I have wanted to write about my father in some meaningful way for years now. I suppose more for myself than for anyone else, but I am, for once, compelled to write what I know. What I remember, to the best of my recollection and what, on occasion, may be aided with the words of others.
My father, Joseph Alfonso Rodriguez, was born in 1955 in Bakersfield, California. He was one of the baby boomer generation. Born to a teenage mother (16) and fathered by a man he never knew. He entered the world on a mild February. Shortly after his birth he was adopted, by a man who married his mother and worked late at the bar keeping celebrity customers happy. My father was not only the first child, but the first son, and therefore the first grandson of nana and tata. Dark hair and dark eyes, his cherubic face and generous baby fat earned him the nickname Pauncho for the rest of his life. Raised in a household that spoke only Spanish, my father did not learn English until he started attending public school, thus becoming bilingual at a young age.
His mother was naturally gifted in the arts of baking and sewing. She painted exceptionally well and made beautiful dresses. She loved generously and laughed heartily. My father was raised with the watchfulness and grit of two working parents. A father who insisted the lawn be mowed again because it wasn’t right the first time. Blue collar Americans that gave their children the best they had and more than they’d had. Two years after his birth a sister joined the family and two years later another sister followed. The three siblings strengthened and supported one another, particularly after their parents divorced some 14 years later. It was then, I suppose, that my father learned early to become a man. Caring for his mother and younger sisters in an unexpected role. His life though, was the common sort.
Trips to neighboring Knott’s Berry Farm; backyard swimming parties when his father would wake them at three or four in the morning, just off his evening shift; flamboyant piñatas for any occasion; homemade corn tortillas slapped fresh in nana’s kitchen; tamales for Christmas; summer road trips to National Parks and the distant hope of a college education. His young life was a good one. Flush with the possibility of a future. The American Dream, one he was bound to achieve. And then, at age 17, not quite an adult, two young men, with dark suits and matching name badges, knocked on his family’s door. They came with a message and an invitation. He accepted their message and, dressed in white, was immersed into the chlorine ripples of his backyard swimming pool.
This is what I remember of my father’s early life. I was, of course, not there. These are only remnants of tales told to me by others. Pieces I try to assemble as I reconstruct the memory of a man I'm still trying to understand.