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.
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.
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.