by Luz M. Mack
My dad has always been a quiet man who enjoyed sitting on his couch and eating hidden sweets with us; my mother was completely unaware. We accepted that my dad was not much of a talker, and he would admittedly joke that mom did all the talking for him.
Our time spent with him was mainly sitting next to him and gazing at whatever he was watching, even though we weren't into westerns. We were young! We wanted to watch cartoons and listen to loud, fun music, yet thinking back, there was something soothing about those moments of weariness.
He took pleasure in hearing us say, "¿tu no viste este ya?"
Without breaking away from his Clint Eastwood movie, he'd smiled uttering dryly, "No!"
We thought we knew everything we needed to know about our dad. He was a bodeguero, loved to eat, and made the best pancakes. What more could there possibly be to this man, right?
That was until my mom disclosed that Papi is a veteran; he fought in the Vietnam War. She unpacked various medals with unique appearances—medals received for his many acts of heroism. We discovered old pictures buried away displaying a slender man as a soldier—a man drastically different from the person I call daddy. It was hard to think of this quiet, sweet-tempered jovial man in combat; even harder was experiencing that first time he opened up about fighting in a war.
I remember his quavering voice as he recounted the fear he felt when being drafted, not having been given a choice, and being forced into a war. He flashes back to his mother's cries as she didn't want to send her only son to fight, but unfortunately, fate took him to battle.
He vividly recalled constantly being on high alert. My sister asked, "how did you survive?" He chuckled and said there was a time when he thought everything in the jungle had eyes waiting for him to let his guard down; being alert was the only way he knew to survive. While we were young and didn't understand living on the edge, we understood that his experience was traumatic.
Dad continued his poignant retelling of survival, living a nightmare, of fighting a war in a foreign land; the only way to quiet his mind was by picking up unhealthy vices such as indulging in romo.
The awards didn't cause a reaction from dad—almost as if it brought back a forced memory that was better left hidden in the box than brought to light. As mom showed us his medals, the purple heart caught my attention. He suddenly exclaimed that the purple heart was for rescuing a wounded soldier and another for saving someone in the line of fire. He was wounded by a fragmentation grenade injuring his lower back, which affects him still.
Papi never shared how he was recovering mentally or physically, only that he was grateful those days were left in the past, that he no longer drank alcohol and was a father. After being discharged from the military, it took him a long time to regain his sense of self and normalcy, and we respected him for not wanting to talk about it. As I grew older, I learned to love his silent demeanor and accept him for his selfless ways.
Growing up in Inwood, a community in upper manhattan better known as Washington Heights. We would walk around the Dyckman Farmhouse Museum; sitting on the green benches, we would see older men talking to themselves. My dad somberly told us of those who never recovered after the war and how he would see them when he had to go to the Veterans Hospital. I felt fortunate my dad wasn't one of those lost souls, but seeing them reminded my dad that it could have been him.
When I became a single mother, full of concern, he would come to help me. He'd get up daily and drive me to and from work and my infant daughter to the sitter.
I never told him how depressed the first mother's day was that I was a single mother; he could tell that I wasn't feeling quite happy. I remember that Sunday; he was working one of his classic odd jobs somewhere in the upper west side, helping this lady sell her one-of-a-kind jewelry. She gifted him two beautiful pairs of earrings, one for me and one for my mother. He was so happy to see me open up the small box; inside the box was a small silk pouch that concealed rare gold plated earrings with thinly colored leather strips. That moment has been engraved and replays on my mind every mother's day since.
My dad decided to get baptized as a member of the Mormon church. We were surprised when he was designated bishop of a small ward, becoming an outspoken leader helping his members through acts of service. He heeded the call of kindness for others because he was exalted with the givers high, making him radiate joy.
Once, I came home to find that he had moved a family in because they had recently immigrated to the Bronx from Ghana and only had in their possession the clothes on their back—he helped them find a home and work.
In his last year as a bishop, his ward wanted to celebrate all the fathers but mainly wanted to thank him for being an incredible father to the church community. They honored him with a large frame depicting a great "Thank You" with all the member's signatures. At that moment, I saw him grinning from ear to ear. After the event, he was happy to clean up the church and drive us home.
My dad has accomplished insurmountable tasks, leaving my family and me in awe. Still, his most significant act of heroism is his unconditional love for his wife, kids, and grandchildren. Most heroes are given praise, money, and accolades, but my dad is the type of man who rejoices in service to others.
Luz Maria Mack was born in Villa Mella, Dominican Republic, and immigrated to the United States as a young child with her family. She comes from a big, loving family that is a recipe for laughter and many beautiful memories. Luz earned a master's degree in Public Administration from Metropolitan College of New York and works as a healthcare professional in New York City.