El Día del padre, the anecdote

El Día del padre – Father’s Day. It never was anything we’d celebrate, ever. My primary school had me decorate a tile for Mother’s Day, draw something for Father’s day, things I can only vaguely remember. I feel in Holland, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, and so forth, are all treated with the same down-to-earth approach summarized in one word:


Oh, and one gesture:


I guess there are enough other days, not dictated by companies, when you can spontaneously whenever you feel like it express your appreciation. And that might as well entail more days than just that one imposed day-of-reminder per role, per year. How things are different in Mexico.
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People predicted the end of the majority of protests to fall in December with Christmas coming up and with it the shift of attention from worry to buying gifts-of-appreciation for family. Here, similarly, the feeling of adherence to Mother’s and Father’s Day is very apparent, too (pun in… Really, why would I point that one out? I’m sure you’re clever enough to enjoy that pun without me pointing it out. You don’t need that pseudo-parental guidance. Fin.).

There’s a reason why you would hear tons of the words padres and madres thrown around in colloquial Mexican Spanish. They are hugely important. Que padres! one would say, to express that something is so cool! or padrisimo, supercool. Whereas madre is used for more of the dirty or cruel intentions, referring to your mother’s genitals with concha tu madre, [EDIT] and chinga tu madre, or hijo de tu chingada madre, as my girlfriend says SHOULD NOT BE MISSING, respectively meaning fuck your mother and son of your fucked mother [/EDIT]; being fed up with something is expressed in estoy hasta la madre; though if something is done really well it could be a todo madre, or when there’s nothing better, no tiene madre (something has no mother). Or when someone’s just a jackass, they would have poca madre (not much mother).

It’s real. The respect is real. Or disrespect, I guess. They hit you where you feel it – at least they intend to – if you’re the target.

So this Sunday a couple of weeks ago, I was walking around in the city centre. So many people about, all these families, and it hit me: el Día del Padre. Feeling hungry, I wanted to eat something different than the regular tacos al pastor, but wanted to avoid the trendy and expensive restaurants where I would be forced to boast my non-existent fat wallet. Instead, I found a cantina just a couple of blocks east of the Zócalo and its huge cathedral.

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This is the way I want to see my bar. Walls decorated with random relics – old photographs of different locations in the city, random decades old cliché beer adverts, and a huge wall with bottles upon bottles of different liquor. And dark-brown wood. I asked for el menu del día and a limonada and got out my short story that my Spanish teacher gave me: Mi Vida con la Ola by Octavio Paz. God, am I not totally rocking this submersion thing or what?

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As time passed, people got in, ate, and walked out again. Some obviously knew the waiter and owner, sticking around to talk or eat with them. Eventually, a tall slim, grey-haired man with a vagabondish look came in with his guitar and started singing. I didn’t think too much of it, but a woman and two men asked him to come over and sing two more songs to them. Their table was already halfway covered in a mix of Corona, Victoria, Bohemia bottles, the majority of them empty. They sang together, the four of them. I didn’t know what to think: whether my pitch is off, they were used to hearing out-of-tune guitars or singing out-of-tune, whether it was the alcohol or whether the nostalgia and fun of a relaxing Sunday afternoon made those things trivial.

After those two more songs, he went around and chatted a bit with the owner. I liked imagining that he would drop by the cantina every week and has been dropping by since the time his the dark hairs on his head still were the majority. Colombia was having significant difficulties playing Peru in the Copa América, but no one seemed to pay attention really.

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Después de un ratito, in came a man and a woman. They seemed hurried, looking at the different tables and eventually moving two of them together, pushing chairs out of the path to the door. The woman sped back out, but when she came in her entire behaviour had changed.

She was walking next to a man, muy anciano, an arm interlocked with her on one side, cane in hand on the other, as they shuffled to the newly conjoined tables. Behind them, the man – probably her esposo – warmly motioned in three elders. Right, Día del Padre!

By now it was half past three and the daughter ordered tequila. Por mi padre! she said loudly as they toasted, rousing them again every couple of minutes in her enthusiasm, but after the second tequila, her father did not seem to want more. She, however, was still ecstatic, so happy to be there as it was “such a long time ago since they’ve been to a cantina together!”

Enjoying the sight of it, I tried to continue reading a bit. However, when two fairly dressed mariachis, one probably in his 60s, the other in his 40s, came in with guitars, I just simply gave up when they started singing. They sang, loudly, filled with passion, turning heads at each table while Brasil now tried to best Peru.

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They were good. They were great. The family that just started eating now asked for specific songs, one after the other. The daughter requested the first couple, the grandmother the third, and the grandfather the fourth to much applause, and so on. After the fifth, I think, they said it was enough, and thanked the mariachi. The husband patted his pockets for money, but only had big bills I suppose – so they asked for more. Then something special happened.

The man with the cane, el anciano, started singing with the mariachi. All eyes were focused on him and the entire bar went silent, barring the commentators discussing Neymar’s absence for the rest of the tournament. The daughter’s eyes were filled with pride, the grandmother’s arm on the granddad’s shoulders as he sang, ending in wild applause from the entire Cantina. The man must have been in his 90s, but his voice was strong and yet frail, soft but sophisticated. I like imagining these songs have been around for a really long time, him having sung them for his entire life now.

For me, it was about the time I wanted to move on. The last thing I saw was the daughter offering something to the two elders at her table. “We have a small gift for you, thank you for everything”, and gave both of them 500 pesos (~29 euro). I paid for my food, gave the musicians a tip, and went on out.

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I don’t know whether this was something necessarily due to Father’s Day, but I do know it was special. In a country where people work one of the most hours in the world, maybe these days are perfect excuses to actually make time for each other with the entire family. Like Mother’s Day, like birthdays, like Christmas. I guess it’s a luxury being able to see your people more often than on just those, your family being able to make time on more occasions than barely these special ones.

One week, and I’ll be flying home. The likes of what I’ve seen on el Día del Padre from the outside, I can’t wait to feel from the inside again, even if it’s just for four weeks.

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