My Father, My Hero

This is a special post, this time in honor of a special man in my life. I’ve written a few posts about some amazing women in my life. Well, there are some wonderful men in my life too. Since Father’s Day is celebrated in June in the United States, I dedicate this post to my father, Angel Manuel “Neco” Alvarado.

My Dad, Neco Alvarado

I grew up in a rural area, in a house full of kids. I’m very fortunate that my father was there while we were growing up. I understand there’s a majority of people that go through childhood without their father. I also understand society as we knew it is changing. Many men are capable of taking care of their children on their own. Same as many women are capable of raising their kids without a father. But, in my personal opinion, it would be ideal for children to have a good relationship with both their parents. Not always possible, I know.

Both my father and my mother grew up without their father in the house. Both my grandparents moved to the United States to look for work and left their families behind. My paternal grandfather remarried twice. My paternal grandmother grew up without her father in the house.

My Dad is the first son, the oldest of three children of his mom, oldest of seven total children of his father. When he was five, his father moved to New York. So his mother, with her 3 kids, moved back in with her mother. They lived with their mom, grandmother, and uncle. All the adults were very strict with them. My Dad learned to always be guarding and helping his siblings.

My Dad and his mom

After he graduated high school, he decided to join the United States Army. His training was in Fort Dix in New Jersey, and Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. There he got to see snow for the first time. Then he was sent to Germany, where he stayed for three and a half years. Finally, he was at Fort Hamilton and Fort Drum in New York. Upon his return, he registered with the National Guard of Puerto Rico, located in our hometown of Coamo. With the National Guard he got to travel to Panamá, Ecuador, Honduras, and he went back to Germany. While in the National Guard, he was nicknamed “Plátano”, for being from a rural community.

My Dad: Soldier and Police Officer

When he returned to the Island, he also signed up for the Puerto Rico Police Academy. That’s where he learned to drive motorcycles, one of his biggest passions. As kids, we always remember him riding his motorcycle. Whenever possible, he would give us a ride. We all loved riding on the motorcycle with him!

Motorcycles are his passion
Papá Neco and Mamá Raquel

When our mom said “wait till your dad gets home”, we used to panic when we heard the motorcycle noise from afar. You can imagine how we felt. He was a cop and also a soldier, and he was a strict father. He’d call us to the table, still in his uniform, ask what happened and say “make sure it doesn’t happen again”. Well, as adults, we realize there was no reason to panic, but as kids, it used to scare us.

During our childhood, we were used to see him dressed in uniform. As police officer, he worked riding a motorcycle for many years. We used to love going to events to see him, one example was the San Blás Half Marathon. We also loved all the military parades, where we got to see him participate. We always thought of him as a very brave and honorable man. He did teach us to do the right thing, to be the better person, to avoid controversy, and to always help others as best as we could.

Before he retired from both National Guard and Police force, he transferred from National Guard to the Military Police unit 480 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. It is with this unit that he was deployed to participate in the conflicts of the Persian Gulf in Kuwait (Gulf War), as part of the military group that supervised the detainees. Upon returning, he was able to retire.

Left- Graduating from basic training
Right- Retiring after 30 years of service

Another one of my Dad’s passion is his guitar. He always has his guitar with him. He learned to play guitar at a young age, watching his mom’s cousin, David, who was their neighbor. He never learned to read music, but he can listen to a song, and pick on the accords, until he’s able to play the full song. When we were kids, we used to go caroling during Christmas. If he couldn’t get any other family members or friends to go, it would be just us. He’d play the guitar and we’d sing.

Always with his guitar at hand

One more thing he has always been passionate about is his family. Our Mom and Dad were always together. We thought they were enamored in their early adolescence, because they lived in the same neighborhood, and went to the same schools. But we asked him, and he said “I was interested in your Mom when I came back from the Army.” They had six kids, we were six one after the other. We were born in a particular order: one boy, one girl (me), one boy, one girl, one boy, one girl.We were also named in a particular way: we are all named after someone in the family. Also all boys’ middle name is Manuel (after our Dad), and all girls’ middle name is Raquel (after our Mom).

Alvarado siblings
Papá Neco and Mamá Raquel

I asked my siblings and my cousins, the children of his only sister, to share a story, a memory they cherish about him. Their response? “I have too many stories! It’s difficult to pick just one!” Yes, all of them had this reaction. All of them know our Dad is a natural storyteller. He always has a story to talk about: of when he was growing up, of his years in the Army, or of his years as a police officer. He sits down and says “let me tell you a story”, and he’d have the listener’s attention. I’ve been told, same as my brother José and my cousin Aura, that we take after him, that we are storytellers just like him. It seems to be an Alvarado trait.

I have many memories that I can share. Growing up, he’d always bring a newspaper, and he’d always do the crossword puzzle. So I started reading the newspaper, and trying to the crossword, just like him. There was one thing, well two, I didn’t like. Now, as an adult, I can mention this. He was strict, and he was a “boy-rules” Dad. He loved us girls, but he didn’t allow us to go out as we wish we would. Boys were allowed to go play anywhere. He didn’t like boys playing in the girl’s room or viceversa. Boys had privileges. Boys learned to drive and had licenses when they turned 16. I didn’t get my driver’s license until I was 20, and my 16 year old brother is the one who drove me to get it.

But as I grew older, I shared some special times with him. When I went to college, I moved to San Juan. I was about one and a half hour from home. He was working with the Governor’s security office. If I needed to go home, I used to call him to come pick me up. We had good talks, and I did enjoy those one-on-ones with him.

My Dad and I

My older brother Angel Manuel Jr, his first son, became a police officer. He was nicknamed “Nequito” after our Dad. At some point in his career, he was assigned to work as part of the security staff for the Governor of Puerto Rico. Well, our Dad also worked as security officer for a previous Governor. His co-workers, the ones that had worked with our Dad, used to call him “Alvarado Junior” or “Platanito”. He remembers that one time our Dad, working for the Governor as an escort, wanted to go check the event they were attending. He left his motorcycle alone. The whole escort and security staff left him behind.

My brother Francisco Manuel, Franky, is the middle son. He remembers that, as a child, he wanted to become a police officer. Later on, he became an Engineer. He also remembers that when he was about 15 years old, he wanted to drive. He wanted it so badly, that he used to ride with our Dad almost everywhere he went. One time they were at the neighborhood’s store, and Dad was going to let him drive, when a guy, a friend, came around saying he didn’t have a ride. Dad told him he’d drive him, but didn’t tell him Franky was the driver. Franky started moving the car, and the guy said “wait, does this kid knows how to drive?”. He got so nervous, that he accidentally hit the brakes hard. The guy jumped in his seat, almost coming to the front seat.

Now, as an adult, Franky is the one son that still lives in Puerto Rico. He’s often telling us about our Dad’s attempts to repair things around the house, doing it his own way. We call those repairs “Necadas”. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t.

My brother José Manuel is the youngest son. We call him Chepo, Dad has always called him José. Being the youngest boy, Dad have a soft spot for this guy. He shared with me that when he started working as a correctional officer, already an adult, Dad told him to trust him like a friend. He says the respect is always there, but it’s the best thing Dad had said to him.

My sister Lilliam Raquel, Lilly, is the middle daughter. She became a Surveyor. She still lives in Puerto Rico. She remembers when she moved back to our hometown, our Mom was already sick with Alzheimer’s, and she couldn’t remember our faces, especially our Dad’s. He still went to visit her, and spent time with her. A nurse has asked him why he spent so much time with her, if she couldn’t recognize him. He told her that he did remember her, that was his wife and mother of his children. So he’d spend as much time as he could with her.

My sister Hilda Raquel, Tita, is the youngest daughter. She is the one who lives in Spain. Her daughter is the first granddaughter and she named her Angelly. She remembers when she was living in our hometown, as an adult with children already, she could always count on him. If her car broke down, or she needed someone to pick her up from the airport, she’d call him and he’d come anywhere anytime.

My cousin Aura remembers that, when he traveled outside of Puerto Rico, he used to write letters to her Mom. She asked if she could write to him, so she started sending him letters, and he did respond to her. She loved when he came to their house for a visit, especially when he gave her rides on his motorcycle.

My cousin Alex, who is his godson, remembers that his Mom, as I wrote before, always had a nickname for everyone. Well, my Dad did the same, always had a nickname for anyone. She used to call Alex “Platanito”, because he looked like him. And because he had freckles, she would call him “ripe Platanito”.

Well, he wasn’t the only one being called “Platanito”. When we started school, as we were so close in age, all of us had to ride the school bus together. One bus driver used to call us “Platanitos”, and another one used to call us “Nequitos”. We are still known as “Platanitos” or “Nequitos”. My brother Angel was called “Platanito” at work for many years.

My cousin Adán told me he considers his uncle “our Angel” (like his name), our blessing. He appreciate and respects him so much, that he named one of his sons Angel in his honor. He called him our “Iron Man”, describing how he’s always there for all of us, anyway he can help. He’s always ready to help, to go anywhere anytime. Adán (and Alex) enjoys visiting his uncle, and playing dominoes with him.

My cousin Adriana remembers him coming to their house when she was younger, always with a story, and always in good humor. Her best memory? when he gave her a ride on his motorcycle.

Adriana, Dad, Amnerys, Alex

Amnerys is our youngest cousin, the one who became a soldier, like her uncle Neco. We know he is very proud of her, being the only niece that joined the Army, like him. She also remembers how he came to her house always with his stories and in good humor. Her best memory? same as her sisters Aura and Adriana, when he gave her a ride on his motorcycle. She remembers he came by himself, and asked her if she wanted to ride with him and drove her all the way into town. When she was in training in the Army, she often thought of him, as he had gone through that same training many years before her.

I mentioned this when I wrote about my Mom: if you still have your Dad in your life, and you have a good relationship with him, my advice is to try and keep up with him. No matter the differences of opinions, or different situations you might disagree about (unless it’s something major or a difficult topic) try to maintain communication. Let him know how you are doing, ask how is he doing.

Papá Neco with 8 of 12 grandchildren (2013)
Papá Neco with his 6 kids, 1 son-in-law, 4 grandchildren,
and 1 great-grandchild (2014)

It’s 2019, my Dad still lives in the house we grew up in. He still enjoys our conversations, and our visits. We still enjoy and love his stories. We still admire him and and enjoy his company. He still wants to help us all. In 2020, it’s his 80th birthday. He has the same energy, the same disposition of helping, the same disposition of having a good time. He still rides his motorcycle and enjoys any time he can spend with us. He has 12 grandchildren: Angelly Denisse, William Joel, José Emanuel, Carolina, Adlih Cristal, Shelibette, Francisco Manuel (Frankito), Miriam Raquel, Lismarie, Angel Manuel, Fabiola, and Kevin Michael. He has 2 great-grandchildren, Carlos Yahir and Jannuel Eliezer, who he also loves dearly.

Papá Neco with his great-grandchildren (2018)

We all still see him as our hero. We still have that memory from our childhood, of our Dad coming home in his soldier or police uniform riding his motorcycle. I live far from home, but when I go visit, he likes to make us coffee, as it’s one of the things we do enjoy together. I do enjoy my tacita de café, especially with my Dad. Bendición, Papá! Salud!

Para versión en Español https://fullofcoffee.blog/2019/06/16/mi-papa,-mi-heroe

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