My dad, Horatio Alban Mestanza, loves to share stories about growing up in Washington Heights and the gangs he got involved with there. Growing up a mutt in Manhattan, he learned to fight after being beaten up by the Irish, Blacks and Hispanics. He eventually found himself in front of a judge who sentenced my dad with either serving time in jail or serving time in the military. Without hesitation, he changed his name to Donald, enlisted with the Marines and served two tours in Vietnam. Rumor has it he can break a man’s neck with one hand, however, years of raising daughters softened this tough guy from the ghetto and he’s become quite the gentle grandpa.
After the military, he became an apprentice to learn steam fitting. A couple of years later, he met my mom while repairing the fire sprinklers in her office building. They soon tied the knot and a few years later, my sister and I came along.
Then, in the late 70’s, we moved to Florida, but the jobs for pipe fitters were few and far between in the Tampa Bay area. Forced with a tough decision, my dad left to find work in Miami and New York to provide for his family. He became a weekend dad for about 20 years and retired in 1999, the year Allan and I married.
During winter and summer breaks, my mom, sister and I would visit my dad in New York. Year after year, we would suffer through a walking tour of Manhattan as my dad pointed out all buildings where he worked. I believe my dad scaled the scaffolding of about ¾ of the buildings in New York, including twice in the former Twin Towers. As a kid, I hated it, but when Allan and I visited New York last year, I found myself giving the same tour.
Decades in construction, took a toll on my dad and he has been living with asbestosis for about 15 years now, however, it’s no small miracle that he is can still function without an oxygen tank strapped to him. I don’t know if it’s the volume of vitamins combined with all the steroids and prayers, but something seems to be working. Maybe this old gentle grandpa still has some fight left in him after all.
Dancing with my dad at my wedding is one of my fondest memories. He secretly took dance lessons so he could swing me around for our father-daughter dance. He tossed my around like a rag doll on the dance floor and I loved every minute.
I pray Dad has a few more moves in him for my mom, my sister, my children and me.
Happy Birthday, Daddy!