This weekend, I plan on bringing my father’s grave an ofrenda: a bundle of flowers, a lime-and-salt rimmed Tecate, rice, a candle, and a cup of water. He died when I was 18. His plot is in a cemetery just off Alameda street in South El Paso, a few blocks from the housing project where he grew up. I rarely visit the cemetery these days, because it’s so sad and dusty and hot. But I’m inclined to make the trek this weekend. After all, it’s Father’s Day.
My dad was a good, loving father—a brilliant, proud man who rose up from poverty in the barrio to have a successful career as a politically-active Mexican-American defense attorney. Still, I feel funny about Father’s Day. For many people, Father’s Day is a holiday that re-opens the wounds of strained relationships, years of abuse, and even total absence. For me, it’s an annual reminder of my father’s forced exit from the world and our unresolved tensions concerning the big ugliness of his machismo.
For much of my life, I was terrified of my dad. Even as I reflect on my fondest memories of him, I also carry recollections of his temper, his impatience, and, above all else, his household expectations.