Losing My Father
My Teacher, My Mentor, My Dad
Turning The Grief Into Gratitude
By Lou Dos Santos
April 27, 2021
As I sit down and reflect back on the most painful times in my life, the loss of my parents, I ask myself, why? To bring back those memories that were and are still so difficult to deal with. Why not just move forward and not put myself through it again? Well, those thoughts came and went quickly, because by remembering, it reminds me of how grateful I am and to never forget the lessons they taught me. To always remember how fortunate I was and am for having them as parents, because we have many choices in life, choosing our parents is not one of them. I’m very fortunate that the choice wasn’t mine because I couldn’t have made a better choice in parents than the one that was made for me. I therefore want to explain how their words and more important, their actions molded me as a child and also have made me the man I am today.
He was a man that was born and raised in Lisbon Portugal. At the age of twelve, he was taken in as an apprentice to learn the art of boat building and design. An art that he worked on until literally the end of his life. There was a time when Portugal, this small European nation was a world power (the first global power), in fact the richest country in the world for many years. This was due to the discoverers that traveled the globe discovering new lands and riches. Christopher Columbus himself studied navigation at Prince Henry’s School of Navigation in Portugal. Many know the history of Portuguese discoveries and ship building history, so imagine a young boy having the privilege to learn boat and ship building on the very beaches that those discovery ships were built and launched to discover new worlds. My Dad always felt honored to have had the opportunity and always had tremendous respect for his craft and those that taught him so much at a young age. By having that respect and appreciation, he himself, spent his life also teaching and passing along his knowledge to my brother, myself and many others. That lesson was learned at such a young age that it became part of who he was. The understanding that you have a responsibility to teach others as others taught you was simply a part of life; an obligation that was to be taken seriously. Teaching us was precisely what he did. But not just teaching the skills, the art of design and construction, the techniques etc, but more importantly teaching us to learn on our own as well. To take what we learn and expand, think, process and improve. How can you explain in words the value and gratitude for this lesson? To me, there aren’t words that can sufficiently express the gratitude I have, so how to be thankful? To live my life in a way that shows I listened, I learned and I honor him by the man I am everyday, thanks to his teachings and his examples.
I remember one day I was in the car with my Dad, I was about thirteen or so and he pulled up to a red light. There was this older homeless gentleman asking for money on the side of the road. His clothes were torn, shoes were falling apart, he was scruffy and quite dirty. It appeared to me that life had not been kind to this person, perhaps due to his own actions or mental illness, tragedy, who knew. Anyway my Dad reached over and handed this man a few dollars. I made the mistake of making a comment that my Dad made me ashamed of at the time but turned out to be a valuable life lesson for me. I asked my Dad why he was giving this man money when all he was going to do was buy beer with it. My Dad turned to me and with a serious and deliberate tone, that if the highlight of that man’s day is having a beer, I should be grateful for my life. I thought for a moment and felt ashamed of myself. I hated how I came across as so callous and uncaring. I didn’t like that feeling and have remembered that shame my whole life and don’t want to ever feel that way again. So though I felt those emotions, shame, embarrassment, it changed my perspective going forward until I take my last breath. Learning to see those less fortunate and have compassion instead of judgment. To learn every life has a story and who am I to pass judgment or assume when that is not my place.
This story has stuck with me my whole life as well. As I mentioned earlier, Portugal was a nation of discoveries and therefore had many colonies. The African nation of Mozambique, was one of them. In 1975 Portugal gave Mozambique independence. Following independence of that country, many people, both black and white, fled to other countries. Many fled to Portugal and other European nations, to Brazil, Canada and the United States as well.
There was this one person that had fled Mozambique to Portugal and then, to the United States. He came to my father in search of employment. He had no skills in boat construction but my dad gave him a job and taught him to do certain work. I remember this person was a hard working man, however he was quiet with a kind of different personality. Anyway, the workers are all sitting around for lunch, being summer I was not in school and was working at my Dad’s company, doing what I can and learning. So this gentleman starts to tell a story of when he lived in Mozambique, about the (black) ‘servants’ he had. My Dad turns to him and asks “you were a crane operator weren’t you?’ I looked at my Dad because I knew that tone, this was not going to go well. The gentleman confirmed that he was, but we all knew that, especially my Dad. So he’s telling the story of a black man that worked in his house, as again his ‘servant’, that drank some wine from his bottle out of the refrigerator when he was at work, and how, when he got home, he slapped this man across the face. My gut feeling was correct, this was going to get ugly, fast. So my Dad asked how he knew. He stated that he marked the bottle because he suspected him of drinking his wine while he was out. So now it happens. Being a man with very liberal views, especially since my Dad left his native country due to a fascist dictatorship at the time and also a man that hated injustices and was also anti-colonization, this had to happen. My Dad stood up and got in this man’s face and with his powerful and carrying voice chewed him out! “How dare you slap a grown man with a wife and children over a few sips of wine. Who are you to sit here and talk of having ‘servants’? This is why no country should colonize other people because of you and others like you!” My Dad went on to tell him that he had no sympathy for him having to flee Mozambique. He deserved to lose everything. My Dad also went on to tell him that now he was in the ‘real world’ and he better change his ways or he was fucked! This man was in tears by the end of this conversation, if you could call it that. My Dad let him speak earlier, then the conversation became entirely one sided, my Dad attacking this racist man sitting in front of him. I remember how stressful as a kid to witness this event, the anger and disgust my Dad expressed was very intimidating. He meant what he was saying, it was real and honest, as was his disgust. If you’re wondering if my Dad fired him, he did not at the time, but he told him he wasn’t going to fire him because his wife and children needed to eat. My Dad later got this man a job at a different company and he was gone. Now to me, the thing that I’m most grateful for is this: That as a kid, I remember this incident. That it stuck with me. What it taught me. How unacceptable it was to treat another human being in that manner. That a person’s skin color was irrelevant. Another lesson never forgotten, thanks to my Dad.
No gratitude necessary
Allow me to set this up. If you know someone that you would consider the ‘least religious person’ you know, well my Dad was less religious than that person. Now he wasn’t anti-religion, he just believed that if someone of faith has their beliefs, than they’re yours, not his, so don’t waste his time, and don’t try to push him into your beliefs, because that wasn’t going to happen in any way shape or form. My Mom went to church every week, My Dad had no problem with that. As a matter of fact he would drop her off and pick her up when necessary. He never denied us the right to go to church either, he left that decision to my brother and myself. And we both adopted that same mentality, your faith is yours, I hope it brings you comfort and joy, but do not try to recruit me. So the story I’m getting to is this. My Dad had his own business and often times would temporarily employ people coming to him for work, even without needing them at times. There were many times, if he couldn’t provide the employment, he would put them in the car and make his rounds with other employers he knew to help these strangers out. To my disgust. There were quite a few of these people that my Dad found them employment that later on would say they didn’t need his help. This infuriated me. To not be able to acknowledge that another person, a stranger in fact, that you approached for help, went out of his way to help you. So I remember after one of these incidents, I yelled at My Dad. I screamed “Why do you go out of your way for these assholes that don’t appreciate it? Fuck them, let them find jobs on their own that’s not your problem!” Are you curious to hear his response? He looks at me with a very serious face and said this “Everyone has a right to work, to eat and feed their children!”
This one was a bit more difficult for me to wrap my arms around. Perhaps because I was now a few years older, still young but not a child. What I struggled with was this: For someone to lack the ability to say ‘thank you’ was unacceptable to me. I felt that if you are that person, than you don’t deserve help. You deserve consequences. Good luck to you and goodbye. But my Dad didn’t care about gratitude. He just felt that this person can go grocery shopping and eat, feed the family and if he helped them to get there, that’s all that mattered. This is why I brought up religion. Here is a total atheist that didn’t live his life in search of a reward for good deeds, he could care less. His reward was he did what he could and that’s all that mattered, to him. I will admit this. I admired my Dad for this, especially as I got older and looked back, but, I can’t say that I’ve been able to be as accepting as my Dad was. I don’t care about rewards for good deeds either, meaningless to me. However, If I have a choice of helping a great person that is deserving of my time and energy versus someone who is egotistical and ungrateful, my choice will always be easy. This is another lesson I’ve learned as well from my Dad. To always try to be a better person, because the room for improvement is always there, for all of us.
Woman and Respect
This is another lesson my Dad taught me amazingly with so few words but with few words that sunk in and stuck, for life. When I turned sixteen and was now able to drive on my own, he gave me my first car. If you’re curious, it was a 1971 Ford LTD, used of course but I loved it. Felt like driving a tank compared to today’s cars. But anyway he turns to me and says this “You always treat the ladies with respect, someday you may have a daughter.” Well of course he was wrong, I didn’t have a daughter, I have three!
I’m sure other Dad’s have said that to their sons, but the way he said it, his tone. I knew right away what he just said, he meant. Much later in life I owned a bar for quite some years. Most of the people employed were ladies. When I had two female employees separately say that I was different from other bar owners they’ve worked for I had to ask in what way. When both gave the same response, that I am respectful. I immediately thought of what my Dad told me years ago. I was proud, not of myself because all women should be treated with respect, all people for that matter. I was proud that I had a Dad that taught me that lesson at a young age, and grateful as well. If you are not aware, in the bar business there are many owners that are not respectful to their female employees. Some see the business as a personal playground where the boundaries they put up for their patrons doesn’t apply to them, I witnessed it and heard many stories as well. To me, my employees were working to pay their bills, feed themselves and their families and deserved to be treated with respect as people and appreciated for their work, as I would want for myself. Another lesson that has lasted a lifetime, thanks to my Dad.
I discussed how my Dad started to learn his skills as an apprentice at the age of twelve. What he learned didn’t turn into a career but his passion. Though he was a master at his craft, he told me this the year before he passed away at the age of eight two. I want you to remember this because it applies to all of us. He said “I still learn something new every day, different and better ways of doing things.” Think about that. An eighty two year old saying this about himself. Truly a lesson for those much younger that think they know ‘everything.’ He also had other interests, such as writing plays, poems and stories. He loved to read and was very informed of what was going on in the world, especially politics. But boat building and design was his first passion. As a family, several of us have discussed how my Dad would always say “I want t die with a tool in my hand.” You know what? That’s what happened. My Dad was working on his hobbies in his workshop when my Mom called for him to come in for lunch. He didn’t show. She Called out his name, no response. She then went to get him and found him on the floor. She called 911 and my brother and me, we rushed to the emergency room. There he was, his heart was beating but he had a massive stroke. The doctor’s informed us that there was nothing to do. He was basically gone. I’ll say to you what the doctors told us, that he was the strongest eighty three year old man they had seen. Well he worked everyday, he walked two miles per day, he ate healthy home cooked meals. But this shocked his personal physician of many years. My Dad had a check up a little over a week before his stroke and everything was great. But it still happened. He went to ICU for almost a week as we waited for his heart to stop beating, which of course it did. I was devastated as we were not prepared for this, it was a shock, unexpected. As my brother and I mourned, we looked to our Mom. The heartache she was going through. Her husband of over fifty five years, gone. Though she had us and other family for support, she was never again the same person, until she passed away a few years later.
I am telling this incredibly painful story for this reason. To lose a loved one is heartbreaking, devastating. To know we can no longer see them, speak to them, share a laugh. Things change forever. The holidays are no longer the same when you see that empty chair at the family table. Their voice is there from memory. Their touch is gone. But hopefully we can turn the grief over time, because it’s OK and healthy to mourn, and start appreciating that parent or loved one we lost for everything they did for us. These few stories I shared with you are just tidbits of the memories I have and the lessons my Dad taught me. But you know what? There is a way to show our gratitude: By living our lives with dignity and kindness and to honor our parents even tough they are no longer with us. I could go on for days and weeks with more but I hope this may help you in your time of sorrow.
Wish everyone the best.
Lou Dos Santos
This article is copyrighted, no unauthorized use allowed.