When it comes to great fathers, my dad is probably as good as they come. He always worked his ass off to make sure his family had what we needed, and he always put our needs before his.
In raising my brother and me, my old man, who is also named Rolando, was tough but fair.
He didn’t put up with dishonesty or disrespect. He always made sure we respected him and our mother. If we didn’t, he was quick to discipline us.
It was this upbringing that shaped who we are as men today.
It’s safe to say that you could pretty much attribute any good qualities we have as a men to him, and if I do become a father, I plan to follow his example.
But there are certain aspects of his parenting methods that I won’t be using if I have children.
My dad is a sink or swim type of guy—literally.
When we were babies—around five or six—we’d always take a yearly summer trip to Florida. We’d go to the beach and Disney World and enjoy all that Florida had to offer.
Those were some of the most memorable moments of our childhood.
But mixed in with those good memories, are some traumatizing memories that still haunt us today.
My dad, who is an excellent swimmer, took it upon himself during these trips to teach his sons how to swim.
We would learn early and we would learn well — that was his theory.
Get in there, boy!
I’ll never forget it…
We were at the Days Inn in Clearwater, FL. I was around five-years-old. We woke up early that day cause my dad said we were going down to the pool to swim.
Excited by the thought of a day at the pool, I threw on my trunks, gathered my floaties and eagerly followed my old man as we made our way down to the pool.
It was a typical hot summer day and the other hotel guests were out enjoying the sun. Kids were jumping into the pool and splashing in the water.
I was eager to join in on the fun. I had my floaties around my arms and was ready to jump in when my dad called to me.
“Come here, son,” he said lovingly.
“I want to go play, daddy,” I said.
“You will, son, but come here first.”
I walked towards him and he picked me up, looked into my eyes and smiled a great big smile.
“I’m going to teach you how to swim today, son,” he said as he began removing one floatie from my arm.
I thought nothing of it.
“Alright, daddy,” I said.
He then removed the other floatie and started to walk towards the deep end of the pool.
I still thought nothing of it. He was my dad — surely, he would cause me no harm.
Now I swim like Michael Phelps….
When we got to the deep end, my dad said these now infamous words: “Son, today you will learn how to swim.”
Before I knew what was happening, I was six-feet in the air, free-falling into the deep end of the pool.
As I fell towards the clear blue water, it still hadn’t registered what was happening to me. It wasn’t until I came splashing down into the pool that the reality hit me.
My first reaction was to scream, which caused me to swallow water. I splashed and flailed my arms as I struggled to keep my head above water.
I can remember popping my head above water as I struggled to make it to the edge of the pool and seeing my dad with his arms crossed, standing there, screaming: “Swim or drown. Swim or drown, boy.”
When I finally made it to the edge and out of the pool, my dad, proud because I had “learned how to swim,” picked me up and tried to explain to me how “humans are actually born knowing how to swim and all we have to do is get past the fear of drowning to realize it.”
I was too hysterical. All I could do was cry and punch at him for throwing in to the pool.
For the rest of that trip I wouldn’t go near the pool unless my mom was present.
More than twenty years later, my dad remains unapologetic for his unusual teaching method.
Whenever it comes up during family dinners he always says: “Let me ask you a question — do you know how to swim?”
To which I can only respond: “Yes.”
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-Can I tell you a little something?
-Hell, you can tell me a lot of something.
-You know what gets on my nerves?
-When you go to get a blood pressure on someone and you lift their arm to put the cuff on and they drop their arm the second you let go of it.
-Yeah, that’s fucking annoying. Like they’re too weak to keep their arm up so you can get the cuff on.
-It drives me crazy. You’re here cause you got a cut on your finger. You can’t manage to hold the weight of your arm up for a few seconds? Keep your fucking arm up so I can do my job, you piss ant.
-How about when you try and get a temp and you tell them, “under your tongue” and then they put the thermometer probe under their tongue, but they don’t close their mouth.
-Who on this green earth doesn’t know how checking a temperature works? You say “Ahh”, the probe goes under your tongue and then you close your mouth.
-I can’t even count the number of people who just sit there with their mouths open with the probe under their tongues like they’ve never had their temperature checked.
-How about when they walk in and 20 seconds after getting into the room they ask for some water.
-Like water doesn’t exist where they came from, right?
-I’m sorry, were you just brought in from a desert? You just came from home, where presumably there’s running water, but you wait to you get here to try and quench your thirst?
-Someone is dying in the next room and your main concern is getting some water?
-All I can think is fuck ’em and I’ve been doing this too long.
-Probably, but fuck ‘em either way.
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I grew up in a very conservative, Christian household. My parents follow a sect of Christianity known as Pentecostalism that adheres to a strict interpretation of the bible.
Now I know what most of you may be thinking. That must have sucked.
But actually, it was a good childhood. It kept me out of trouble.
Overall, I have no complaints about my childhood or being brought up in the church.
But even as a child as young as seven or eight, I noticed things about some of the church’s practices that seemed odd to me.
Take for example the belief in the ability to ”speak in tongues”. That’s when a practitioner is overcome with the “holy spirit” and acts as a vessel through which a message from God is transmitted.
It almost always happened during a period of musical “praise” where strings and synths were being played and the congregation was deep in a meditative state.
What resulted was a person speaking in some out-of-this-world language, to which, after a brief pause, either that person, or another chosen practitioner in the congregation would translate into English, or, in the case of my church, Spanish.
Not going to lie. At first that shit freaked me out as a kid. It also struck me as something that was a bit forced.
But like everything else weird and unusual, after seeing it several times, it became normal for me. It was far-fetched in my mind, but it was just something that happened.
For some odd reason one person spoke this martian language, and after a few seconds, someone else who apparently spoke the same language translated for the rest of us.
But then one day in church during one of those episodes, my young and bored mind had a thought: What if I translated the message? It seemed to me that it would be easy enough. All I had to do was close my eyes and appear to be deep in thought, throw my hands up in the air a couple times while delivering the message emphatically.
As I sat there listening to the person speaking martian, I quickly tried to come up with a message that held some meaning to my young mind. Something other than the “God wants you to be faithful and serve him” message usually served up.
Then it hit me: God wants you to take your children to Chuck E Cheese after the service and buy them pizza and let them play all the games they want.
It would be perfect. And all the fellas would think of me as some sort of hero, because surely if God says it, it will pass.
Sweet Jesus, it would be a miracle. Pizza and video games for everyone!
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I get a lot of weird looks and odd questions whenever I tell someone my last name.
We prounounce it ih-thee-err.
Typically, the first thing people ask is, ‘What kind of last name is that?’
To which I usually respond,”It’s French, from the south of France, specifically.”
What usually follows that question is, “But you’re Puerto Rican, aren’t you?”
To which I reply, “Yes, I am.”
Now the questions that follow after those initial ones depends on the person I’m dealing with.
You get those types that speak a little French that try and correct the way I pronounce my last name.
“It’s pronounce ih-tee-ay,” one such douchebag said to me the other day. “You’re mispronouncing your name.”
“That’s one way of pronouncing it,” I replied.
“No, that’s the proper way, the French way.”
“Well I’m from Chicago, and it’s my name, so I’ll pronounce it the way I want to.”
Then you have my fellow Ricans, some of who tend to not focus so much on the pronounciation of my last name, but on the fact that I’m of Puerto Rican ancestary and I have a French last name.
“That doesn’t even make sense, bro” one of my childhood friends said to me when he first learned my last name. “You’re Puerto Rican, you’re brown and you have a French last name?”
“What can I say? I didn’t choose it.”
“Do they even have Puerto Ricans in France?” he asked. “Do they even have brown people?”
“I’m sure they have a couple,” I said amused by his line of questioning. “I’m sure they have black people too.”
“That’s crazy, bro,” he said in disbelief. “Brown and black people in France?”
“I know, right?”
“That’s cool, bro. Your like a Puerto Rican French dude.”
I just let it go. It’s amazing the hassle a French last name can cause a Puerto Rican brown man from Chicago.
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–Jesus that Janet has been riding my ass all shift.
–What are you going to do? She’s just one of those nurses that can be a real pain in the ass sometimes.
–All day long she’s running around the ER screaming out my name. I swear, it makes me hate the sound of my own name. And it’s always on some, ‘Can you do me a HUUGGEEE favor, pleeeeaaassseee????? Like every stupid little thing she needs is the biggest, most important thing in the world.
–I know, man. And God forbid you suggest that it might be quicker if she did it herself instead of waiting around for one of us techs to do it.
–Yeah, it would insult her “I’m a nurse, that job is for techs” approach to healthcare.
–The shit’s annoying as hell.
–What’s really annoying is that we don’t pull that shit on her. If there’s something I can do to keep her out of a room, I do it. Even if it’s not my job. Even if I’m busy as hell.
–Just do what I do to get out of having to do annoying little jobs for nurses.
–Always wear gloves, move around the ER fast and look upset like you’re so busy, you don’t have time for petty shit. Works like a charm.
–Seriously, dude. I do it all the time. I just move around the ER quick as hell from point to point, with a pair of gloves on, looking annoyed as shit, like whatever I’m currently working on is so important, it tops whatever silly request nurses like Janet might have.
–It’s an ER. Everyone is running around busy on one job or another looking busy.
–Yeah. Everyone is running around, but usually not while doing all three. Think about it. If you see someone moving quickly, looking annoyed, while wearing gloves, what comes to mind?
–That person has just touched some nasty ass shit or is about to touch some nasty ass shit–either of which I can relate to and know is annoying as hell.
–Exactly. And? You don’t want to fuck with them or ask them to do some bull shit that you can easily do yourself, right?
–I guess that makes sense.
–Fuck yeah that makes sense. Now, quick, here comes Janet. Put these gloves on and head over to the blanket warmer looking annoyed as shit. And if it doesn’t work, just scream out “Busy!” when she screams your name and keep moving.
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-Do me a favor, kid, and pass me that box of tissue. This cold weather’s got my nose all snotty.
-Here you go, Verna.
-Thanks, toots. Christ I’m falling apart.
-It’s been a while. How’ve you been?
-Well I’m sick as shit, I’m old as hell and I’m back in this shit hole ER again, so not so good. I tell ya, the asshole that called these years golden was high on some good shit.
-Well let’s see if we can get you feeling better and back home.
-Well let’s see if we can get you feeling better…. I’m sick of it. You know what you guys are like?
-Shitty mechanics. Yeah, I said it. You’re shitty mechanics.
-What the hell are you talking about, Verna?
-I’m like and old ass car, with a old ass engine, and I keep coming into your shop here and you guys keep sending home with patch jobs that only hold up for a month or two then I get busted down again and I’m back in for more repairs.
-It’s not the same thing, Verna. It’s not like we can order you a new heart from the parts shop and swap it out. This isn’t the movies.
-Jesus Christ, I know that, kid. It’s just a… a…Damn it, what do you call it?
-Yes, analogy. I’m trying to make a point here, kiddo. And that point is I’m sick of your shitty patch jobs.
-Well how about this analogy? As your mechanic, I have to tell you that it’s not worth putting anymore money and time into your old ass car. The engine is failing and the transmission is leaking fluid. It’d probably be better off if we put it out of its misery and drop it off at the junk yard and scrap it for parts.
-I’d probably say I want a second opinion.
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-Hey, New Kid, you got a minute?
-Yeah, Frank. Whatcha need?
-I just need help with this guy in room 19.
-You got it, Frank.
-Great, grab some patient labels off the counter there for this guy and come on in. It’ll only take a minute.
-Ok….Why are all the lights off?
-Cause we do that sometimes for the families.
-Hold on, I need to grab a bag out of the closet….
-A bag for what, Frank?
-For the patient, dummy. You get those labels?
-Yeah, Frank. Here you go.
-Let’s see…. One for the belongings, one for the outside of the bag and one for the toe. Alright, we’re set.
-Hey, New Kid, you wanna learn something, or what? Stop with all the questions and pull that sheet off the patient. I’m trying to teach you the job.
-Alright, alright. It’s just that… Oh, fuck. It’s a dead body.
-Of course it’s a dead body. The patient died an hour ago. Where the fuck were you when the radio nurse screamed out “arrest” and all the loud alarms were dinging and a dozen people were screaming shit back-and-forth, like, he doesn’t have a pulse?
-I don’t know. In another room. I’ve never seen a dead body before.
-Hey, sit the fuck down before you pass out. You look like shit.
-I’m fine. No, I’m good. Let’s do this, Frank.
-For fuck’s sake, New Kid. They’ll just hire any bastard that watched a medical TV show and thought it’d be cool to work in an ER, won’t they?
-I’m sorry, Frank. Seriously, I’m good.
-You pass out, or throw up, or piss your pants and you won’t get no sympathy, we’ll just send your sorry ass out on the floor all pissy and vomity to finish up your shift.
-I’m good. Really.
-Alright, roll the body to your side. But cover the mouth with this towel cause shit tends to come out and you don’t want it all over your scrubs or shoes.
-I’ll slide the bag under and we’ll flip the patient to my side and you can pull the bag under to your side.
-Keep your shit together, New Kid. It’s just a dead body.
-I’ve never seen a dead body, I’ve never touched a dead body….
-We’ll guess what, today you get to do both. Now flip the guy to your side. I wanna get this over with so I can go eat lunch.
-Alright, here I go.
-There, was that so difficult? It’s like touching any other human being, only a dead one.
-I feel sick to my stomach…. Oh God did it just move?
-Yes, asshole, cause you just moved it. Bodies tend to shift when you move them. For fuck’s sake….
-I’m sorry, Frank.
-Now I’ll flip him my way and unroll the bag under him, we tag him, zip it up and we’re done. There you go.
-Sorry I got all squeamish on you, Frank. And thanks for taking the time to teach me the job.
-Don’t worry about it, New Kid. We’ve all been there.
-So were you just like me when you started the job?
-Fuck no, are you kidding me? I wasn’t half the chump you are. You looked like you were ready to pass out. And you’re no where as good looking as me, so no, New Kid, we’re nothing alike.
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