My father was 30 years old when I was born. The fact meant nothing to me for most of my young life, but took on a special meaning one day when I was fourteen. It was the day he decided to teach me to box.
You might think that transmitting this skill was evidence my father and I had a close relationship, but our bond was distant, ephemeral, and bound together by a single if resilient thread. My parents had divorced when I was a kid, and my father had “visitation rights.” He’d show up at our front door every other Sunday and take me out with him. Our destination might be the zoo, a park, a baseball game or, more usually, his house in Far Rockaway, a half-hour drive from my mother’s place in Brooklyn. But it wasn’t where we ended up that elated me. It was getting there that made it a thrill.
He wasn’t like the resident fathers of my neighborhood friends. Some seemed accepting and resigned that they had lost their youthful vigor. They worked in banks or delivered the mail. Others tried to maintain a certain urban toughness, but their deportment brought the image of discomfiting coarseness to my mind. I wasn’t too fond of either variety. On weekdays, around six, I’d see all of them amble home toward my apartment building, shoulders hung low, a folded copy of the Daily News pinched between thumb and forefinger.
My father’s energy was of an entirely different nature. He was quick, strong, and lean, with sloping shoulders and a narrow waist. He had a certain grace of movement that made me feel secure, even pleasurable. Sometimes he’d visit after coming off work at the Brillo Soap Pad factory where he was employed as a machinist, and he seemed to be revved up enough to do a second shift. The way he talke...
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...aying a Puerto Rican father trying to raise a son. Seeing the famous actor in person—without the intermediary of the camera—gave him a different demeanor. He moved about the stage in quick yet graceful strides. Suddenly I had a eureka moment. DeNiro on stage was just like my father: same movement, same stature, same speech. I turned to my mother whose eyes were focused on the performance.
“Mother,” I said. “Doesn’t he remind you of my father?”
My mother looked at me, then to the stage to render her opinion.
“Yes,” she said. “He does. Like your father.”
It felt good to feel my father’s presence once again, even if it was second-hand. Of course, it would have been much more fulfilling to have had that conversation with him, the one where he’d tell me what it was like in the old days. But, like so many people both today and back then, I take what I can get.