On the page before me, a little girl stood on her bed in her pajamas, one hand held straight out in front of her like a stop sign. Her father smiled down at her.
“Prefiere besar al aire antes que a su papá.” You prefer to kiss the air instead of your father.
Woohoo! I was understanding a lot of this story.
On the previous page, I’d learned about the little girl’s family–her three siblings and doting parents.
But her father had one small defect: su bigote.
He was a bigot? I thought. No, that can’t be. I was reading a book–in Spanish–about the life of a Nobel Prize Winner from Italy. The idea of her father being a bigot didn’t fit the context–neither the words nor the pictures.
I reread the sentences again. Yes, he had one fault. And when she went to bed, he told her to sleep well.
“Papá, ilos bigotes pinchan!”
There was that word again. Something was pinching? I looked at the picture once more: the defiant little girl, the loving father.
And then I smiled.
I knew exactly what this little girl was talking about. Because I’d had the same experience as a child.
We both had fathers who had mustaches.
I don’t know about little RIta, but my father also has facial hair that grows non-stop all day, so that when he’d come to kiss me goodnight, sometimes it’d be quite scratchy.
For times when it was particularly so, Mom had given me a piece of sandpaper to keep under my pillow. “If he scratches you, you can scratch him back.”
I don’t ever recall getting farther than pulling out the sandpaper before Dad would back away. But Dad says I definitely made contact. More than once.
One Easter, four of Dad’s five children sat around the kitchen table realizing we’d never seen our father without a mustache–only in pictures, namely the one of him and my mother on their wedding day that we saw every Sunday in Grandma Gallo’s foyer.
“You’d look younger if you shaved it off,” a sibling said.
“You think?” he asked.
“Absolutely,” another agreed.
“Do it!” one said. “I’ll pay you.”
“You’ll pay me?” he asked, scrunching up his face, looking at us like we were crazy.
But Dad has always been a savvy businessman. “You’ll pay me?”
“How much will it cost me?” a sibling asked. “I’ll give you twenty bucks.”
Another sibling joined in.
We asked my mother her thoughts. But my mother is not one to tell people what to do. Especially people she has to live with after a decision is made.
After the four of us children made our donations, we called the missing sibling and she agreed to donate as well.
On the lazy susan, in the middle of the kitchen table, sat a pile of cash.
Dad stood up.
“I want to watch!” one of us said.
“No. You can’t watch,” he spat as he went upstairs to his bathroom.
A few minutes later, a stranger walked into the kitchen.
The image I’d had in my head of my father for 28 years was no longer accurate.
Eighteen years later, Dad is still bigote-free.
In September, we’ll celebrate both his 75th birthday and my parents’ 50th anniversary. On display will be the wedding photo that I grew up seeing: Mom like a pencil in her white lace dress, Dad in his tux, the two of them toasting.
Mom, in that wedding picture, always still looked like our mother. But this time? Dad will look a lot more familiar to me.
(Note: Fact-checking for this post resulted in a variety of recollections as to how much Dad was paid. The two youngest siblings recall being surprised that, post-shave, Dad actually took our money. Me? Not surprised at all.)