Frias is getting to understand his father
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Alejandro “Alex” Frias graduated from high school in Guadalajara, Mexico in 2000 and came to Glenwood Springs in 2001 to study. He started in the English as a Second Language program at Colorado Mountain College and joined the French club. Today he speaks English, French and Italian fluently. In May, he will graduate from Colorado Mountain College and continue his studies in international business at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.
Frias: My father died in 2004 of pancreatic cancer. We didn’t have a very good relationship when I was growing up. I never saw him cry except for the day when I was leaving home. It was very early in the morning. My flight was around seven, so I left home at four. My dad didn’t want the lights on and when I gave him a hug he couldn’t say anything to me because he was crying. I didn’t expect that to be the last time that I would see him.
It is hard to understand why people act in a certain way until you get older and gain perspective. My father was never very affectionate. The way he showed his love was by working, working all day. Sometimes I wouldn’t see him for days and the little time that we did have together we would argue. He thought I was studying too much and not concentrating on working. He was a butcher and he wanted me to learn how to be a butcher.
I was spending most of my time going to school and competing on the swim team. Now I realize why he was so persistent in trying to convince me to be a butcher. He wanted me to have a trade. He was not able to go to school when he was young, so he couldn’t see anybody making a living out of going to school and getting good grades. He thought I needed to learn a profession just in case school didn’t work out. At that point in my life I was too immature to understand his perspective. That caused a lot of arguments and friction.
But after I left and came to the United States our relationship improved. I was able to show him that I could be successful. I was doing well in school and meeting people and getting all kinds of opportunities. Somehow hearing about my success opened his eyes to the possibility that neither of us was wrong. I think he learned that everyone can be a hardworking person in his own way.
Fortunately we had opportunities to chat. We would have long conversations over the phone. On New Years Day 2004, I called him a few minutes after midnight. He was already convalescing. I asked him how he was doing and he told me he was fine but I could tell he was having trouble breathing. Before he hung up he said, “I love you.”
That afternoon, when I came back from work, my friend was waiting for me to tell me that my father had passed away. It was very difficult not to be at his funeral, especially after telling him during one of our many arguments that I wouldn’t come to his funeral. I have learned from that experience to think before I speak and be careful what I wish for. (note:Alex was told, by immigration officials, that if he returned to Mexico for the funeral he wouldn’t be able to return to the United States.)
His life taught me to be a hard worker. His death taught me to be forgiving because no one is perfect. His illness taught me to appreciate what we have when we have it, to appreciate the gifts of family and friends and life itself, because we have it right now and we may not have it tomorrow.
Somehow I came across this saying in Latin: disce quasi semper victurum, vive quasi cras moriturum. In English this means “learn as if you were to live forever, live as if you were to die tomorrow.” That has been my motto for years.
Immigrant Stories runs every Monday in the Post Independent.
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