Every Man in Training needs to have that one patriarch in the family that he can aspire to be “just like.” In our household, that is Pepe.
Pepe, my dad, has been a man’s man for as long as I can remember. He was the pitcher in his slow-pitch softball league, played cards, threw horseshoes, and bowled candlepin every Tuesday night. He drove snowmobiles and motorcycles. He could fix anything, from a leaky pipe to a faulty car engine, always with a cigarette dangling from his lips.
He looked like Burt Reynolds. He heard that a lot. So, of course, he outfitted his vehicle with a CB radio (remember Smokey and the Bandit?) and knew how to use it. He sported the same moustache and possessed the same boyish charm. I have seen him talk his way out of a speeding ticket by convincing the officer that he was following proper driving technique by passing that car at 65 in a 45 mph zone “as quickly and as SAFELY as possible.” He didn’t even get a warning.
Pepe had a lot of great practical knowledge to pass on to a son. But…he had girls. The joke was that he couldn’t even get a son after trading in my mom for a younger model (love you, Liz). Another girl. There are four of us.
Pepe is one of the most conservative men that I know. He grew up on a farm in the “redneck” area of northern New York, where the primary occupation for men in the county is “corrections officer” aka “prison guard.” As a bleeding heart liberal teen, we had heated conversations on the social issues of the day. Well, I was heated. He was always calm. But, I have to give it to him. As prehistoric as some of his views were, he never treated any of his girls as a disappointment. He treated us like sons.
Pepe taught me how to drive with his 4-speed Ford Econoline van. Later, he lifted the hood of my own car and explained the engine and showed how to change the oil (I was highly disinterested). My youngest sister has a winch in the front of her pickup truck and is quite comfortable pulling a lesser vehicle out of a ditch (she was more interested).
When we were little, he would take us fishing. I remember at one outing, I kept catching the same sunfish every time we threw it back in the water. Pepe was getting a little fed up with that fish. Let’s just say, the last time I caught that sunfish was the last time anyone caught that sunfish. I am traumatized to this day over its demise. I think I have failed as a son.
Pepe definitely had the little devil in him even as a grown man. One of my “fondest” memories was the day he found a snake in the dug well that supplied water to our home. My mom could not stand snakes. She couldn’t even look at them in a coloring book that hadn’t been colored yet! Well, after retrieving the snake, he proceeded to chase my horrified mother around the yard, swinging that snake like he was going to throw it at her! The poor woman was shrieking!! He thought this was absolutely hysterical. Men. Boys. I don’t get it.
Though he had no sons, he was gifted with grandsons. There are now six of them. And one of them is mine, - the inspiration for Man in Training.
As a little boy, being Pepe’s grandson was both a blessing and a curse. He’d get Logan going by encouraging bratty behavior. He would let Logan jump on him and roughhouse with him. He would throw Logan in the air, sit him on his lap and hold his arms to his side so he couldn’t move, tickle him till he laughed so uncontrollably that he couldn’t breathe. Eventually Logan would react and inevitably go too far by kicking or biting. Yet, somehow Logan would be the one who would end up in tears when Pepe retaliated. But, Logan kept coming back for more. So, Pepe loved him. Logan was a true tough guy.
Now they hunt and fish together. I have not heard about any sunfish episodes, but I have a feeling Logan would just laugh at Pepe’s antics. Two peas in a pod. I had a dead deer in our suburban wooded back yard a few years ago. Animal control wouldn’t take it, but recommended we drag it deep in the woods so we wouldn’t smell it rot. Gross. My husband was out of town and I was not touching it. I called Pepe. He suggested I have Logan relocate the deer. So I asked my 14-year old son to move it. He didn’t even blink. He dressed himself from head to toe to avoid getting ticks, put on a breathing mask (I have no idea where he got that) and dragged that deer off. If Pepe could handle a dead deer, he would too. The Man in Training learning from the best.
I have to point out that Pepe does have 2 granddaughters – one is my daughter. He, too, does not treat her as though she is any less than a boy. But rather than treat her like a grandson, he treats her like a princess.
Pepe has recently been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He has been a heavy smoker all of his life and at 76 years old it has finally caught up with him. Fortunately, it has been diagnosed early and the wonderful doctors at Dana Farber Cancer Institute have a goal to cure it. But it has involved some intense chemotherapy that has left Pepe looking like a skeleton. He also recently had surgery using the Whipple procedure. Google it. Not fun.
I have never seen the look of fear in Pepe’s eyes…ever. Until the night before his surgery. Honestly, I think he was on the verge of just skipping it. But, thankfully, he didn’t. Six hours after he went under the knife, he came out from what his surgeon assessed was a most successful operation. Everything that could have gone wrong did not.
My sisters, my stepmom and I crowded around him in recovery. We were stunned. He actually looked great! Like he had just had the best sleep of his life. Within a week, he was out of the hospital. And he hates my stepmother’s driving so much that, even with a slice from his breastbone to his belly button, he drove them home. Yes, HE DROVE HOME! The next day, he drove himself to a card game. And next week, he will ask his doctor when he can start bowling again. 10-4, good buddy.
Dad battled hard, but cancer finally won the war. He's hunting, fishing and causing trouble on the other side now. And those who have been waiting for him are so happy he finally showed up.