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Male Bonding (Part 2)

Years later, on purpose or unconsciously, I followed my father’s footsteps by going to law school. Javier was not living at home anymore. Right after engineering school he was swept up by a top-notch firm and moved to Arizona. I hadn’t thought I would miss Javier, but I missed him greatly.

I started to notice other people who reminded me of Javier. It wouldn’t always be a physical appearance; sometimes it was their swagger or self-assuredness, their way of being easily confident of themselves but without seeming obnoxious. One such person I noted was Daniel Channing, a law school classmate. Daniel had dirty blond hair, thick eyebrows, brown eyes, a ruddy but perfect complexion, and a dark blond mustache that made him look both cheesy and sensual. He was gregarious and well-liked by other students. I was mesmerized by his vague resemblance to Javier, even though I could not put my finger on it. When he was called upon by the professor to discuss a case, Daniel was jovial and knowledgeable at the same time. By contrast, I mumbled, stuttered, and struggled to keep my composure when called upon in class. I later realized that the resemblance between Daniel and Javier was my envy; my envy and admiration of both of them.

It was also during my law school years that Father and I started communicating on more than a superficial level. We now had something in common other than just a Smith-Corona typewriter. We could talk about the Law. Father had been trained as a lawyer in Argentina, and I was eager to show him I now knew as much as he did (which of course I didn’t).

During my first semester, we studied the insanity defense in school. I was intrigued with the legal principle of “innocent but insane,” and I was determined to teach Father all about it. “Laypeople don’t understand the insanity defense,” I told Father one day, cocky and sure of myself. “They think it’s some sort of sham, a lawyer’s trick. But I understand the insanity defense; I feel it. I can see that an insane person is capable of committing a crime not because of evil but because of delusion. It’s not right to condemn a man for his delusions.”

I had a similar conversation on this “insane-and-not-guilty” subject with Daniel Channing. Daniel and I had nonchalantly become friends. One morning he simply came and sat next to me in class. We had never spoken before, so he introduced himself formally by shaking my hand and proceeding to engage me in conversation as if we had been friends forever. He was charming and flawlessly handsome. We spoke legal theory, course materials, moot court competition. It took a long time before we talked about personal things.

It was fun talking with Daniel in theoretical terms. But the beauty of talking law with Father in those days was that he could give me real-life examples of the actual practice of law. “When I was a young lawyer in Buenos Aires,” he said to me in response to my discourse on the insanity defense, “one of my clients, Raúl Osvaldo, had a son who killed one of his classmates. It was a fairly scandalous case with lots of publicity.”

Osvaldo’s son had killed a fellow friend, about sixteen years old. Osvaldo was the owner of a large glass-making factory in the outskirts of Buenos Aires, and he was Dad’s largest client. When Mr. Osvaldo asked my father to represent his son, Dad tried to explain that he was a corporate lawyer and not a criminal defense counsel. But Mr. Osvaldo was persistent. He was the kind of man who trusts only those he knows and takes his time to know someone.

Father said that when he first interviewed the Osvaldo boy, he knew right away there was something wrong with this person.

“Hello,” my father said to the boy. "I’m your father’s lawyer. He has asked me to represent you.”

The boy did not look up. Instead, he asked my father where he was. Father explained that it was a jail cell, and that he was being held for murder. The boy seemed bored, and answered, “When am I going home and what time is dinner?”

The case was difficult for my dad. The state had lots of eyewitnesses and a good set of fingerprints. Dad had never intended to serve as a criminal lawyer. It was not something that interested him, and it was not what he had concentrated his studies on. But Raúl Osvaldo was my father’s largest client, and Dad could not lose the business. “Sometimes," he told me, “when it comes to your career you do what you have to, rather than what you want. Everyone dreams of the perfect job, where everything you touch is gold and successful, and interests you to no end. But often, you have to sift through a lot of shit to get through the other side and get bills paid. You don’t cut corners, you don’t betray your ethics, you never lie, but you do the best you can to represent your client. Your client’s pain becomes your pain.”

Dad often used the word “shit” for emphasis. It was his favorite curse word. It was his only curse word.

There was very little Dad could do for the Osvaldo kid, other than help him plead insanity. Dad handled the case by frequently consulting with his friends from law school who had expertise in criminal law. He also spent a lot of time explaining to Raúl Osvaldo that in a no-win situation like this, the best you can do is plead for mercy and find a good place to hospitalize the insane.

The prosecutor and the judge agreed to accept a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. The boy spent the rest of his life in an insane asylum.

* * *

I was amazed when I learned that my father had done some criminal work. It didn’t fit the image I had of him. I knew he was handy with a tool belt at home, but I pictured that at work he was a stale corporate rat in a fancy suit. Eventually, that’s the type of work I fell into, all dressed up and ankle-chained to a desk.

I couldn’t wait to share the Osvaldo story with Daniel Channing. When I retold the story, I gloated as if Father had been an Argentinian Perry Mason. I took poetic liberty and embellished the details.

“Can you believe he represented someone in a murder case?” I said to Daniel. “It’s the sort of thing you see on a TV show.” To make it more believable and to have Daniel buy into the Perry Mason look alike aspect, I interjected that Father was not like me, not the odd man out. He was like Javier, handsome and winsome. “You see, Father has movie-star looks, with jet black hair that greys at the temples. People say he looks like Cary Grant. And, for a hobby, he is writing a Spanish-English dictionary.” I threw in the hobby part to make Dad look charmingly odd but smart.

Daniel laughed at the story. I didn’t think he fully appreciated what I was saying. I wanted Daniel to focus on the murder case and to concur with my assessment that Father was brilliant. It was supposed to glorify my father and thus make me (by extension) more interesting in Daniel’s eyes. It was not supposed to be a funny story.

I ruffled my notes, checked out if my pen was working. After silence. Daniel asked how the Osvaldo kid managed to kill his classmate. “How exactly was the crime committed?” he asked.

I blushed. “I don’t know,’ I said. I suddenly realized that in the excitement of hearing Dad tell his story, I did not question him to provide this little detail.

* * *

At about the same time that the criminal trial began, Raúl Osvaldo found out that his business partner had been embezzling the glass factory for years. Debts were unpaid, and the cops showed up at the factory one day. The business partner was nowhere to be found. He had fled the country with a boatload of money. Osvaldo’s bank account was dry, and he had no way of paying my father’s legal fees. Father saw that he still had a lot of work to prepare and present the case in court. He was not going to stop representing the Osvaldo boy. Dad kept working on the case, even though he was never paid.

* * *

After telling Daniel about the Osvaldo case, we became chummy and friendly. During the first semester of law school, I opened up to Daniel and told him stories about my family, growing up in Argentina, being the odd man out in our little household. In turn, Daniel told me how he grew up in a small town outside of Albany, New York, where he didn’t fit in but he charmed everyone with his humor. We were both odd kids as children. As young adults, reluctantly studying law, we formed a bond that reminded me of bicycles, rolling down the hills of La Lucila, with my partner in crime.

One day, Daniel surprised a group of us by telling us that he had been feeling depressed for several weeks. It was unlike him because he was usually the lively one, the one that kept us amused. “I find myself riding buses, and crying for no reason,” he told us. “The doctors say I have blue balls. Do you know what that is? It means that I haven’t had sex in a long time and I need to get me some!” Everyone laughed.

This was in the early 1980s. Daniel started missing classes. He had a persistent cold, a fever that would last several weeks. He was always malaise. At the end of the semester, he took a sabbatical. Daniel did not come back to law school and he did not graduate. We later learned he died from AIDS.

* * *

“And he never paid you?” I asked Father, regarding the Osvaldo case.

“He did what he could,” answered Father. “He put his glass-making factory into liquidation. He took his son out of an expensive private clinic and transferred him to a state hospital. He paid me with crystal glasses, tumblers, even crystal jars, all from the same matching set.”

Mother never got over the fact that Dad had worked for free, or for a “miserable set of glasses,” as she called them.

Mother walked in at that moment. I was sitting closer to Father than I had ever sat before. Mother looked at us as if we were conspiring. She was holding a crystal glass, with ice and whiskey.

“¿Qué hacen ustedes?” she asked (“What are you two doing?”).

The whisky and ice rattled in her tumbler. I recognized the Osvaldo crystal glass.

“But Osvaldo always visited his son in that hospital,” concluded Dad. “As long as he lived.”

* * *

It is now decades since I went to law school. I moved away from home, far away to another state. Then I moved back to the East coast to live closer to my parents. Then I moved away again. Then I moved back once more. I visit them often.

Father has bladder cancer. He is 86 years old, still handsome. He has a full set of hair, completely white, and he still has clear grey eyes. In his typical stubbornness, for months he did not tell anyone that he was seeing blood in his urine, accompanied by pain. Eventually, the pain became insufferable for him, and he was rushed to the hospital where they made the cancer diagnosis. They scraped his bladder to remove polyps and set him up with drugs and a catheter.

He came home from the hospital a month ago. He appears to be recovering. At 86, they will not take any drastic measures. They will treat him with radiation for about eight weeks. After that, there are no assurances.

Javier’s wife has invited everyone for dinner for no reason, except we all know it’s meant to cheer up Father. I have come by myself without my kids.

My wife and I have been divorced for many years now, and I have started dating men. I have not found anyone. Maybe I’m not looking anymore. It’s hard for a man in his mid-forties to find a partner, male or female.

My ex-wife has taken the kids to the beach for a holiday.

I’m feeling alone and lonely at my family reunion, unshielded without my kids and without a spouse. Javier is flanked by his wife and children. The youngest one is named Katarina. Mother is in the living room, lavishing inordinate amounts of attention on her grandchildren, relegating adult conversation to the side. She is quizzing Katarina, who is four years old and has been taught to do some math. Mom is mesmerized by this.

I tire of family events where grandchildren become the focus of attention. Father is not much of a fan of this either, and he and I quietly exit the living room to sit on the porch, away from the noise.

“¿Como estás?” I ask him.

“I’m feeling phenomenal,” he claims. “Never felt better.” He would never admit to feeling ill or tired, but I can tell he has lost a lot of weight.

“Have you been following the wiretap story?” I ask. “Seems like a constitutional violation to me.”

It’s always back to this beaten track between Father and me, the common fascination with the legal system. Normally, Father would eagerly jump on this conversation. He loves politics and law. However, he says nothing. He stares into space, which he often does when thinking. I have the same habit.

There’s a long silence. We both pretend to be listening to the conversation in the living room between Mother and Javier’s kids. “How much is 4 plus 4?” says Mother to Katarina.

“Where’s Reggie?” asks Father. This surprises me. Reggie and I have not dated in nearly a year, and before that Father only met him once or twice. I didn’t think he remembered or even noticed Reggie in my life.

“We are not dating anymore,” I tell him.

I’m uncomfortable using the word “dating” with Father. He knows I’m gay. But still, some things one does not discuss with his dad.

“Too bad,” he says. “I liked him.”

Mother and Katarina are still doing math. All the adults in the living room cheer in unison each time Katarina answers simple math equations.

“Are you dating anyone then?” asks Father.

This takes away my breath. It reminds me of the inquisitions at law school, where I could not hold my composure.

“No,” I answer. “I have sort of given up on dating, for now.”

Father looks up into the air again. He’s thinking. We continue our long silence.

We hear the voices of Mom and Javier’s family chitty-chatting in the living room. “How much are two times two?” asks Mother of Katarina.

Father looks at me again. “Just for now,” he says, looking me straight in the eye. “Stop dating, just for now. Eventually, I want you to meet a nice guy. I want you to be happy.”

I don’t say anything. I think of Daniel. I think of nothing. I think of my years growing up with Dad.

“Father, come here quick!” screams Mother from the living room. “Katarina knows the multiplications table!”

Dad does not move. He stays and chats with me.


Ernesto Beckford

February 2022

© Ernesto Beckford 2022

Post Script: This story is not autobiographical, but the feelings are based on things I have experienced. My father died five years ago, from Alzheimer’s. I miss him every day.

Links to Collages Used in this Blog

I Hear Sirens Calling

Turquerie Boy in Yellow

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