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Old Pueblo Abuelo: Happy Birthday Dad

The original Old Pueblo Abuelo with Arianna, Maggie and Brittney.

This is the 14th installment of “Old Pueblo Abuelo,” a Sunday night thought on positive things happening in the Old Pueblo from a sometimes cranky and often times humorous grandfather actually born in Tucson and writing from my desk in Tucson.

As I have written before, my grandfather was called “Papa Nino” by his 10 grandchildren and my dad was called “Tata” by his eight grandchildren. Papa Nino was my mom’s dad and my dad’s father died when my father was just 17 years old so none of his many grandchildren ever met him including me. He is lost to time.

My father, Hector Avila Morales, Jr., was born on Oct. 17, 1933, and he passed away on March 12, 2010. My dad would have been 88 years old today and that’s hard to imagine. I feared my own 17th birthday because I knew all my dad’s uncles died when they were also young and I knew that’s when his own dad passed away but my father lived to the age of 76 when I was 45 with three kids of my own. I might have been 45 but I feel like I only had him with me for only a decade or so.

I had him as my father, and everything that goes with that, my whole life obviously but I didn’t have the man others in our community knew until it was almost too late. He was a Civil Rights leader with a lot of powerful and well-known friends. I met people like Cesar Chavez, Mo Udall and Ted Kennedy when I was far too young to understand it. I knew who they were but they were just my dad’s friends. I guess that’s kind of a good thing but it was also a terrible waste.

I remember watching Chavez give a speech in a church in Tucson and I remember we got to sit in the front row and the audience went crazy, although I can’t remember what he said. I remember being picked up by Udall and he held me over his head and I thought he was a giant, which he was at 6-foot-5, but I didn’t know he was also a giant in a lot of other ways. I met Kennedy in my dad’s office in Washington, D.C. and I can remember thinking that was cool because he was a Kennedy but I was in high school. It was just cool.

We never played catch like in Field of Dreams but that scene makes me tear up because my “have a catch” with my father involved political talks when he felt I was ready. I didn’t realize it at the time but he started pouring his knowledge into me when I was in my 30’s. He wanted me to be a lawyer but I chose to be a teacher and I think he started to accept that choice (or maybe not) when he went with me to pay college tuition at the University of Arizona in the fall of 1982.

He handed the woman at the bursar’s office an envelope from my high school along with other papers and she opened up the sealed envelope and she looked me and then told my dad I wouldn’t have to pay for school based on my class standing (which I’m not going to repeat). He never knew, and a lot of my own friends never knew, because being a smart jock was not a good thing at the time. It wasn’t celebrated like it is today.

So, he gave me time, but he never saw me teach, which is unfortunate because I really wanted him to see me teach. He gave me time to grow in his world and he knew when I was ready. I was a union president and some teachers may or may not have gone on sickouts after I worked several years to pave the way for change. The superintendent told me I was the only one complaining but the “one” became thousands and change did come but it took time. Coincidentally, my father was also the head of the El Pueblo Neighborhood Center around the same time and a few board members there wanted one of their friends to be the head instead so they did what the courts would later call an illegal takeover at a board meeting.

Secretaries, office staff, custodians, clerks and other hourly personnel walked out without worry in protest. These were good people who were supporting a family on an hourly wage. They did it for my dad. It took me years to convince professionals making a lot more money to even consider walking out but my dad did what he did in an instant and he didn’t even have to ask. It was then that I knew I was out of my league. I didn’t have what he had and, in many ways, I still don’t.

The last few months of his life were filled with talks that might one day be in a book but whenever I have the chance to speak to organizations I repeat a few of his words to me like, “We have to move beyond tolerance towards acceptance” and ‘It’s better to do good than well.”

I saw his mind slip between glorious words of wisdom one moment to nonsense chatter to eventual silence and then to a blank stare due to cancer. Then he was gone and I was gone in a way.

I was ready far too late to take over the family business but I was always prepared to take over father and grandfather duties – even with the countless mistakes I have made and will still make. My own kids know far more about me than I ever knew about my father and my grandchildren will know more than they probably want to know. To them, I’ll just be “Papa.”

So, here’s to you dad. My kids miss their Tata and I miss my friend, mentor and father. Happy birthday. They tell me I will see you again one day but let’s put that reunion off for a couple of decades.

More “Old Pueblo Abuelo” can be found here.

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Andy Morales was recognized by the AIA as the top high school reporter in 2014, he was awarded the Ray McNally Award in 2017, a 2019 AZ Education News award winner and he has been a youth, high school and college coach for over 30 years. He was the first in Arizona to write about high school beach volleyball and high school girls wrestling. His own children have won multiple state high school championships and were named to all-state teams. Competing in hockey, basketball, baseball and track & field in high school, his unique perspective can only be found here and on AZPreps365.com. Andy is the Southern Arizona voting member of the Ed Doherty Award, recognizing the top football player in Arizona, and he was named a Local Hero by the Tucson Weekly for 2016. Andy was named an Honorary Flowing Wells Caballero in 2019, became a member of the Sunnyside Los Mezquites Cross Country Hall of Fame in 2021 and he was a member of the Amphi COVID-19 Blue Ribbon Committee and he earned a Distinguished Service Award from Amphitheater. Contact Andy Morales at amoralesmytucson@yahoo.com

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