Save the last dance for me..

Updated 21-12-2009.. In the early hours of the morning of December 17th, my father finally passed away to his resting spot.. ironically, he didn’t go quietly.. a few minutes after his death.. an earthquake hit Spain, and Portugal ….

Do you remember being a small child & standing on your fathers toes? Do you remember looking up at that all impressive image of a man, asking him to shuffle his feet and dance with you? On a Monday, that was the 23rd of November this year, I danced my last dance with my father.

This isn’t your typical post to be found on this blog, but it’s one I need to write today. Through it, in addition to some own self healing for myself, I hope that it will help others better understand some of the underlying issues that effect us all, as well as our colleagues, at work, at play and everywhere we encounter human beings.

I’ve long contested that we are animals of emotions, that’s a fact, regardless of whether we want to admit it or not. The lessons from “Save the last dance for me” will one day be an entire chapter in the book that many keep inspiring me to write, but for now, it’s a simple recant of my last journey home.. to say goodbye to dad.

My father is dying from prostate cancer, ready to leave our world any day now. For several years he’s been battling his cancerous illness, and how he’s made it this far still baffles the doctors that look after him. They say that he should have been gone weeks, or even months ago, but with every hospital interment, something inside of him becomes stronger than the grim reaper that tries to take him from us. A few nights ago my mother, brother & I reached a final stage that I don’t wish upon anyone, the stage at which someone asks you to decide whether or not to follow medical advice, and put an end to the dialysis which has been a 3 times per week routine for my family, necessary to keep him alive. On Thursday he had another episode, and convulsions of what is rotting from within were evidence that he has reached the final stages where there is nothing left to do. At 82, now bed ridden and mainly unconscious, my concern now extends to my mother, who at the young age of 77, can hardly keep the promise she made long ago. “Whilst the other is alive, there wont be a nursing home for either”.

My father is the youngest of 8 siblings, all of them girls. Most of them have now passed away themselves, with one sole survivor, I believe the eldest, which will yet again watch another one go from our midst. Coming from a modest background, he always tried to teach me critical lessons of life which I often did not heed, and ironically, the most frequent of which led to one of the most challenging moments in my life more recently.

My dad was “old school”, raised by what most would describe as a “less than loving environment”. It’s sad to see generation after generation inflict such pain on themselves, both emotional as well as physical, only in the name of “not knowing any better”. For me, my generation was the breaking point, a generation in which my brother & I said “enough” and tried to change our environment for the sake of ourselves, as much as everyone around us, and for our own generations to come. Tears welled up from inside on Friday November 20th, sitting at an outdoor café on the outskirts of Lisbon, when my brother recounted the most recent flashback which he obviously needed to speak out-loud. My father has always had large hands, it’s a family characteristic, and my brother used to fear those large fists that would beat on him for reasons that modern parenting would find uncomprehendable. This time, many many years since he had last laid a hand on anyone, the flashback was triggered by my father’s frail outreached hand, seeking assistance to stand-up out of the taxi that transported him home from his last hospital stay. The hand that used to punish, now needed an act of empathy & support.

When I last saw my dad a few weeks ago, he could barely sit upright, but still had enough strength to raise his now fragile hands to reach out and hold mine. His body no longer had the energy to heat itself, and so he sought comfort from the warmth of mine. This is what everything had come down to, the tender touch that for so many years I had craved, now came as a consequence of desperation, and all I could think of was.. “what emotional turmoil was eating him up inside?” What emotional pain, which had lived within him for most of his adult life, and that is most likely much more cancerous than any disease that can be treated with medication?  You see, I realized a few years ago, thanks to the beautiful energy of my dear & loving wife Maria, that his violence was not that of a “bad man”, but that of a “frightened one”.

Since meeting Maria in the spring of 2006, I’ve again learned many valuable lessons, which have consequently given me yet another rebirth in what can be considered “quite an eventful life”. I’d have to say that the most significant one to-date has been understand the concept of “forgiving without condoning the act”. This has been a great gift, and brought with it relief from a weight on my soul, allowing me a few years ago to finally be at peace with my father after so many years of discomfort.

Self admittedly, I can be very judgmental, something I am able to better control in my professional life than in my personal one. For as long as I can remember since my late teens, all I could feel was anger and resentment toward the man, that whilst providing for his family, also inflicted much pain. I was fortunate, or maybe not depending on your viewpoint, as by my 14th birthday the physical pain which my brother and mother had been subjected to for so many years, was now transitioning into more of an emotional bargaining chip. It would take me almost 28 years to understand that my father was simply a victim of his on circumstances, upbringing, and internal daemons, fed by his inner fears & complexes of inferiority. That was the true “cancer” eating away from within long before the one that now draws an end to his daily breath. How can people create such pain for themselves? Why are we so often ignorant to how our own internal fears allow us to live such unproductive lives? I recently read a quote by from a Mary Oliver poem that reflects “are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?” It is reflections like this, that want me to breath lots of life into every breath that I breath!

Plato once wrote “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark. The real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.” Maslow used to say that “the human is a wanting animal  and rarely reaches a state of complete satisfaction for a short period of time”. Are these the things that drove him “insane”? I know that in my own short 45 years I have had to learn to deal with this heritage handed down. Some may call it a curse, but through my own development, I have actually found the blessing in overcoming what traditionally holds us back from self-actualization.

What was he trying to prove, or reach? A man that once served King Juan Carlos I of Spain whilst he was exiled in Portugal, (yes.. that’s who influenced the name that would be bestowed upon me at birth) my father was also a “tailor to the stars” back in the mid to late 60’s, a status that would again be bestowed upon him many years later in Philadelphia upon the occasion of tailoring some outfits for Bill Cosby. What was the pain that this man held so deep inside of him? That ate away at his very heart? I do believe that my father loved us dearly, but unfortunately, he just didn’t know how to express that love, and in turn, his frustration resulted in sour and unfortunate outcomes. I truly believe that words & acts, which on the outside were of harsh criticism, were simple and frustrated expressions which he unfortunately couldn’t articulate in more empathetic tones.

How many of us leave things unsaid? How many of us allow an argument to go unresolved? How would you feel if the last words you spoke to someone, or the last emotions you felt, were to become the last remaining exchange with that person for eternity?

I’ve been fortunate to be able to leverage allot of my own self discovery toward my work. This for me is a beautiful thing, because it means that I have a greater opportunity to live more consistently “on purpose”. Think of your average workday.. or work week.. would you agree that on average, over the course of a year, you spend more time with your colleagues at work than you do with the ones you love most? How are your relationships at work? And more importantly.. how are your relationships at home? How have you expressed your true sentiments? Towards others, as well as yourself?

In-between the Friday that I arrived & the Monday that I departed to return back to my “now home” of Barcelona, I spent yet another magical weekend with my two boys, Joni 17 & Riki 13. A weekend which included speaking to their teachers to discover how I could better help the evolution. A weekend that was full of simple adventures & shared experiences! A divorce back in 96/97 has conditioned the time that I have been physically present, a fact in itself that often haunts me, and that I deal with the best I can. I consider myself fortunate to have a very special relationship with Joni & Riki! They are indeed my greatest pride & joy, along with my relationship with Maria, and I take necessary measures to ensure that I educate them, through dialogue, as to “the ways of the world”, sharing with them every facet of my own life, fears & mistakes, hoping that they can find their own way in the world, with less turmoil than I. That is another thing that I hold dear from my father’s lessons.. “that it is our obligation to ensure the success of the next generation”. I had to figure most of that out for myself, inspired by others who would come into my life’s journey.

On the Monday that I departed Lisbon, the morning of November 23rd, my father wanted to walk around the small apartment he & my mother share. My mom’s patience was wearing thin, weighed & burdened from abuses which have left her scarred,  her frail form didn’t permit her to lend him a helping hand. My father insisted that I keep tapping away at the keyboard, insistent as always that work is more important than anything else. As I look across the room at this now shell of a man.. that I once imagined all empowering.. I stopped tapping on my keys.. and I made the rest of the world wait!

Lifting his remaining 54 kilo frame off the lounge, all I could feel, as I placed my arms around him, were bones protruding from his skin. There was little physical presence of this man I call my father, and so that morning.. we danced.. this time his feet on mine.. we danced our last dance…

P.S. Updated 21-12-2009.. In the early hours of the morning of December 17th, my father finally passed away to his resting spot.. ironically, he didn’t go quietly.. a few minutes after his death.. an earthquake hit Spain, and Portugal

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