Shared Stories: A Tribute to My Father

Yolanda Reyna, a “daddy’s girl,” describes the complexities of the man she didn’t give up on – her father. As is often the case, having grandchildren made him a different person.  Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center.  Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program.  Curated by Carol Kearns. 

By Yolanda Reyna
My father, Gilbert Reyna, was born on March 15, 1926.  He died on November 24, 2001.  He was 75 years old.  I had to make the grueling decision to have him taken off life support.  In the last few years of his life, he dealt with health issues, mainly Alzheimer’s disease.  

Even as he dealt with health issues, I could recall a time when he was strong and healthy, being the man of the house, looking after his family.  There were good times, but he also had his struggles.

My father had lived in various run-down motels rooms for the last 20 years of his life.  He would be isolated from the world.  My father was mean and tough.  He hated the world.  He was intelligent, proud, stubborn, paranoid, prejudiced, heartless, emotionless, a recluse, an alcoholic, and a bookworm.  

My father drank alcohol most of his adult life, and being that he was an alcoholic, he was at his best when he was drinking.  My father wasn’t a belligerent drinker.  He was a sentimental drinker.  The only time I saw my father smile, was when he drank alcohol.  When he was sober, he was always complaining.  

He loved listening to music, especially Frank Sinatra.  He also played the guitar, and he played it well.   When my father was 55 years old, he was told by his doctor that he had to stop drinking alcohol for his health.   

He was a stern father and he set rules in our home (when we were a family).  The children had to be up and ready for school.  One day my brother Louie didn’t want to go to school (for whatever reason).  He was a young boy.  He walked up to the corner of our block and just stood there crying.  My father, shirtless and in pajama bottoms, with a belt in one hand, walked up to the corner and whacked my brother’s behind!  From that day on, my brother had no problem going to school.  He would be up bright-eyed and sore, bushy-tailed.  

My father always said to me: I should have been born a boy, because I clung to him.  I was what you call a daddy’s girl.  Once my father thought he could talk to me about the birds and the bees.  My ears couldn’t take it! They were screaming! 

One time I was asked out on a date by a young black man. When I asked my father’s permission, he said to me, “If you go out with him, I will disown you!” I believed him.  

Although my father was mean and tough, he and I created a special bond.  My father always gave me good advice (when I needed it).  His advice was never sugar-coated, it was always straight-forward and to the point.  Most times it felt like I was walking on egg-shells when I was around him, but I didn’t mind as long as I was with him.  

My father worked as a gardener and then a security guard.  He worked late hours, as a security guard, which he enjoyed because he didn’t have to deal with people.  I’m glad they didn’t have to deal with him.  

After he and my mother separated for the last time, he left our home. I didn’t know where he was living. I called one of my aunts to ask if she knew where he was living, because I loved my father and I missed him very much. She was kind enough to tell me, and I went looking for him, like a detective, wanting answers. When I found him, HE was furious! 

He said to me, “What are you doing here? Leave!  I don’t want anyone thinking you’re a prostitute!” 

I said, “I don’t care what anyone thinks and I’m not going to leave!”

He said, “Stop being stubborn and just leave!”

I thought, hmm, I wonder where I get that stubbornness from? After I stood my ground, he surrendered. After that visit, I was allowed to visit him once a week. That went on for twenty years. 

In the first few years I was married to my ex-husband Robert, and after having our children, my father was transformed into a big teddy bear.  He adored his grandchildren.  Li’l Reina, Li’l Roberto, and Li’l Daniel, he would call them.   He especially loved Li’l Daniel.  

I never saw my father smile as much as he did when Daniel was around him.  My father would buy my children their winter coats, Easter baskets, shower them with Christmas gifts and load them with cookies and candy.  

When my father was forced to come and live with me, (when I was married) he became extremely ill.  In the weeks he lived with me, he became calm, caring, and supportive, but yet struggled with Alzheimer’s disease.  It was tough seeing my father deal with that awful disease. But it was a joy having him around.  I was able to cook his meals, sit and watch TV with him and finally see him at peace.  

I’m glad I never gave up on my father.  It was a challenge.  I felt like I had been running a marathon for twenty years and I finally made it to the finish line.  

Dad, you’re always in my heart!