Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A tribute to a great man who is greatly missed

Today’s post is going to be a little different. On this day, an important man left this world and his presence is missed more and more every day. He wasn’t famous. He wasn’t a president or an actor or even a household name. He was a father, a husband, an uncle and a great man who was taken from this world too soon but whose influence still affects his son, Joe, my husband. This great man is my late father-in-law, the greatest man I never knew. My husband will take over and talk about the man who greatly influenced his life….

Joe Ysabel Lara was born November 5, 1930 in Los Angeles, California. He was the third child of Victoriano and Petra Lara. He would lose his mother at the age of 3 when she died in childbirth giving birth to his twin brothers, Henry and Robert. When he lost his father at the age of 16, Joe was left to take care of his younger sister, Lupe. So he did what he could do. He lied about his age to enlist in the army. He would be stationed in Korea at the start of the Korean War in 1950. From what I remember about his stories, he was a paratrooper during the war. Jennifer has discovered, based on a few pictures I have, that he was a part of the 40th Infantry Division nicknamed the “Sunshine Division.” From her research, the 40th Infantry Division was called into active service on September 1, 1950. Shipping out of Oakland & San Francisco, California in late March 1951, the division was deployed to Japan for training and for the next nine months, participated in amphibious, air transportability, and live fire training. In Korea, the 40th Infantry Division participated in the battles of Sandbag Castle and Heartbreak Ridge. In these campaigns, the division suffered 1,180 casualties, including 311 who were killed in action, and 47 who later died from wounds received in action. Total division casualties in Korea included 376 killed in action, 1,457 wounded in action, and 47 died of wounds. My father once told me that he was wounded in battle during Korea. I wonder if he could have been one wounded at these battles.

He would stay in the army for most of the 1950s, leaving after he served two enlistments. Between the late 1950s to the 1980s, his life is much a mystery as he was a private man who didn’t reveal too much. When I was born on May 2, 1980, my father was 49 years old. He and my mother would go on to have my four younger siblings. His last child, my brother Anthony, was born when he was 57 years old. He was a loving father who worked several jobs to provide for his family. He worked as a security guard at local nightclubs in downtown L.A. He worked as a roofer, as a landscaper and other difficult jobs. He wasn’t afraid of hard work. He was a blue collar man who did his best to provide for our needs and even a few of our wants. My father would soon became ill. He would be partially blind in one eye. I remember being his guide as we traveled around L.A. I was his navigator. He would pass away on January 19, 1997 at 10:15 am at the age of 66. I was 16 years old. His death led me down a path that would change my life forever. I often think about if he had survived and was alive and well today, what would my life be like? I realize that I wouldn’t have moved out at 18 to a cousin’s home I barely knew. I wouldn’t have started working for Albertsons and moved to Ontario. I wouldn’t have moved out on my own for the first time at the age of 24. And I wouldn’t have met the woman who would become my wife and my life with her and our daughter wouldn’t exist.

Knowing all that, I wouldn’t go back and change it. I learned quickly how to survive on my own as he had to survive following his own father’s death. I see a lot of my father in me. I see his hard work ethic, always doing something and being active. I see his determination to not let physical or financial limitations get in the way of going places. He rode his bike everywhere. I, too, would ride a bike for many years. Now I have a rickety old car that I deeply appreciate as it takes me to work and brings me home every night. I see my father’s stubbornness in me. As a father, I see myself bonding with my daughter over movies, cartoons and just being together as he did with me. I find myself following his example as he always explained why he punished me and he was ended his explanation with “I love you.” I wish he could be here to experience his grandchildren. I wish I could see him interact with my daughter. I imagine him being a kid with her. Getting on her level and playing with her toys and making her laugh. I wish he could be here to experience the changes in our town, our country and in the world. I often wonder what his thoughts, opinions and ideas would be about where the world has come to. I wish I could ask him about his life: growing up, his service in Korea, his life after the army. I wish I could have adult conversations with him, ask his advice as a man, as a father. I wonder what he would say about the man I’ve become.

I also look back and I remember how ill he was and how much he was suffering. I am comforted to know that he is with Christ in a new body. He is no longer in pain. I will always wish he could be here to experience my family. To talk with Jennifer about his eyewitness accounts of the historical events he was able to see. I wish he could see my daughter grow and see me in her. I even wish he could tell them my childhood antics and the embarrassing stories only parents can tell. From his example, I’ve learned to appreciate life. I want to remain as healthy as I can and hopefully, by the grace of God, be around to see my daughter get married and have a family of her own. I know that my father would wish to be here today too. People may think I’m cruel that I don’t visit his gravesite. But my father, my dad is not there. His earthly body may be buried there but he lives in me, in my memories. I’d rather remember him as the man and father he was. I will always miss him but I know that I will see him again one day….

My father-in-law was a great man. A man with flaws and limitations but a man who did the best he could and was a hero to his family. From the stories I have heard about Joe Sr, I know that he would be proud of his son and the life he has built. Even though I have never met him, I am comforted to know that my babies, AJ and Ziva, have their grandfather in heaven to take care of them while they wait for us. It may not be true but it’s a nice image to have when the weight of our longing for our loved ones becomes too much.

To Joe Ysabel Lara
a great father who is greatly missed
each and every day.