Once in a while, I am visited by the memory of my father; much less frequently than the visits by my mother. It is not for lacking affection towards my father, or due to the need to create a necessary healing distance of a psychological nature. Although some issues might exist.
Our father/son relationship reflects the time when I grew up, in the middle of the 1940-50 decade. A time, in my personal experience, less affectionate — as far as kissing and hugging is concerned — than the years when it has been my turn to be a father…and now a grandfather. I do believe that I have been more affectionate, less afraid to be tender, less stoic. Still, perhaps I could have been more warm.
“Stoic” was also the word used by a Mexican friend, while talking about his own father. A stoic knows how to control his feelings, especially when facing difficulties and misfortunes. Some related adjectives are imperturbable, impassible and insensitive.
I am definitely less organized than my dad was. There, my father — a labor lawyer, a mason, a “moderate” leftist — had a clear advantage, by far. In a time without computers, cell phones…or even electric typewriters, my old man managed to have a meticulous order in everything he did. From his legal documents to his socks. One time he told me, proudly: “I have the most orderly checking account in my bank!” I do not know how he found that out, but I am certain that it was true.
Rubén Barón Olmedo, my father, personified the word respect. He was respectful of others, respectful of “The Law,” respectful of himself. He cared for his physical health and was a handsome guy. He projected a healthy way of living. A good example of some of the songs that we learned at the YMCA summer camps. “Soul and mind always looking to the future. A healthy body, always enjoying life!”
He entered all spaces, be it a tribunal, a sports club or a restaurant, with assured steps. His gaze was frank and his firm handshakes made a clear impression. “Good afternoon, Don Rubén! How are you, Don Rubén?” There was also a lesson for me: “One has to learn to give firm handshakes, Carlucho!”
I do not remember him yelling at anyone. Be it at home or out in the street. When he drove his modest car, he never lost his temper, never insulted anyone. The only “negative” phrase he would use if someone outside was driving too slow, was: “Jeez! That gentleman sure is enjoying the peaceful afternoon!” I cannot say that I inherited that relaxed behavior. I have a much shorter fuse. At times, before I have driven even one block, I have been known to disparage a relative of whoever is driving ahead of me. What I say, generally, is far less elegant than the phrase used by my dad.
I remember walking by his side on the downtown streets of Santiago, Chile, where his office was located. He wore a sober grey-colored hat, with a fancy little feather perched on its right brim. I was 8 or 9 years old and wore a similar, smaller, hat. There, I learned to salute the men with a light hand touch to the brim. If the person being saluted was a female, he would respectfully take off his hat. I copied him, exactly.
As I have already said, my father was not a yeller or a beater. He did not have to be. His severe gaze and an oft-repeated phrase sufficed as a disciplinary mantra: “Do not talk back!” At times, if I attempted a response and would say, for example, “But … dad … I … ” he would nip my inspiration in the bud with his “Do not … !” I always acquiesced. I would have preferred a dialogue, but it was not to be.
Perhaps, as it usually happens, his extreme preoccupation with order and his severe, and stoical, attitude were a natural reaction to the far less orderly life which his own father, my grandfather, Ulises, led. I only knew Grandpa Ulises by negative references. He has a bad reputation, that of a drinker and “a Don Juan”. He died when I was very young.
I would like to know more about that Ulises and his far less awesome adventures than the ones lived by the Greek Ulises from “The Odyssey,” but my possible informants have all expired.
I believe that my father would have preferred being a writer, to love more than what he did, to be more adventurous, but his circumstances led him to his legal profession. Perhaps it was a way out of relative poverty. One time, he actually wrote me that he had not wanted to become a lawyer. In spite of that confession, he tried to embark me on the same vessel! I had to leave Chile before I could dare say that theater was my thing.
I will end with the memory of a theatrical event, which happened in that Summer Camp where we spent some of our summers. It was called “Guayápolis” because it was part of the YMCA. In Spanish, the letter “Y”, phonetically speaking, is said “Guay”. Y= Guay. “Guayápolis” then means “The City of the Y”.
In that “Guayápolis”, we enjoyed songs and storytelling around campfires. Sometimes, there were some dances and theatre skits, in which children and adults participated.
The surprise of the particular night that I recall, was given by the fathers. I was seated on the ground, front row and I could not believe what was taking place: suddenly, we heard the well-known music from a comic opera called “Orpheus in the Underworld”, by Offenbach. The last part of the Overture is better known as “the Can Can”, that erotic and rampant dance made famous by the dancers from France’s “Folies Berger”. In our summer camp, when that music sounded, instead of beautiful semi-nude women, those who came on stage to dance were all men. Dressed as women!
I witnessed my first drag show at age 10! Among the hairy dancers, my stoic father!
I often think that perhaps my desire to do theater was planted in my brain by that unexpected and feverish dance. I would have liked to have said that to my father. And to thank him for the inspiration.