Of my father I have written a lot in this here parts. Perhaps I can add nothing new, but I feel I must make an effort to remember about my complex relationship with my father.
It really all began before my mother met him in Buenos Aires. I was never curious enough to ask her when and how that happened. Now anybody who might have known is dead.
In 1938 my mother’s paramour in Manila wrote a letter to her. She went immediately to Manila Bay and threw her engagement ring (an opal) into the sea. With her mother (a widow) and her sister and brother they shipped to Buenos Aires.
My birth certificate states that I was born on April 18,1943 but I have always celebrated what my mother said was my true birthday, August 31, 1942. Does this have anything to do with trying to hide a born-out-wedlock birth? My mother said that my father was drunk and forgot to register me until 1943.
I have few memories of my father as my mother, grandmother and I left him and Buenos Aires in 1954. I was 12. But these memories are all pleasant.
He was a wonderful cook and I remember him telling me, “If you want to learn to cook you must first make sauces.”
My father was a terrible alcoholic and from my bed in the living room adjacent to their bedroom I heard often, “George you have to stop drinking.” Finally my father was either persuaded or volunteered to leave home around 1952.
He would come on some weekends and take me to the movies downtown. When he would arrive with liquor in his breath, my mother would send him back to his pension. One time he took me to a famous bar on Monroe street not far from our house in Coghlan. My mother found out so she was furious. But an incident at the bar left a warm memory, a very Argentine one. It was an old-fashioned bar with a circular staircase. My father took me up to meet the musicians (a piano player and a violinist). They played classic tangos. The pianist made the comment that I was a handsome little boy who had very blond hair.
My mother could not understand why I was so happy to see my father when he came to see me and told me once, “Why are you so affectionate with him?” It was many years later when I caught on to the correct answer. She would often tell me, “Alex you will never understand because you will never be a mother.” It was not until after my mother died in 1972 that I knew I should have said, “Mother you will never understand because you will never be a father.”
In late1964 I traveled to Buenos Aires for my obligatory conscription
but I had an ulterior motive which was to find my father. When we left in 1954
he would have not known were I had gone. A very good lawyer arranged it so I could be taken out of the country with the then mandatory paternal permission.
I have little memory of what we talked about when I did finally find him. I would visit him where he lived in a street called Carabobo. It was there where I took the final picture of him next to some friends by a Morris Oxford called a Siam di Tella in Argentina.
One day, perhaps in early 1966 I received a phone call from a family friend and “uncle” called Leo Mahdjubian. He said, “Your father kicked the bucket yesterday. He was taken to the Hospital Pirovano on Monroe by a policeman and was pronounced dead. Because of the intervention of the policeman you have to go to the police station.”
This I did and when I told the sergeant at the desk who I was he responded, “Impossible, the dead man’s son has already been here and signed the papers."
That is when previous hints throught the years from my mother verified that I had a half-brother by another woman.
That evening I was called by a policeman who told me that he had been a friend of my father’s and he had taken him to the hospital. He had emptied my father’s pockets because the contents would have disappeared at the hospital. “Your father was saving up money to bribe a general so that you would terminate your conscription and be sent back to your mother in Mexico. I want to give you the money.”
That money is how this poor conscript (one dollar a month, military pay) was able to pay for my father’s funeral.
I remember fondly our train trips to downtown Buenos Aires and walking on Lavalle (three long blocks that in the 50s were wall to wall movie theatres) and picking a couple of films (a war movie and a Western, usually). After the film we would go to a pizzeria, Las Cuartetas on Corrientes. From there we would have an ice cream soda at a joint called the Roxy.
In the late 80s our two daughters, Ale and Hilary went to Buenos Aires. They visited Las Cuartetas and told the manager how I had gone there with my father as a little boy and later in the 60s when I worked close to the Secretaría de Marina. They were unable to pay for the meal and then they were offered sopa inglesa which is an Argentine version of trifle. They did not know that it was heavily laced with brandy and promptly became tipsy.
I have that letter from that Doctor Andía here in my desk drawer. I have never dared read it. It is open. My mother read it. It was many years later that in a wedding in North Vancouver I ran into a nephew of Andías. I told him that he had been my mother’s suitor. “Impossible, he was gay.”
My mother told me little about my father except that he was
a very good tango dancer. He had been offered to be the Editor of the Buenos
Aires Herald and for reasons not given to me he threw an inkwell at the publisher
and rejected the job. In and around 1952 and 1953 he would disappear for days.
I was told that he had written something Perón had not liked and he was
punished for a week in the prison in Villa Devoto. She often told me that my father was her second choice and kept writing poems about Dr. Andía until she died.
And lastly it was because my father was friends with Julio Cortázar that I met the writer in our home, in the kitchen, many times. Another friend, either a hood or a plain-clothes-cop who carried a gun in a shoulder holster gave me a copy of Edmundo de Amicis’s Corazón. I still have it.
I remember that often when he was on the bed we would sing together Onward Christian Soldiers, and My Bonny Lies Over the Ocean. He loved Leslie Charteris so I can ascertain here that I have read all of his novels involving The Saint.
In my memory my father is a kind and smiling man and I hope
that when I am long dead (soon to be) my daughters will see me in the same
light. They might even acknowledge that I am not a bad cook.