Brother Edwin Reggio, C.S.C. - A Surrogate FatherFriday, January 18, 2013
|Lauren, Brother Edwin & Rebecca|
My biological father, George Waterhouse-Hayward was a flawed man whose alcohol addiction finally led him to leave our Buenos Aires home. During the almost 14 years that I did not see him I felt a love and respect for him that my mother never quite understood. She often told me, “Alex you will never understand because you will never be a mother.” I was too polite and naïve to even imagine what I would answer now if she were to say that to me in my dreams. “I would say, “Mother, you will never understand why it is that a son loves his father without reservation because you were never a son nor will you ever be a father.”
I saw my father for six months on weekends in Buenos Aires until he died in mid 1965. Of our conversations, warm ones, I cannot remember a word and his very image is fuzzy. I remember him as the younger man who looked and sounded like David Niven. The very thin, white haired old man, leaning against a Siam di Tella with a belt attached to the innermost belt hole is real only in the photograph.
|Right, George Waterhouse-Hayward|
I had yet to meet my next surrogate father, the multilingual, and highly educated Raúl Guerrero Montemayor who introduced me to the films of Fellini, Antonioni and Buñuel, nurtured and promoted my courtship of Rosemary Healey (and was witness at our Coyoacán, Mexico wedding). It was Raúl who always gave me the advice I needed (wanted). “You really want that Alex? Then get it. It’s good.” Raúl died on January 9th but I had managed to visit him in mid December of last year.
For a while in the late 50s I had a Basque surrogate father. His name was Daniel Guridi Árregui. He was a retired Jai-alai player married to a Filipino woman Lillian Guridi Pardo de Tavera. Lillian had been a student of both my mother and grandmother in the Philippines. For a while Daniel had a gun shop right next door to the Avenida Insurgentes Sur apartment where I live with my mother and grandmother. Daniel showed me beautiful Italian pistols and engraved shotguns from England and other European countries. He taught me well as I have never wanted to own a gun. He taught me literature from books he had read in the daily insomnia of his hectic seasons at the frontón until early hours of the morning. He was a self-educated man who had been plucked from his town of Mondragón before he had ever finished secondary school because he was a fenómeno of la pelota. He was gifted player of pelota vasca.
In the mid 80s Rosemary, our daughters and I went to Spain and we visited Lillian and Daniel in Málaga. I showed up with a bottle of Manzanilla and two Montecristo claros. We sat on the porch overlooking the sea while Lillian and the rest of the girls went to the beach. Of the conversation (as the one with my real father) I remember nothing except I can sense that it must have been a warm one in which he might have even been proud to admit that his surrogate son (he had a daughter, also Lillian who now lives in Barcelona) had not turned out too badly in the end.
I have one surrogate father left. He is Brother Edwin Reggio, C.S.C. He taught me religion, forced me to learn to play the alto saxophone, taught me to read music (I was lousy) and told me that a cornet blended better with a b flat clarinet than a trumpet. I can repeat hours of the wisdom he imparted to us in class. I have been lucky enough that he has not only met my wife but my two granddaughters. Who could have guessed as this pimply nerd, sitting in Brother Edwin’s religion class sometime in 1956 would one day return with granddaughters? Who would have even known then what Brother Edwin revealed to Rebecca and me in a drive around Austin that he had wooed an admiral’s daughter, and that the admiral had prepared to waive the height rule of Annapolis (Brother Edwin is exactly five foot one) and get him into the academy. But Brother Edwin saw a stronger calling and became a Brother of Holy Cross.
Brother Edwin has been my most favourite person in the last five years and I have managed to see him almost every year. Not only that, but I have been allowed to stay at St. Joseph Hall (I affectionately call it St. Joe’s Hilton) for a few days in a Spartan room where I have the pleasure of sharing meals, Holy Mass, and very good conversation with Brother Edwin and the rest of the Brothers of Holy Cross. They live there on the campus of St Edward’s University (our high school is long gone).
But even the above is topped by the fact that a couple of years ago Rebecca, 13 then, was also given a room and she may have been one of the few women to ever stay at St. Joe’s. I cannot but believe that some day Rebecca will understand and appreciate her great luck.
Rebecca is not behaving these days and our every day is full of the stress of worry over her and trying to placate the nerves of her mother. Every ringing of the phone adds to our nerves. A 15-year-old teenager from hell is heavy duty baggage.
But there is some temporary relief in store for me. Mid February I am going for a four-day stay at St. Joe’s. From the 15th to the 17th there is a High School and University reunion. I will see Brother Edwin and Brother Nick and the many others whose smiles in my memory instantly convert the melancholy gloomy days of our Vancouver January into sunny ones.
But it is all not rosy. Brother Edwin has a rare form of leukemia and his medicines were not working well in the fall. He had to stop working (he is 81) his full day and only work one half of it. He had undergone heart surgery a year before. Then the chemotherapy began to work its miracles and he got well again. But his immune system, not being up to par, meant that when a flu virus hit the campus he got it. Since Christmas Brother Edwin has not gone to work and he has stayed in his room. But he seems to be recovering. In a short missive he told me he looks forward to seeing me soon.
I will oblige, after all I have but one surrogate father left.