Happy Birthday, Dad

Yesterday we had a nice evening dinner at my family home on occasion of Dad’s 70th birthday. We had the visit of Aunts Lucy and Betty, from Argentina, and we shared a great time.

Right now, Dad’s life is not easy. He suffers from diabetes and chronic terminal kidney failure, and has to submit himself to dialysis three times a week. But yesterday I saw him in good moods, and I was happy for him.

This was also a time to reflect on our relationship, which could be described as rocky at best. He was a very stern father, with a rock-hard outlook on life. He was very demanding, and very hard to please. By all honest accounts, one could say that I suffered a lot, and I did.

However, he also told me and showed me in no uncertain terms that he loved me. Even though he was a workaholic, he managed to be with us and I could enjoy his presence every day. He cared about our family, and gave us the very best in everything: education, healthcare, access to sports facilities, etc. Financially he was very disciplined; he showed us the value of being thrifty without resorting to avarice.

Dad is also an intellectual and a scientist. A long-standing, Chair of General Chemistry at the School of Chemistry of the National University of Asunción, he also taught Chemical Analysis; but his interests ranged from botany through micro-biology through agricultural science through ecology, and everything in between. He is fluent in Guarani and Spanish, and he can also speak French and Portuguese well.

He believes in hands-on science: his best introduction to nature was to unleash me and my bicycle on the ~750 acre University campus, which at the time was vastly underdeveloped, with whole sections untouched except for small trails, to explore it at my leisure. Dad also ensured that we were thoroughly schooled in sports and the musical arts. He instilled in me —as Mom did, too— the love of reading; and he was especially keen on the value of having reference sources at hand. “It’s better to have two copies of a valuable book: one at home and other at work. The best scientist is the one who has the right information available right on the spot. The time savings are more than worth the cost of having two copies of a book,” he used to say.

For me, taking all these things for granted was too easy. I am also shy, and became even more withdrawn with Dad because he was so stern and demanding with me. But once I got married, my wife told me that I should change that; and with her help, one day I thanked Dad for all that he is and for all that he has done for me. He was stunned, and said nothing. It was extremely difficult for me, for I am very shy and also because we Paraguayan men are not very fond of showing affection to other men. But it was long overdue.

Dad’s life is not easy now; besides his falling health, he has issues of his own that he must face. But on his seventieth birthday, I thank God for him. In a land where most kids are born out of wedlock from an unknown father, I had not only one, but a GREAT one as well. God surely has blessed me with him.

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