Every morning, rain or shine, Dad would make wake me up with his awesome trumpet as if I was in the armed forces with him. He would also play ‘Taps’ every evening to put me to sleep along with his ukelele. In the morning, it was always like 5:22 am. He’d walk me to the shower where I would proceed to fall asleep standing up on the towel rack. At 5:28 he would come back in and motion for me to take my shower. Afterwards, all bright eyed and bushy tailed with lot’s of chirpiness coming from him we would do something called ‘calisthenics’ for the longest 20 minutes ever as I was subjected to the news channel, followed by a 5 mile run. Depending on where we lived, sometimes the run started uphill. It was loads of fun. Halfway through each run we would sprint, usually uphill also and then we would stop to pray and give thanks to God.
Who stops in the middle of their run to pray? But we did. Year after year. I prayed in my own words as a young boy named Billy, not as a Bill. My Dad was “Bill." He liked to call me, ‘son.’ I liked to hear him call me that. I liked being his son. He was not perfect, but he was my Dad. A gentleman, a godly man and a man with a sense of deep duty to protecting and preserving his family and what America stands for. Doing the right thing. He loved his country with a passion.
Dad taught me how to handle myself in a fight, how to run and how to sit at a table when I eat. How to hold my fork, where to sit and how to talk to people. It was very important to him to treat everybody he came into contact with as very important. He explained to his children how important it was to treat people with respect, kindness and courtesy. He emphasized the value in being a source of happiness for others, even if in passing. You just don’t know what people go through each day and genuine kindness goes a long way.
The last time I saw Dad was one year ago today on December 6, 2014. He was my prayer buddy. I am still hurting from what I see as a humongous loss in my life. Now I have to sail my ship without his calming words which I would hear almost daily. I see his eyes. I see his forehead touching my forehead. I hear him telling me that he is proud of me and that he loves me. I hear him telling me how wonderful it feels to have had his grandchildren around him. Happy I am that my kids were able to walk his dog with him and have those little simple moments which now will mean so much for them.
Dad, a former U.S. Marine (went into Korea), and a ‘Screaming Eagle,’ as all paratrooper Airborne Rangers are called in the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army, was an all-star football player in his time. He played high school, college and was ‘All-Army’ for the U.S. Army. He even played in the Rose Bowl. Growing up playing football was a family thing. Dad would take the time to tell us his football stories which were always underpinned with the importance of having the right mindset. He made it clear that he was certainly not the biggest guy on the teams, but what he lacked in physical presence he made up for with grit and determination. The coaches always recognized this. The successful underdog stays on the leading edge by maintaining the right focus and frame of mind in a consistent manner. This is a truth he modeled in life. The right mix of intangible skills, like grit, humility, character, teamwork, honesty and integrity helped him rise through the ranks, garner the favor of commanding generals and heads of business, such as the Rockefeller family whom my father was on a first name basis with. Dad was a bit of a celebrity back then. He had jut come out of the armed forces and had parachuted everywhere in the world with the Airborne Rangers. A hotel man, he ‘settled’ in Puerto Rico where he met my mother, a 1st generation Cuban-American and teacher of teachers. Not wanting to grow up yet, Dad, a blonde, green-eyed dude formed the Puerto Rico Sky Diving team. In fact, he was the first person to ever parachute into Puerto Rico. He had endorsements across the island and landed in the newspaper constantly. He is credited with finding sunken ships filled with gold and even dated Ava Gardner for a time. She use to love to come to Dorado (Puerto Rico) to see Dad parachute in from his jumps. Clara Livingston, the famed pilot and student of Amelia Earhart was Dad’s good friend also. She kept a home in Dorado. They were all good friends.
None of that matters though. What matters is what he did for others. How he made this world a bit better. Dad taught my sisters and I to believe in God’s plan for us, to never give up. To do all we can with what we have and where we are. In his last years I looked at him very closely. I was taking notes on ‘how to be.’ It was important for me to see how he treated his daughters… his princesses. It was important for me to see what a ‘push-over’ he was for them. This mighty man, this ‘Screaming Eagle’ was towards the end of his earthly life in the hands of his daughters mostly. How they loved him and looked out after him. How he prayed for us and looked out for us. I am thankful that he was in my life for so long. The presence of a nurturing father impacts a community long after he has left the scene. A part of him lives on in his children and continues to bear fruit. Loving and kind, strong and soft. That was my Dad.
He passed away to the sound of fireworks at midnight as the new year began on January 1, 2015.