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.

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