A Yankee Baseball Game

The following essay was inspired by Constellations by Abby Mims and Jesmyn Ward’s “On Witness and Respair” on assignment for my English 404 class, Creative Nonfiction.

Pop, Antonio Ruiz, our father

My father never took me to a Yankee baseball game when I was a kid. That was the secret burden of resentment I carried around for a long time. At some point, before he died from Multiple Myeloma in his mid-sixties, I let that silly feeling go. It was still too damn long to carry around such overbearing feelings.

As long as I can remember, my father worked two jobs to support our family that expanded and shrunk with each foster child my mother took on over the years after our brother Peter died. Pop would do his thing as a truck mechanic. If he grew tired of it or complained, I never knew about it. All I know is that he never seemed to stop working. Ever.

I was the oldest in the family, so I was supposed to carry the responsibility accorded to the oldest son, “be the man of the house,” when Pop wasn’t home. I had no idea what that meant at ten or eighteen years old, even as my father and mother occasionally reminded me. Wasn’t that his job? I mean, wasn’t Pop supposed to work his ass off to ensure that we had a roof over our head, clothes on our back, shoes on our feet, and food on the table?

What an asshole I was.

Pop, Antonio Ruiz, our father

I was a kid in the fifties and early sixties. I was too young to work, and I was too busy with school and playing stickball and johnny on the pony after school to worry about getting my hands dirty, I mean filthy, like my father, who would come home smelling of the very things that would kill him in the end, gasoline, truck oil, and lubricant. On his hands, arms, sometimes his face, all over his work clothes. After eight hours at one job in the south Bronx to another in Brooklyn. That’s not even counting the hours at job number two on Saturdays.

Then, the church usher duties on Sundays at Saint Anselm’s Church. For years he would drive from 140th Street and Third Avenue to 156th and Westchester, which was not around the corner. He would fulfill his duties which stretched through Sunday mornings and then turn around to go back home bearing warm Italian bread or Kaiser rolls so he could sit down with the family for lunch, usually over a bowl of Chicken Soup Puerto Rican style. Then, it was off to visit sick relatives, his mother, brother, and sister (sometimes with us in tow).

In the summertime, he would pack the family into the car for an excursion to upstate New York for outings at any number of lakes that seemed like foreign lands to us but provided us with exciting memories and relief from life in the projects of the South Bronx.

You would think I would have been more grateful.

Pop, on our wedding day, September 3, 1987

Nope. It was the sixties, and rebellion against authority, whether it was your parents or the President of the United States, was the thing I did. Pop and I settled into a regular stream of arguments about everything from the Civil Rights movement (moving too fast) to American foreign military excursions (What are you, a communist?). I would sit in my room reading books and articles about philosophy, religion, identity, war, and civil rights and think that I was smarter than my parents, and what the hell did my father know anyway? He was just a truck mechanic with barely a high school education. (Until now, that’s all I ever had but do go on).

It wasn’t until my first child was born that I began to get an inkling of what Pop knew about life and responsibility and family and what work was all about. By then, much time, distance, and bitter feelings had passed between us, and we had settled into a peaceful co-existence, and we were okay with it.

But, the damn Yankee baseball games. They still haunted me. Somewhere deep inside of me, like a lingering toothache that wouldn’t be relieved until it was yanked out. Without Novocain.

It wasn’t until he was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma in his mid-sixties that his sacrifices became clearer. By then, I thought it was too late. I was in my early forties, and I realized that all those years of pettiness on my part, all that open rebellion from me, all the disappointment I had showered on my parents over the years (Seminary, drug abuse, failed marriages and relationships) did I realize that I would one day not have the time with my father that I secretly wanted so I could ask him questions about life, his life, his past, his dreams that went beyond throwing himself under a truck so that engine oil could drip onto his hands, into his body, down through his veins and crawl into every cell of his body so it could be cooked into cancer in his retirement years when he should have been relaxing.

I should have been the one to take him to a Yankee baseball game.

Pop, Antonio Ruiz, our father

In his final days, I was called back to the Bronx from my home in southern California, so I could witness the inevitable, knowing there was nothing I could do. Cancer had run its course, and the options for cures and stays of death had been exhausted. All I could do was help my mother get him dressed one last time for the journey from the hospital to the hospice. I stood next to this man whose strong arms and hands had fascinated me as a kid and were now thin and barely holding on to my shoulder as I held him. The final indignity of his frail naked body was the last thing he wanted his oldest son, the son who had never appreciated him in his life, to witness. All I could say was, I got you, Pop. He turned, looked at me, and didn’t have to say anything. I knew, and he knew.

Author: Antonio Pedro Ruiz

Antonio Ruiz is an ex-junkie-alcoholic, former seminarian, one-time radio host-producer, past community organizer, continuing to be a media advocate, retired television reporter, ex-commission executive director, once a street vendor of jewelry and gloves, waitron (waiter to you), a former bartender who drank too much on the job, an ex-motorcycle courier who learned to ride a bike just for the job, ex-airport shuttle driver, former Entertainment news director-producer, the best time of my life, one-time live TV events red carpet producer-executive producer, ex-small business consultant, ex-youth media and journalism mentor, and now a college student who also has been married three times (thirds the charm), and just couldn't help living with two other women because well, that's part of my story.

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