Tuesday, June 23, 2015

And then my father died

Well, the other shoe finally dropped - my father has passed away, well before his time. Over the past year, my family has dealt with one of the worst possible vicissitudes of life... a brain cancer diagnosis for a loved one. He was just shy of 80, survived by several siblings, his longtime spouse, and his children.

For those of you who relate better to films and tv than real-life emotions, (a) seek help soon, and (b) this is how terrified you feel when your relative has cancer.

Pop, the man in question, served in an army for Trujillo (basically, Stalin of the Caribbean), who tried to have my father killed for speaking out of turn, forcing my dad into exile (and my father outlived that dictator by 44 years, so hahaha fuck you very much, Trujillo). This same man was later dragooned by another army in the 50's. As a soldier, he saw Hiroshima survivors a decade after the bombing (his descriptions of which were horrifying). He was also a doctor who became both a successful businessman and an active community leader.

Last Spring/Summer offered ample time for fears, regrets, and introspection - even time to freak the hell out about the times I raced to the emergency room on my own behalf (as many hospital trips as in my whole life combined before 2014). But Autumn '14 was full of overnight stays in hospital rooms after working 40-60 hours, because we wouldn't let my dad sleep alone. And the past Winter was supposed to be an oasis - getting our loved one out of noisy hospitals, and continuing his rehab in a beautiful new apartment. Given the circumstances, we hoped to get him in the best possible shape for the remainder of our time together - yet, after some weeks, it didn't really work out that way. My father's condition simply deteriorated... until, finally, a good man was extinguished.

As a kid raised partly in NYC and partly outside the country (and, most importantly) by foreign parents, I have an uncommon attitude about plenty of things: people had to explain to my why Ground Zero cleanup was delayed by searching for pieces of those confirmed to be dead; even if I despise someone, I'll apologize if I've done wrong by them or behaved below basic social standards (old Latinos really do instill manners in their offspring); I try not to give up on people possessing some goodness or fine qualities, even if I don't especially trust them or worry that they won't prove themselves to be decent/reliable people down the road... Above all, though, it seems pretty basic and obvious to me that just because I owe someone more than I can ever repay, that doesn't mean I won't even try. And, on this occasion, I tried even harder than usual; all of us did.

Much as with my professional life, I don't act from a desperate need for attention, nor do I lash out at acquaintances when my problems or mood have nothing to do with them - and I use restraint when they do. Roommates have pissed me off frequently, and I've always handled it concisely, politely, and (above all) maturely. When you're stuck within a tornado of negativity, you must recall that peoples' behavior may only seem negative to you - and that things will definitely be negative if you let your present mindset color all your interactions. The same goes for my workmates, who have now and then been so bothersome or inappropriate that I have wanted, at times, to scream.

Even aside from worries of getting fired, embarrassing myself, or having to apologize for overreacting to legitimately stupid actions/words, I won't abandon the maturity that anyone over the age of 20 is expected to display. It's inappropriate, subpar performance - I was raised to do better than that. And, sadly, I've seen true emotional fuckups all my life - so I want to contribute to making the world a better place, and part of that means not being noxiously angsty and hyperbolic, or aggressively spiteful, or failing to both behave and treat others like adults.

Obviously, the past 1+ year has been a nightmarish hell. I had to keep quiet about all this for a while, as my family wanted to protect itself as much as possible in this matter. Moreover, we were concerned about my father's illness creating health problems for his older siblings - when I claimed that dad died early, I wrote that because his older siblings are in their mid-to-late 80s, and his mom died in her 90's. So, yes, mid-70's is tragically young, in pop's case...

I have put great effort into maintaining myself in a variety of ways: selecting different exercises than I usually do; a variety of extreme diet changes, cleanses (removing toxins, not the bowel stuff), or fasting, to see what effect they would have (mostly disastrous, fyi); trying to pick up new skills; brushing up on my Spanish - the best result of which was talking more with my dad in that language, the second best being the Spanish songs I sung to the neighborhood cats whilst sitting on my stoop (I do it when I'm alone, or even while on hold during phone calls, which was fun)...

In November, when things got bleak, I decided to postpone taking time off from this blog. I rededicated myself to seeing the biggest movies of 2014 with friends or family, and then writing them up here. It wasn't a mere escape, but something fresh to focus on in my spare time. I think it was a great way to cope, and I'm pretty proud of my work on this site over the last 9 months or so - I've written some of my best reviews over this spell.

But, after all, this site is still a film blog. I avoid certain topics because they're simply not connected to pictures... So how do I justify whining about my personal loss here?

It's because of the movies. My father had (yes, past-tense, and now all of it hurts even more) lots of weird and conflicting attitudes - like his being so passionate about the USA, yet never becoming a citizen of the country he loved. And he really must've sat through so many movies that he disliked, just because he was doing the part of a dutiful, loving husband/parent.

Easy example: dad once yelled at me - like, yelled as if I did something clearly bad - for watching (gasp) a violent movie. That movie was Rocky IV. And, among other graphic pix, this same father had taken me to see The Official Story, a movie about political oppression in Argentina that pulled no punches and made me ask my mom what "rape" was... And what "rape squads" were. And what (in Spanish) "los desaparecidos" meant. FYI, it meant "the disappeared," as in "Bob spoke out against the government last week, and now he's one of the disappeared."

Yet I can't complain much about logical absurdities or hypocrisies (in fact, I credit this occasional irrationality for forcing me to become smarter, if only to try to determine how to stay out of trouble). I can't complain because my dad hated hated hated movies with monsters and whatnot, and yet sat through so many of them, so many times - all to have a pleasant night with the wife and kids. Forget even about all the wonderful pictures that I saw because of him. This guy took his family out to sci-fi/fantasy films of which he probably enjoyed only the opening and the ending credits.

For my part, I don't agree with Ebert, but it's poignant as they were (a) very good at their jobs and (b) both Siskel and Ebert died of cancer.

Robocop II (which was not really up his alley), Pet Cemetery at a drive-in, Jurassic Park, The Running Man - the technical intricacies or artistic merits of these movies were largely lost on him. He grew up watching silver screen material - mostly Westerns - while living in the depths of absolute, abject poverty. The fantasy tales that I loved, much less scary stories, were pointless to him. And, although my dad could sometimes complain ceaselessly, pop never griped about the fact that he was watching (and paying for) movies that he'd rather sleep through. He never even complained while his affliction took so much from him.

Dad preferred older films - Hitchcock, Westerns, The Godfather, crime dramas, mysteries... He enjoyed period pieces, dramas, epics, war pix, and historical movies, in addition to anything involving politics. He loved comedy - Dangerfield, Hanks, Home Alone... And, bless his heart, he loved anything that was rabidly pro-American. Above all, though, my pop was a big, big fan of Mario Moreno (popularly known as Cantinflas). His collection of films (especially Moreno's) outpaced even my own, and that's saying a lot.

There are many more compliments and laurels that I could lay at the feet of someone who had a ton of flaws, and yet so many virtues as to outweigh those failings easily. There are so many more things that I could say, even sticking solely to the topic of film. In the end, I don't even know if this post is, in any way, a fitting tribute...

But I'm not going to subvert this blog because I'm hurting, or so I can get some catharsis. This was all a journey through hell - an experience that, of course, was far worse for (a) the man who actually got sick and died and (b) the woman who stayed by side the whole while, partners for more than 50 years.

In my experience, meurosis often presents itself to others in the form of repetitive actions - and, especially, in phrases. When you hear someone say certain things and say them repeatedly about seemingly everything or everyone, you know you may be dealing with a neurotic person or a neurotic episode. Sometimes, people are neurotic to their very core, but for others, neuroses are just temporary conditions - a response to excessive psychological distress that isn't being released in other ways. That last point is my default interpretation of people that seem otherwise "okay."

And while this incident did not make me neurotic or cause me to start acting especially neurotically, there were some thoughts that went through my mind repeatedly: "Somebody put staples in my dad's head." "What wouldn't I give to change this?" "Can we be sure that he knows us, or that he's honestly not in pain?" "Oh, my poor dad."

But I did my best, and my family did its best, and we fought until there was nothing left to fight - until there was nothing left to fight for. It's hard to go through all that without becoming toxic to others, and I'm glad that me and mine pulled that off, however sad and tragic the outcome turned out to be...

Though I already had plans to step back from this site, it did provide me with a positive distraction. Suddenly, I was going to the theaters at least once a week, spending a while in great company - not ignoring the pain and worry, but taking some time out to recharge and to remind myself that even tragic times still have some room for laughter.

If I were stuck with teenage emotions and attitudes, I would wallow in fear, doubt, solipsism, evasion... But I'm not - and so I can remember that the sun will still rise, and birds will still sing, and Rob Schneider movies will still suck donkey balls. Once you lose your perspective, you can't see a way out for yourself, you can't see anything else but the you that you're presently stuck with; and once you lose your sense of humor, you're in the same damn mess, but with a lousymood.

So you try - you don't rage quit, any more than you take your own problems out on others. In this case, on this site, that was to finish out my coverage of 2014's big movies, suggest a range of shows to enjoy, celebrate my website's 6th anniversary, and to write a few additional reviews for a small selection of my 2015 viewing. And that will be over with shortly.

Very touching, but it's much harder to say goodbye to a man that can't reply.

I don't know how many years Manhattan Island - or wherever my father may come rest - will last. To some degree, we're just animals in between ice ages, ultimately. But, in case there's a real permanent record of every web page out there, maybe the following words will survive me - and him - for a good long while:

You were truly great, and a bit flawed, and we adored you to pieces, just as you adored us back.
In Loving Memory,
Your Son

This is not the end, if only because that would be a shitty ending. Thank you for reading.

Half a Film Student


  1. So sorry for your loss, Thaddeus. :( You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers.

    1. Thank you so much, Anna. It's taken me a while to reply to comments because I was so busy finishing all the posts I published in June - and, obviously, my family's dealing with a lot right now.

      I really do appreciate it. Thanks again, as your support helps.

  2. I'm very sorry for your loss, Thaddeus. I am terrible at these things so I will just say that this was a truly lovely post and thank you for writing it.

    1. Thanks so much, love. Believe me, we're all terrible at handling tragedies of such a great degree. Thanks for reading my post.

  3. My deepest condolences,Thaddeus-my father passed away several years ago and my mom still has some serious health problems(she spent part of Sunday in the hospital), so I have a good idea of what you're going through.

    While my dad's death was a sudden one, it still takes a lot out of you learning to deal with things that you thought were a long way off to handle. Fortunately, you and your family are strongly connected and I am in no doubt that your father was immensely proud of you and your work.

    This was a beautiful tribute to your dad and I think you're right to channel some of that sorrow into completing your writing goals. Take care of yourself and best wishes to your loved ones. Sincerely, Lady T

    1. Thank you so much, both for sharing that and for your kind words.

      I've clamped down and focused enough to get through all the hard times, but obviously the situation found a way to become even worse. And, of course, we're going to deal with the aftermath of this for a long time to come...

      I'm so sorry about your dad, and I hope your mother's condition turns around immediately, if it hasn't already. There's nothing worse than losing family, no matter what the circumstances are. But all we can do is stay strong and keep trying to go forward.

      My love to you and yours, lady t. You all have my best wishes.

  4. I'm so sorry about your loss! This has been a wonderful tribute. My thoughts go to you and your family *hugs*

    1. Thanks, Sati! I haven't attempted to write anything like this before, and I hope I never have cause to write one again. I don't know that anything can do justice to this situation, but at least I tried.

      I'm grateful for your support.
      *hugs backs*


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