My Model for Manhood —
His name was Cruz Garcia Perez. He was tall and dark and beautiful and fearsome and funny and powerful and insecure. He had been a cowboy, a miner, a boxer, a longshoreman, a soldier, a husband and my father.
He was full of love and anger and joy and sadness. I never really understood him, but I always loved him anyway…well…not always. There were stretches of estrangement between us. There were silences, misunderstandings. At the end, when he was thin and weak and in pain, we settled on love.
I was working for the New York Shakespeare Festival on a production of The Tempest on Broadway when I got a call from my mom and dad. They were both on the phone, and Mom was prompting Dad to “tell him”. I knew something big was coming. Mom never bossed Dad around, at least not directly.
He hemmed and hawed and finally let me know that he had gastric cancer and that the “silly doctors” told him he had only 6 months to live. He then rushed to tell me that he was going to “prove them wrong” and that he felt good. I told him I was going to quit the show and come home and he told me not to do that, and that he wanted to come and see me in my Broadway debut.
We closed the call. I cried. I cried harder than I can remember. I wept and sobbed and moaned and keened through the night and then went to rehearsal in a raw state. I told the production stage manager what was going on and she let me know that the company was in my corner and that if I had to leave the show to see my Dad it would all work out.
After that call he and I spoke every day. Sometimes we talked about life, sometimes sports sometimes nothing at all. But we talked every day. I arranged tickets and a flight and a hotel for my folks for the opening of The Tempest, but Dad began failing much faster than the doctor had predicted and he let me know that he was afraid to make the trip because he didn’t want to die in a hotel far from home.
I cancelled the plans and a week or so after we opened I got a call from my sister. It was time for me to come home and see Dad. The end was approaching. The Production Stage manager (the amazing Bonnie Panson) swung into action and in a matter of hours I was on a plane heading west to say goodbye to my father.
He and I spend 4 days together, talking, napping, telling stories, asking and answering questions, apologizing, forgiving. I once again asked him if I should stay till the end. He insisted that I return to the show because he wanted me to fulfill my destiny. I went back. The show went on. Our daily phone calls continued.
The last time we spoke he sounded kinda loopy. He had gone on morphine to overcome the pain. He was rambling and from time to time seemed to forget who he was talking with. At the end of the conversation I said “I love you Dad!” and his response was “I love you Mijo, I love you so much, I love you”. I was dressed as a king, talking on a payphone, wiping tears from my eyes, and noting the 15 minute call.
At three AM that my sister called. Cruz was gone. It was peaceful.
At his funeral my eulogy was quite short.
He was a man, take him for all in all,
I shall not look upon his like again.
Happy Birthday Cruz. I miss you.