by AL GARCIA
When can pride be too hard to swallow?
|Yesterday my wife had called me while I was on the way home from work with some very exciting news! It seems that the local church had called her and informed her that they had offered to sponsor our family for Christmas. The church had received an email from my sister-in-law Melody explaining in great detail about our family's dire needs . The church then gratefully and graciously had offered to provide a Christmas dinner, a Christmas tree and Presents for my kids and my wife had asked me what I thought.
I gripped the steering wheel tightly and took a long moment before responding. I felt as if my pride had just been attacked, damaged and stomped on. Anger suddenly enveloped me and my chest began to tighten. I was on the verge of going into a full on rage.
"So what do you think honey?" my wife’s voice buzzed in my ear from the blue tooth. I suddenly snapped back into the present and realized that my wife was still on the other end of the line.
"Uh....." was all I could manage to say. I couldn't answer. I was the angriest that I had been in a very long time!
At that moment, I felt like snapping the steering wheel of its' column.
Let me go back a little bit and give you a bit of history. Last year we had several Epic Failures (as my kids are so kind to point out)
We had our house foreclosed on by our bank
We had to file Bankruptcy due to our huge outstanding loans and legal losses due to the House.
Our jobs had huge cutbacks due to the failed economy and being that I am paid through sales commissions, that accounted for an over 60% pay reduction.
My Father In-law who lived with us was in the hospital in grave condition and the doctors given him a zero chance of survival. The Doctors told us that My father in-law should go back to the house and be allowed to pass on since there was nothing more to be done at the hospital, the problem was that we were preparing to pack and leave at a moments notice as the bank was in the process of Foreclosure eviction.
So, yea- it was a very trying period for our family at that time. Our life at that time was darker than a carload of assholes slowly approaching in a dark, deserted alley at midnight. During this whole ordeal I kept telling my wife and kids that everything was under control and I felt that I had a duty to Keep face and act and behave as if the situation was under control for their sake.
Inside however, I was falling apart and I was terrified to the core. I felt worn out and useless--just another broken fan belt, a burst radiator hose. I was terrified that we would end up homeless, penniless and desolate. But I happen to suffer from an incurable mental disorder. My disorder is that regardless of how bad anything gets, I refuse to give up. I believe that I am smart enough to navigate through anything that life throws at me. I can face anything and I will find a way. And in the instance that a way cannot be found then I will MAKE a way.
We ended up losing our home, my father in law passed away and we had the funeral and we filed for complete bankruptcy all at the same time. Our world was inside out, upside down and ugly. Our roller coaster ride was no where near stopping.
We ended up finding a rental home near our old home. This had been a priority for me since I didn't want to displace my kids far from their friends and school. I had wanted to maintain the most normal environment for them as I could. They had gone through enough already. We found that financially speaking, times were tough but both my wife and I were still gainfully employed. We had our health and we had a safe and secure roof over our heads. We found that we could not pay all our expenses and decisions had to be made. We discontinued our satellite TV. We emptied out our storage and piled everything into our garage. We analyzed our spending and drastically cut our groceries to less than half. We prioritized all our wants and almost no needs to all needs and no wants. We put all spending to a halt, and I do mean all spending. Dining out to restaurants or fast food was out. We began planning our driving and I began bicycling to work 3 times a week to save gas (and got thinner in the process).
Back to the present-
As I sat in the traffic, all the hard effort that my wife and I had put into it had been for nothing. Sure we were on the verge of having our utilities shut off and our pantry was starting to look just slightly bare, but dammit, this was a personal battle! This to me was the equivalent to Climbing a Mountain with the goal and determination of reaching the top and after days of scaling, climbing and being bruised, bleeding and exhausted, begins to see the mountain top up ahead and knows then that with a little more effort and a little more sacrifice I can almost reach out and touch it…..then; suddenly a rescue helicopter swoops down out of nowhere, picks me up against my will and drops me off on the mountain top leaving me the climber feeling unfulfilled. It may have been wrong to think this way, but that was how I felt.
I tried to stay calm and not snap at my wife. Because you see, I love her greatly and I most certainly didn't want to start a fight. She sounded almost pleading and it touched my heart, if only for a split second before the rage had seeped back in. I was trying not to be angry at my sister-in-law for starting this because my brain was still attempting to work above my emotions because I realized that Melody had done this without my knowledge. Not to spite or anger me, but simply because she loves her sister and family. I know Melody is the most Generous and caring soul that any one could ever hope to meet and she would do anything to help them. She has the heart of an Angel. I used this single last thought of my sister in laws love to overcome my sudden burst of destructive emotion.
When I arrived home, I was quiet, moody and dark. I had to be careful not to let my emotions escalate. I ate my dinner but my anger would not let me taste my food. It tasted like a plumbers handkerchief. My anger was barely under control.
My wife, I and my two children sat at the kitchen table and we all discussed the situation gingerly
My daughter simply said
"We're the ones that usually give stuff to the needy at Christmas and not the other way around, so I'm not sure how to feel..." she stopped and took a bite and then looked at me as she chewed waiting for my response.
"does this mean that's there's strings attached and we have to go to that church?" my son suddenly responded and I turned to look at him only to find an intense stare looking back at me.
My wife felt that it was a gift from God, and of course every one knew how I felt and had decided not to ask me at that time. They all knew that I was a massive ticking time bomb just waiting to go off.
I don't remember how it ended or what I said. I don't remember getting up from the table. I felt like I needed to leave before I said something stupid.
A little something about me-
I tend to be a very private person and even my closest friends know very little about me. They will describe me as very nice, a teddy bear etc etc. I guess you could call me a passive aggressive person. I do get very angry quickly but not about stupid stuff but I keep it hidden and bottled up.
When I feel me or my family are physically threatened by some one or some group, instead of feeling scared I actually wish that they would make the first move so I could just suddenly let loose and release some of my inner anger. I know that if that ever occurred, the other person be it a mugger, gang members etc would be in a whole world of hurt.
Sometimes at that time, I fell that the violence would be very welcome to me. Once, when I was working in an auto parts store, I was held up at gunpoint. I can remember being so angry at the robber at the time that I just simply punched the guy so hard when he looked away that I actually lifted him off the ground and his gun went flying and when he fell back, I then simply jumped on him and began kicking his ass.
I was not in the least bit scared. As a matter of fact, I felt good as I diligently worked on his face.
I don't let anyone know, not even my own family as to what is going on in my life and what my emotions are at any given time and I'm not quite sure why. Kris has sometimes said that I’m always distant and that I live behind a mask and that I never take it off.
When I'm angry or sad no one can tell because I can smile even when I'm angry or upset. I also know that I suffer from too much personal pride as my older brother Carlos once pointed out. Not the boasting and showing off type mind you, but the kind where I try to do the best with what I have and feel a great personal accomplishment and satisfaction when I complete it.
I think that when I was a child I used to see my Dad get up for work every morning and work long hours without complaining. He used to tell me how happy he'd be to be washing pots and pans for a dollar sixty five and hour, that he would start singing because it meant that he could feed his family.
On his days off he would fix cars for extra money or rebuild the rickety old wooden house we lived in from top to bottom.
It was expected in my family that my dad was working hard all the time and that he was always able to provide for his family.
When he was around, I felt safe. He could accomplish anything at anytime and at least in my eyes he made everything he did look easy. He could make my Mom smile easily and it was quite clear to me that my Mother adored him very much. That was the example that I told myself even at the young age of five that when I became a dad, I was going to be just like him.
Later in life I wondered just a little if my view of my dad was skewed by the innocent eyes of a five year old.
The answer came later when my wife and I went to the cemetery one Sunday to visit the graveside of two of my brothers who had passed away over 30 years before. After spending a few minutes looking for their grave side (it had been many years since I'd been there) we found the plain and simple grave stone that read plainly "baby boy Garcia" My dad had not had enough money to put both their names on it. My wife and I then decided to go to the office of this old cemetery to see what a new gravestone with both names engraved on it would cost. When we arrived at the office and asked the elderly lady behind the counter about the gravestone, she asked us to give her a few minutes while she pulled out the information. She disappeared into an office and was gone for a while. She returned after about 20 minutes and told us that she was unable to find a record of a Carlos Garcia burying two brothers there. She then asked us which Church or County had buried my brothers. I responded that as far as I knew no church or County had. She went on to explain that this cemetery was for those that could not afford a burial and the County along with the Church would normally cover the costs. I told her that I thought my Dad had paid for it all. She stood there and looked at me a moment and then said “excuse me, let me look in one more place” she turned to an ancient filing cabinet behind her and looked in there. Within seconds she had found the record. My Dad had indeed buried both my brothers here and not only that, but my dad had paid cash and paid in full. My dad had not asked for charity. He had done it on his own. This without a doubt proved to me about my dad being the man that I knew him to be as I was growing up.
Thinking about the Charity from the Church killed me to no end. I was failing in the model that my dad had set for me.
That's why I was so angry. I called my dad and I told him that I needed to talk. My dad is now well into his eighties and If you saw "Pop's" you would say he's only fifty. He still looks strong and nowhere near what you would expect a man of his age to look like. I went to go see my dad privately and in the privacy of his bedroom I told him "Dad, I so much want to be like you but I failed” tears started to come out and I couldn't control myself. I started crying like a baby. I explained the situation with the charity from the church and how I was afraid that it would create more problems than it would solve between my wife and me. I asked him what he would do in this situation. He leaned back and started massaging his chin.
He said "Son, do what you must for your family. Take all that is given to you in good spirit and use it wisely, then when you have the opportunity, give it back. Give it all back and then some."
We talked some more and my dad told me that it personally killed him when we were little and we had begged him to go to "Pup n Taco" a hot dog and taco chain that later became Taco bell. He told me that he hadn't had enough money to take us there, instead he would praise how good Moms cooking was and that he would prefer home cooking to anything else. He told me that when we had asked to go to Disneyland and he knew he couldn't afford it, instead he would take us to the park and play ball. He told me at that point he had felt like he was failing us. He told me that at times, he barely had enough to feed us but as a child I don’t remember ever growing up dirt poor or not having anything to eat. I told him that making home made hot dogs and going to the park for picnics were the best times of my life. We talked about a few other things but at that point I had decided that I would accept the Church Charity but that I would absolutely not be there when they came to the house.
The church had called my wife and said that they would be there early on Sunday and drop off the care basket, the Christmas dinner and the Gifts for my kids. In addition they would provide a gas card and a grocery gift card as well. I was seriously dreading Sunday and I had already decided that I was not going to be coming downstairs on Sunday morning. I would accept the gifts but I would not allow them to see the face of the man who had failed to provide for his family.
Sunday morning came and I was determined not to get out of bed. The time came for them to be there and they had not arrived. Good! Maybe they forgot. 20 minutes went by, then 30 and still nothing. My wife gently came into the bedroom and sat on the edge of the bed and calmly told me that she was not going to force me to come down.
She said "think about Mary and Joseph, Mary was pregnant and needed a place to stay. I'm sure that Joseph was Humiliated to be knocking on door after door of strangers but he did what he had to do for his family including his unborn son." She then gently gave me a kiss and went downstairs.
It occurred to me at this instant that both my dad and my wife had told me the same thing even though they had not talked or been in the same room during my visit.
To be a good father, you must do what is in the best interest of your family even it means swallowing your pride. My father did that when he buried my brothers in what he knew to be a pauper’s field but it was all he could afford at that time, he did what he knew that he must do for his sons.
I got dressed and began to go downstairs. I had just reached the middle of the stairs when the door bell rang. My wife answered the door and then a very nice middle aged lady came in and quickly hugged my wife and kids. I had reached the bottom of the stairs and she by this time had turned around and gave me a hug as well. She told us how her family and a host of four other families had gotten together and participated to assist us. We all sat down and I apologized for our rotten luck and how hard this was for me. She then told us that her husbands' job had just announced that they were shutting down and he was scheduled to be laid off in February. Imagine my surprise when I realized that she could have pulled out of the gift giving and rightfully said " I need to prepare for my husbands layoff" but she didn't. We all prayed for our well being and then for her family's well being.
I still feel awkward about the whole thing but I'm no longer angry. When I get back on my feet, I'm going to pay it back. I'm going to pay it all back and then some.