Uncle Dad

Every night my father and his siblings would say their prayers to the spirit of their dead older brother. When my father was born, he shared the face of his dead brother and was named in his honor, Miguel Hermes Ahumada Muñoz. My dad’s name was soon shortened to Mito. Mito means myth in Spanish. Mito, my father, the myth, a man of little English but lots of philosophy who would say things like, “It’s a funny thing this thing called destiny. Because, it’s with you before you are born. And you can’t describe it. No, it’s in the air, like mystery. It is what it is.”

Most of my early memories of him are gathered from the letters he wrote me growing up where I learned he would put on lipstick just so he could kiss my envelopes. Or the photographs that I explored on the walls of my grandparents’ home in Chile. In his childhood pictures he is round cheeked, full lipped, and big eyed, just like me. But during my childhood I visited Chile, his homeland, three times before he ever joined me. If I try to conjure up early memories of my dad, I struggle.

My Mom would ask me who I loved most in my life and I would make a list that went something like this. “I love my Mommy the most in the world. Then Nana and Gramps ‘cause they live in LA and I’m going to be an actress when I grow up, then Aunt Ellen and Uncle Mark, my cousin Abby and—“ My mother would interrupt me. “What about your dad? You love your dad don’t you Jules?” I thought about this for a while. “I like my Dad… No. I love my dad, but like an Uncle. Because we do fun uncle things together.” Like that time we went to the Davis Flea Market and he bought a puppy to keep me company when I come to visit him once a year.

On trips to visit Uncle Dad in California, that dog was everything to me. She was my confidant, my best friend, and a mutt just like me, no clear roots, a mish-mash of a bunch of different things. Surely, if this dog had gone to LaGuardia H.S., some random guy might have one day told her, “I don’t know B…she be like some white girl who speaks Spanish or something. That shit is mad crazy yo.”

We named our dog Che, for El Commandante Ernesto Che Guevara. Pretty weighty name for a puppy. But I think weighty names are beautiful: Che, Biko, Salvador, or Mito, my father, the myth.

The moment my Uncle Dad and I began to communicate happens when I am 15. We are visiting our family’s cabin in Rucue, in the South of Chile, preparing onces, or Chilean teatime. It smells like the smokey home of the farmer woman who sold it to us on the side of the road. As I begin to eat, my father interrupts me, “You ever smoked grass?” I drop a mouthful of food on my plate, “Um, yeah…” He took a sip of his tea. “Did you like it?” Okay, this is getting weird. “I guess.” Dad intensifies his line of questions, “How often do you smoke?” I defiantly put my foot down. “Look Dad, that’s all I told my mom so that’s all I’m going to tell you, okay?” Then, in his heavily accented English, he smiles: “Well, do you want to smoke with me?” I had no words, so, I simply nodded.
Dad leaves the room to go roll a joint and I can barely contain myself. When he returns we smoke in silence. Then my dad starts telling me secrets that are all a blur of smoke now. He talks about Mom and Me and him. He mouth keeps moving but I hear no words. All I can feel is my face as it turns hot and red and my eyes as they become itchy struggling to hold back tears. I only remember one thing he said clearly, “You were Betsy’s project. Your mother’s project.”

Jeez. I was a project. Not a child of love. Not a gift to the world. Not the apple of my father’s eye. Instead, I was my mom’s project. Could my story really be that unromantic?