Alfonso Zapata

Here’s a brief summary of my dad: he’s seventy-two years old, five foot six, and weighs one-hundred and forty-five pounds. He immigrated to the U.S. from Zacapala, Puebla when he was in his twenties and, after a decade of working as a janitor, started his own janitorial company that cleans department stores and movie theaters across the country.

His hobbies include: eating lots of fruits (papaya is a favorite of his), power-walking on a treadmill and watching Primer Impacto on Univision. He used to watch a lot of baseball, but he would get so invested in the games that his heart would start racing, so he had to give that up.

My dad and I lived in the same house for twenty-two years. I knew his routine, his diet, his workout regimen. I also knew he took several trips a month to check on the stores and theaters his company cleaned. He flies so much that he’s a United Premier 1K member.

I thought I knew him well.

And then, on a whim, I started looking up videos of Zacapala, the town my dad is from. The beauty of YouTube is that you can see pretty much anything from anywhere in the world from where ever you are. From the basement of my home in Kansas City, I saw Zacapala. I saw the river I swam in when I was four. I saw the plaza where my cousins and I would go play Street Fighter on a bootleg machine. I even saw the orchard where my dad would take me to pick oranges. La huerta.

I showed my wife a few of the videos. And then she pointed to a thumbnail in the corner of my screen.

“Isn’t that your dad?”

It was.

So I clicked it.

And came across this video.

My dad started his own political party. In Mexico.

He tried to get into Mexican politics. Ran on a platform of affordable education.

Essentially, my dad was the Mexican Bernie. And I had no idea until I saw that video.

You think you know someone, then you find out something about them that completely changes your perspective, makes you see them in a new light. Sometimes better. Sometimes worse.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had my opinion of my dad changed by new data. When I was twelve, I found out he had been married once before. He had other kids. Lived in a different city. It’s crazy to think that your parents had lives before being your parents.

I mean, it’s one of those ‘duh’ realizations, but it didn’t hit me until then. Of course my dad had lived a full life before me. Before he was dad, he was Alfonso Huesca Zapata. I mean, he still is. Dads aren’t just dads, moms aren’t just moms. Dad is just part of who he is. But as a kid, it doesn’t cross your mind until something forces you to consider it.

I’m relatively new to dad-hood. My son’s only been around for eighteen months, but I’m getting the hang of things. Change poop diapers asap, put Cheerios in the spill-proof cup, don’t let him near the dog food. Stuff like that. It’s not easy, but it’s easier, if that makes sense.

I often wonder what my eighteen-month old son will think of me when he’s older. I know what I want him to think of me. Fun, caring, kind, smart. But he can’t even say those words yet, let alone use them as descriptors. I can only act accordingly and hope that my actions yield the desired results.

And I wonder what he’ll discover that’ll change his opinion of me. That I was a drummer in a band? That I lived in Chicago for five years? That, at one point, I was the second-best Dance Dance Revolution player in the state of Texas? What will make him have the realization that his dad isn’t just dad?

One of my biggest worries about having a kid was that I wouldn’t be me anymore. That I’d change and become some dad version of myself. Give up on shit I want to do, sacrifice and settle.

And I have changed. I’m less inclined to work past 5:30pm. I have less hair, more paunch. I wear white tennis shoes.

But that’s to be expected. You can’t be the same guy who goes out drinking till 2AM and take care of a baby. I mean, maybe you can, but I had to watch my son while I was hungover once and it was one of the worst experiences of my life because babies don’t care that their screeching makes your head pound harder.

I dunno. I think one of the reasons I’m thinking about this so much is because I just watched Paddington (which is a super good movie y’all). The dad in that movie is such a boring old fuck and then you find out he was this rad dude before the kids. It’s on my mind not just because I don’t want to be a boring old fuck, but also because I want to know what type of rad dude my dad was before having me.

I mean, he’s still a rad dude (or rad dad, if you will) as is evident by his political aspirations. He’s still doing dope ass shit. But there’s this whole other side of him I never thought about. Or preferred not to think about. Because it forces you to confront the fact that dad is just the tip of the iceberg. But it’s a good thing. I’m excited for my son to have that realization. Because then it means he’ll view me as more than just dad and the father-son dynamic can develop into more of a camaraderie.

Parents are people and people have stories. And I can’t wait to share some of them with my son.

Alfonso Zapata

Written by

I once ate two and a half Chipotle burritos. In one sitting.

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