Dad

This is not my typical blog post. On Cinco de Mayo, we will be celebrating my dad’s 90th birthday. If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to share with you some of his amazing life.

******

When dad was born on May 5, 1927 — 90 years ago — he almost died.

His mother, my late abuela, prayed to St. Anthony. If her son lived, she would offer him to God’s service and name him Antonio. Anthony.

Dad survived. And his life has indeed been of service to others. Interestingly, his namesake, St. Anthony, was the greatest preacher of the Middle Ages and one of the finest orators of all time.

Dad became this, too.

But dad wasn’t always this way. He was a first-generation Mexican-American who grew up in poverty. He was shy.

Because of his race, he experienced prejudice in South Texas. Many of his classmates weren’t pleased when he was named the high school’s valedictorian. Mexicans weren’t supposed to be smart.

Dad went on to study radio engineering and worked at Pan American Airways. While all this was happening, he and my mother, from Tennessee, were writing letters to each other and fell in love. https://mezuniga.wordpress.com/2015/07/12/a-love-story/ They married and started raising a family in Donna, Texas.

His career then morphed into television engineering at KRGV-TV in Weslaco, and he would often bring us as children there. https://mezuniga.wordpress.com/2016/04/26/fame/ With a growing family, dad needed more income and left the TV station to find better employment.

He took a job with the Philco Corporation where he worked as a civilian consultant to the military in South Korea. He was responsible for helping set up the first TV station in post-war Korea.

But we weren’t able to go as a family. South Korea was still considered a hardship area. So we stayed behind in Houston, with my aunt and uncle helping my mother with our care. Every day the mailman brought a surprise from Korea — dolls, silk kimonos, toys and books.

After a year, dad returned to the U.S. and the Philco Corporation transferred him to the Philadelphia area.

Among his many duties, he helped develop the high-resolution cameras, attached to an airplane, that detected the growing build up of missiles in Cuba — that led to the Cuban missile crisis. Dad also helped set up the TV monitors at NASA in Houston.

His work then took him to KYW-TV in Philadelphia as chief engineer during the time of The Mike Douglas Show. There, he met many movie stars and celebrities. https://mezuniga.wordpress.com/2015/07/07/kissing-shirley-temple/

During all this time, however, dad was also involved in much more. At some point in his early career, he took the Dale Carnegie course and discovered a gift — inspirational and motivational speaking.

From there, dad became involved in a program called Adventures in Attitudes and branched out on his own, giving lectures to help inspire others, to help them become the best they could be.

He offered talks such as “You were born for greatness, why settle for less?” and “The ABCs of greatness.”

His public speaking extended to the Crusillo movement, where he was one of two men to help bring this Christ-centered movement to the Philadelphia area from Spain.

Dad lectured around the world, not only for the Crusillo, but speaking about other spiritual and self-help topics in churches, schools, veterans’ hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, and to troubled youth. https://mezuniga.wordpress.com/2016/01/18/the-nellie-nobody-knows/

Dad’s sole desire was to help others and to serve. I remember him saying, “If only one person is helped and comes to know God, it’s worth it.”

Stories are told that healings happened when dad spoke. Emotional healings, but sometimes physical healings. After one of his talks, he counseled a woman who had cancer. After hearing her story, he told her she needed to forgive her ex-husband. She found it difficult, but she finally did, from her heart. Later, she reported to him that she had been healed.

Prior to one of his talks — an important one — he was seized with an uncharacteristic fear. While in the shower he heard Mother Mary’s voice: “Do not be afraid,” she said. “I am sending my angels before you.”

Dad wrote two books and recorded numerous CDs of his talks. He was not part of the digital age, but at some point, my hope is that I — or one of his family — will make these available via social media.

Throughout his 90 years, dad has helped countless people, given tirelessly, and helped his nine children along the way. He helped us move, provided money, offered counsel, prayed with us, cried with us, loved us, forgave us when we made mistakes. He went on to do the same with his grandchildren.

The stories are countless and if anything, dad himself was the consummate story teller — until his stroke four years ago. https://mezuniga.wordpress.com/2015/11/23/the-zen-of-caregiving/

That’s the day God took away the one gift dad cherished most — his speech.

And yet, dad still speaks with his eyes and his smile. He is still there, giving. How?

He helped me learn in the deepest way, as I help care for him, that loving service to others is the greatest gift we can give. I now know this in my being as never before.

So this Friday on Cinco de Mayo — Antonio (Tony) Zaragoza Zuniga, true Mexican-American that he is — will mark 90 years of a life well lived. And on Saturday, May 6th, his family and friends will be there to celebrate him. They are arriving from all corners — Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, California, from next door and a few blocks away.

We will honor dad at a party with Mexican food, Margaritas, mariachi music, laughter, family stories. And we will cherish him. We will love him.

Gracias, Papi. Por todo.

*******

 

 

 

Kissing Shirley Temple

My father spent the majority of his career in TV and radio broadcasting, behind the scenes. For many years, he worked at KYW-TV in Philadelphia and was there during the days of The Mike Douglas Show. As a result, he met many celebrities and movie stars. This is the story of one such meeting — a story some of you on Facebook have already read — and about holding on to your dream, no matter what.

********

Dad grew up in Donna, a small, impoverished town in South Texas. As a little Mexican-American boy, he helped his father in his grocery store — la tienda — after school. But on weekends, as a child of 7 or 8 years old, when he could afford it, he would go to the movies.

One of his favorite movie stars was Shirley Temple. He would walk out of the sultry air and blinding sun into another world, a shadowy, air-conditioned theatre with black-and-white images on the screen of Shirley singing “Good Ship shirley templeLollipop” or tap dancing with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.

Dad was smitten. And in love. Sitting in that theatre, he made himself a promise: One day he would meet and kiss Shirley Temple.

Fifty years later, he was the station manager at KYW and was in charge of all the producers and directors, for the news and for The Mike Douglas Show. He would come home from work and tell us how Bob Hope needed some new shirts, so dad walked him through the streets of Philadelphia and found a store.

Or, how dad — who used to love to give one silver coin to the guests of the show, dad’s signature gesture of welcome — gave one coin to Yul Brynner who said, “Nobody ever gave me anything. Everyone always wants something from me.” Or how he gave a coin to Lawrence Welk, who said, “I’ll take it but I have to give you something in turn” and gave dad his pocket knife.

One day, dad walked in the studio and found out Shirley Temple Black was appearing on the show. Dad waited in the hallway and when she came in, he went to her and said, “I’ve been waiting 50 years to do this,” leaned into her and gave her a hug and a kiss on the cheek.

She was flustered and taken aback. But when dad explained his story, she was deeply touched. “Really? You’ve been waiting 50 years to kiss me?” she asked. “You really don’t give up, do you?”

And dad never did. Nor does he now, even with the stroke. This morning on the deck as I sat with dad, I was reminded of this story. I often try to get dad to talk, to help with his cognition and speech skills. Sometimes he responds and Dream-01other times he doesn’t. But I asked him about meeting all those famous people when he worked at KYW and who he  liked the best. It took him a few minutes, but he beamed and said, “Shirley Temple, of course.”

Sometimes we have dreams and we let go. Life gets hard. We get discouraged. Sometimes we give up too soon when a dream is just within reach, and had we waited, we would have realized our dream. And sometimes, we hang in there. We believe. We dream. We wait. Even if it is 50 years. And we kiss Shirley Temple.