Monthly Archives: January 2023

Choose Life for Your Family

Trying to match wits with Tita and X – Christmastime 2015

People say all the time, I’d die for my children. Okay, but would you live for them? Actually live. Make better choices. Try practicing sobriety. Take care of yourself physically and mentally. Your kids don’t need you to die for them. They need you to LIVE. ~ Unknown


The phone rang at about 4:30 in the morning. I was sound asleep under warm covers. Sandra sat up and quickly answered the telephone in the dark of our bedroom. After saying hello, she turned and said, “It’s your mom,” and handed the phone to me. “Something is wrong with your dad,” mom desperately declared. “The ambulance is on the way.” I shot up immediately, washed my face, brushed my teeth, and put on a pair of jeans, hoodie, and baseball cap.

When I got to Alexian Brothers Hospital in east San Jose, Mom was sitting alone in a tiny cold emergency department waiting room. She looked frail and scared. Dad had had a massive stroke. After a long embrace, we went into another small room where nurses cared for Dad. Mom held his hand and lovingly brushed back the few wispy hairs on his bald head when he began to convulse violently. Nurses rushed us out of the room as doctors started working on him.

It seemed like forever sitting in that little waiting room anticipating the doctor to come out any minute to give us a report. Mom quietly prayed while rubbing rosary beads through her fingers. I called my siblings one by one to let them know what was going on. I then sat and worriedly watched mom pray. Finally, a doctor walked into the room and informed us that Dad had died. It was September 6, 1995. Probably around 7:30 am. I was 31 years old.

I was devastated. He was my hero. He taught me what it meant to be a man. A year earlier, I had completed a comeback from the college failure that caused so much chaos in my life and started a professional career armed with a San Jose State University degree. I had goals, big dreams. I was ambitious and focused. I couldn’t wait to achieve my goals and make Dad proud. The dreams were sure to happen. Just without Dad.

After a series of strokes left his motor skills severely restricted, Dad was angry and resentful. He withered away rather than accept God’s will and fight for his life. It seemed like the man who taught me how to be a fierce competitor decided to give up when it mattered most. I was confused and sometimes angry at him for that. But it didn’t matter anymore. He was gone.

In the years that followed, I didn’t think much of it. Every now and then, I thought of how Dad threw in the towel after the first couple of strokes. It didn’t make me upset or resentful. I just wondered what would have caused such a proud man who struggled his entire life to call it quits. Maybe growing up during the Depression without a father, fighting in World War II, and raising a large family living check to check finally took their toll on him.

Or maybe, just maybe, his decline and death were the final lessons he taught. Fifteen years after Dad passed away, I was in a physical rehab center learning how to walk again after becoming paralyzed from a summer in a medically induced coma. I laid awake at night questioning God about my situation. Moments of hopelessness ventured in and out of my thoughts. Many times I considered giving up. I thought about Dad.

His story gave me the strength to surrender to God. As I wrote in my book, Summer in the Waiting Room (Available on Amazon. Click here), “I surrendered to the reality that a massive heart attack and its destructive side effects changed my life. I was determined not to dwell on what could have been. As the hours and days passed, my (rehab) workouts intensified. I made progress on a daily basis.” Two weeks later, I walked out of the hospital.

This brings me to the quote I used to start this post. Who knows who actually said it. I saw it while surfing on Facebook. It was just one of the million or so memes on Facebook that are mostly meaningless. The phrase, “I’d die for my children” is such a cliche. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t rush in front of a speeding car to save their kid’s life. That’s a no brainer. That’s easy to do.

It’s the second part of that quote, “Your kids don’t need you to die for them. They need you to LIVE,” that caught my attention. My life as a man and a father was just beginning when Dad died. I could only imagine what it would be like to go to a Giants game. Just father and son. We never did that. Sitting at Dad’s kitchen counter debating politics with his sharp intellect while sipping whiskey would have been wonderful. Sharing my professional accomplishments with him would have been a dream come true.

As Marisa and Erica continue to blossom as young women, I get to share those moments I missed with Dad. We have conversations about art, politics, music, and careers building. When they reach out to me for career or life advice, my heart sings. When they’re home for the holidays, we play board games and sit together rooting for the Forty Niners and Warriors.

That’s why I fight to live. It’s not easy. I’ve had to give up lots of things I love. “No muthafucka, you can’t have a hotdog” is my rallying cry, but many other favorite foods are on my “No Eat” list too. Listening to a good Mexican heartbreak song now has to be done without beer or tequila to soothe the pain. Until this Covid thing gets under control for immunosuppressed people like me, going to Chase Center to watch the Warriors with 18,000 other people is out of the question.

Eating right, taking medicine as directed by my heart transplant team, exercising regularly, and staying away from drama are going to give me a fighting chance to live longer. Will doing those things guarantee a longer life? Of course not. God is in charge of that department. For Marisa and Erica’s sake, I’m going to do my part. 

If people think it’s noble to say that they’ll die for their kids, so be it. I think that’s taking the easy way out. Try doing it the hard way for your family’s sake. Choose life. Start by trying to make a few lifestyle changes. Every little bit helps. Minimizing unhealthy and destructive behavior like smoking, drinking too much, and not sleeping enough is helpful too.

As Jesus said in Matthew 4:7, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” You just might live a little longer. Do it for your kids. They’re going to need you and your wisdom when it’s their turn to make choices for their families.

Almost Like Heaven

Wrapped in the cocoon at 48 Viewmont Avenue, 1966

After the rain took a break yesterday, I put on a pair of black sweatpants, long sleeve t-shirt, faded Warriors hoodie, black waterproof windbreaker, and laced up my hiking boots to get ready for my daily 4-mile walk. Once I put sunscreen on my face and filled a Hydro Flask with cold water, I topped off the ensemble with a new brimmer hat and securely placed Airpods into my not so small ears. 

As always, I thought about what I wanted to hear coming from those technological wonders. Every Monday, I listen to the George Lopez OMG Hi Podcast. I highly recommend it. The show is thoughtful, informative about the craft and business of comedy, and funnier than a motherfucker (excuse my French). Tuesday is reserved for any number of other podcasts that catch my fancy. The rest of the week is dedicated to music. 

Yeah, yeah. I know it sounds like the boring life of an old man. That lifestyle caught up to me sooner than expected. Countless surgeries, including a couple of open heart operations and scores of post heart transplant procedures have a way of slowing life down. Even though I feel fantastic and younger than ever, taking care of a transplanted heart requires lots of discipline. Routine keeps me in the game. 

Making a decision about the music selection is no easy task because my taste in music is all over the place. Inspired by a recent OMG HI Podcast episode, I paid homage to East LA with Tierra and Los Lobos. The playlist of the past month or so includes Eddie Money, GQ, The Intruders, Frank Sinatra, Dua Lipa, Los Tigres del Norte, Lakeside, Muddy Waters, Sarah Vaughn, Harry Styles, and Boni Mauricio y Los Maximos. You get the picture. The list goes on and on. 

A few weeks ago, I settled on “This is Little Joe” on Spotify. For those who don’t know about Little Joe, he’s the leader and front man of arguably the best and most famous Tex-Mex band of all time. One of the things I loved to do as a kid was sit next to dad’s stereo listening to his albums with big headphones covering half my little head. When I hear Qué Culpa Tengo, my favorite Little Joe song, I fondly think about my sister’s 1976 wedding. One of dad’s treasured Little Joe albums remains safe in my collection.

My favorite Little Joe album – Arriba! Little Joe and the Latinaires, recorded in 1968

I’m sure my daughters and nieces would argue that Selena and Los Dinos deserve the title of best Tex-Mex band of all time. Nice try, I say. But, that’s neither here nor there. What matters is that the King of the Brown Sound always takes me back to my boyhood and the secure confines of Viewmont Avenue in east San Jose.

I saw Little Joe for the first time in 1986. The dance was in the cavernous Expo Hall at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds. I stood close to the stage to take it all in. The funky horn section, rhythmic guitar lines, thumping drumbeat, and Little Joe’s soulful voice and signature grito was food for my soul. Since then, Sandra and I have danced the night away at many Little Joe concerts.

I truly believe that heaven is the next stop after God taps my shoulder to bring suffering in this world to an end. The thing is that I’m not too sure that heaven looks like what the King James Bible tells us in Revelation 21:9-14. Maybe, just maybe, heaven might look like 48 Viewmont Avenue, circa late 1960s to mid 1970s.

Fifty years ago on Viewmont Avenue there was no college failure, no subsequent drunken carousing, no election defeats, no heart attack, no acute respiratory distress syndrome, no medically induced coma, no scary ICU delirium dreams, no heart failure, no LVAD, no post heart transplant depression and anxiety, no starting over at fifty-six. That sounds like heaven to me.

Revelation 21 also tells us that “there will be no more death or mourning or crying pain” in heaven. Ok, so maybe I’m overselling 48 Viewmont. My grandma died in 1974. Our dog Tequila followed a couple of years later. Yeah, I cried my eyes out both times. So I guess that doesn’t make Viewmont a strong candidate for a blissful afterlife in heaven.

But there’s something about being in the cocoon at 48 Viewmont, riding bikes with friends in the summer, playing basketball on the driveway and two-hand touch football on the street, and watching my parents dancing to Little Joe in the living room that brings peace and serenity to my soul. Don’t get me wrong, many beautiful things have also happened to me since those carefree days. Sandra, Marisa, and Erica to name three. 

Being with my three girls at 3211 Stimson Way listening to music, playing board games, and talking smack as the crazy world swirls around outside also brings peace and serenity to my soul. Maybe heaven includes all of life’s wonderful experiences with family and good friends mixed in a beautiful cocktail of faith, hope, and love. Shaken, not stirred, of course.

About six or seven years ago, Sandra and I were at History Park in San Jose watching the King of the Brown Sound live on stage. It was a warm and sunny day. We were having a blast with compadres and close friends.  I had a few Jack and Cokes dancing in my head when Little Joe’s band started playing Borrachera (no pun intended), his classic tune about drunken revelry. The music washed over my body as Sandra and I blissfully swayed together arm-in-arm. For those three minutes, I didn’t have a care in the world. It was almost like heaven.

None of us will really know what heaven looks like until we get there. Maybe it will look like the King James Bible description, “clear as crystal . . . with a wall great and high, and twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and their names written thereon.” Maybe it looks like 48 Viewmont Avenue in 1972. Maybe it’s Christmas 2022 at 3211 Stimson Way. 

Whatever it looks like, I’m pretty sure that Little Joe will be there belting out fun music. My family and dear friends will be there with me dancing and laughing. There’s no doubt in my mind that “there will be no more death or mourning or crying pain.”