Father’s Day 2011 may very well be my most memorable Father’s Day. It began with a very nice email from my eldest son, Marc, and a very appropriate and unexpected gift. Both were appreciated by me. In recent years with my sons in the military, and the three of us scattered across the globe, Father’s Day has been spent with my mother, as I would take her out to dinner. Such convolutions in what was once the natural social order of things is prevalent in contemporary American society. This year however, being far from home and family members; my friend, Martha Abril, invited me and another close friend of her's from Oakland, California to have dinner with her family. The day was in honor of Martha’s father and me, the only two fathers present.
We began with the usual introductions and sat for a time in the living room before we were invited to make our way to the dinner table. The living room walls were adorned with family photos. Martha’s parents have been married for fifty-four years. During our time together, I at times wondered what the patriarch and matriarch of the family may be thinking as their family is gathered and as the parents age in years. The memories of joy and sadness, and of successes and disappointments which make up all of our lives; the kind of memories that become more poignant in most families during special occasions like these. One photo of the elder Abrils when they were very young especially caught my eye. To be reminded of how young they had once been. He a handsome young man, and Martha’s mother a strikingly beautiful woman, as they formally posed in the traditional portrait style of that earlier period. The living room walls were resplendent with a kind of chronological history of the immediate family as they grew and aged and added new members.
Needless to say, dinner was delightful. Everything from soup to salad to the side dishes and the main entrée were delicious. It wasn’t the food, however, which made the day so memorable. It was the Abril family. Martha says that there are 3,000 Abrils in Ecuador with 90% of the family living in the Cuenca area. Imagine what their family reunions must be like?
Although I understood little of what was being discussed, and since Martha was the only bilingual speaker amongst us, but was generally preparing and delivering bowls and plates of food from the kitchen; there was little I could understand of the conversations swirling around me. Yet the family often made efforts to communicate with their two guests as best they could. It wasn’t the content of the conversation, but rather the dynamic way in which the family interacted. Martha’s cousin, appeared just in time for dinner, with his reddish complexion and hair, and what appeared to be an obvious infectious sense of humor. I immediately took a liking to him. He reminded me of a character actor like Mark Walberg's brother, who might be found playing a family member in an ethnic family setting. The kind of guy one could enjoy having a drink with at the local neighborhood bar.He and Martha’s two brothers enthusiastically carried much of the conversation.
The one brother, Wilson, must have been talking some politics, because Martha’s friend Jean is Chinese-American and better able than me to execute some Spanish, but was often lost to what Wilson was attempting to say. I did understand Wilson’s frequent references to Mao Tse Tung, Taiwan, and communism. What his interpretation of those personalities and events were, I have no idea.
The most amazing thing about the Abrils is how musical all of them are. Walter, the younger brother, is both a song writer and singer. He will be performing in the Dominican Republic next week, and later in Mexico. His sister, Martha, will be joining him to sing in Italy in October. This is a family with a great deal of affection for one another. The affection is exhibited in their interaction and encouragement of one another, and in the songs that Walter has written. We listened to recordings and viewed DVD’s, and heard a beautiful song of affection that Walter wrote about fifteen years ago to his father. He has written a song of similar vain to his mother, and the Abrils even have their own family anthem.
Martha has a strong and beautiful voice. She is a woman of great feeling and passion, and it is reflected in the songs that her brother writes and they choose to sing. Both are true romantics at heart. Martha’s niece, who is studying to be a medical doctor seemed less out-going than the other family members. However, when she sang the theme song from the movie, “The Titanic”, “My Heart Will Go On”; this was truly her song. I was amazed at the feeling that came forth from her as she sang the song in English. It was as if whatever feeling she was holding deep within her being, suddenly found its opportunity for full heart-felt expression.
All of the men in the family play guitars, but Wilson’s, artistic strength is found in his paintings, drawings, and sketches. The “Last Supper” on the dining room wall was formed by Wilson as he etched the molten copper. The real McCoy here, no sculpture made from a mode. He had a beautifully designed Oriental-styled ink drawing on the dining wall as well.
Last but not least were Martha’s children. Joshua is a handsome fourteen year old, who looks quite young for his age. He was the most reticent of the family members, and was usually the one family member least seen on the scene. However, when I noticed one of the traditional Andean multiple flute devices on display in the family living room, Joshua did not hesitate to play and demonstrate his talent.
Joshua’s eight year old sister, Amy, was definitely the scene stealer. She loves to dance, has a real stage presence, and just exudes the family tradition and love for music in all of its forms. I will be surprised if this pretty young lady does not have a future on stage.
I much appreciated Martha sharing her family and Father’s Day with me. The natural warmth of the family members, and the treatment by them of me, a stranger, as if I were a member of the family, and despite the language barriers, made for a special day for me. No one sat around watching T.V., or finding some other excuse to be engaged until it was time to leave. It did not appear that people were there simply out of family obligation. Having divorce forced upon me while my sons were of a very young age, my day at the Abrils was the kind of Father’s Day I had always assumed I would have with my own family. Some things are meant to be, and some things are not. This Father's Day, I will remember for a long time to come.