiseworthy.

When I turned 15 I met my biological father, adolescence has enough identity issues for most of us and this certainly caused some internal confusion. For the first time in my life and for far too many years, I stopped calling him "Papa." I would use his proper name or skip addressing him altogether. Here was a guy who had done right by me all along and this was beyond adolescence independent
rebellion. It was just wrong.

I was not living at home then nor have I ever gone back for an extended stay. So the fact that my space was hours away created far too easy of an escape. Like at all points, he provided in many ways including a quiet presence that was there everytime I can imagine. At my high school graduation, I was a condescending kid who thought since they'd never gone to college and I was going to, I obviously had to be smarter. He hugged me just as tight and meaningfully as anyone with a triple Ph.D ever could hug anyone. I'm 35 years old and he's 70 and he's still working and I am not... Tell me again what that college diploma achieved that his hands haven't outdone?

It's been an interesting ride though though I believe my days of the media trying to get to know me
are over now, right? I know in those venues, we commend those whose eloquence or drama or presence sits well but perhaps us extreme extroverts should be quiet more often and listen to the wisdom in the quietness of guys like my dad. They save their smiles and words that like some of things with more rarity therefore have more meaning and value. One of the biggest ones I saw was when he was there shortly after Kiana was born. It's a fair question as to whether he or I was beaming more that day.

Like incredibly dependable lights and sound, his presence blinked less than statues. I know the flashing and new gets plenty of attention but there's something to be said for solid dependable structures. The first race that I did with a stroller was to get my mom to do her first half marathon at age 60. I'd finish second and go back and finish with my mom. It was a miserably cold weather day; there'd be a newspaper article about me, Kiana and my mom. He would go unmentioned but guess who it was that made sure we were safe at the beginning, in the middle and who it was that kept Kiana safe and warm while I went back to finish with my mom. Only one of the wonders of the ancient world remain and I'm guessing it was built by guys like him.

On the day I had a seizure and would start the brain cancer journey, he was there at the hospital a few hours later. My mom was worried and expressing it freely... I tried to calm her and myself down. He succeeded with both.

And when he had built enough faith in mine and my mother's and Kiana's abilities to do races on our own, he went from guardian to participant. I was proud of my mom for doing her first race at age 60 (I mean 29). I was proud of Kiana doing her first 5k at age 7, and my brother for his first race in his 20's. My dad finally joined us just a few months shy of his 70th birthday and finished it with a solid sprint and would get faster the next month and the month after that. ESPN was actually filming that last race though I guess the 4 of us finishing didn't make the piece, I may have been too late to the party to get it on camera but very grateful I got it in life.

This year we had a surprise 70th birthday party for him. I was originally going to skip it because he's built like me, fairly uncomfortable in receiving attention for the mere act of staying alive and certainly uncomfortable with parties thrown for it. Someone I love kept insisting I should go, that it would mean a lot to him. In the end, I went and hugged him and told him some of the things in here though not nearly enough and certainly awkwardly because you know father to son appreciation is somehow still not manly for those of us who are insecure. Like myself he hadn't had many birthday parties in a poor childhood but I've smiled big at many parties and many pinatas, but I'm fairly certain that seeing him hold that stick and swinging at 70 elicited the biggest smile I've ever given at that type of event.

Again on father's day, someone I love reached out to me and wished me a happy day. Uncomfortable in receiving praise for something that took cancer to get me right, I pretended that father's day wasn't a deal but fortunately channeled that discomfort into passing it onto him. That way we could be uncomfortable and yet awkwardly happy together in receiving positive feedback.

But he has been there for far longer than I have acknowledged to anyone, myself included. We've had very few long conversations perhaps why each of them are so memorable. The latest most prominent one  is where he spoke specifically about me being more open to a relationship at this stage in my life, despite the most painful break up of my life which was connected in that ESPN piece, one which would make you wonder if there was such a thing as false hope. He'd gently and yet strongly reminded me that the universe cannot provide things we are not open to. He had changed jobs, life, and literally country putting his friends and family far away to give himself, his wife me and my brothers a new chance with love of family as the centerpiece. It's hard to make an argument that there's no one like that in all of time and spice when the guy saying that has done it in both conversation and in real life.

The title from this blog is plagiarized from President Obama's book. He recognized far too late that he'd written a book about the absence in his life, his father and not recognized the presence, his mother. He said things about her when she died that he realized should have been said while she was alive. I've gotten a little more fortunate that someone from ESPN gave me a better look inside my own mind and household while we were all still standing.

My fastest times from the mile to the marathon have all been within the last 12 months. But it takes a cursory look at professional athletes to know that in all likelihood I am somewhere near my peak. Still in the first edited video I was ever a part of, I said what will likely be the smartest thing I say my entire life, "you have to work on the relationships you want to keep." Beauty, athleticism, and so many parts of life inevitably fade but almost always with focus and work and desire, two willing parties can make relationships better.

I can't imagine that this blog will ever get the attention that the E60 piece did but still, I wrote it to say thank you to the guy who came into my life and gave me his attention. Thanks dad.

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