He began life in a family of seven boys and two girls who grew up in rural New Mexico and later moved to California. During nine decades on this earth, he’s been a farmworker, laborer, welder, millwright, stationary engineer (responsible for the operation and maintenance of boilers and other mechancial systems), a Navy veteran and an elected labor union official.
He’s also been the consummate family man as a son, brother, uncle, husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather. He’s a lifelong Catholic, a leader in veterans and fraternal organizations, and a San Francisco Giants baseball fan.
He’s my dad, Catarino Allala Rede. (C.A., for short.)
On Saturday, my two sisters and I and members of our extended families joined in raising a glass — make that a shot glass of Jack Daniel’s — to our dear father in advance of his 90th birthday today, March 22.
The three of us kids live in separate states — California, Oregon and Alaska — and dad and his wife live in New Mexico, so it’s rare that we’re able to gather in one place anymore. I was grateful that we had this opportunity to celebrate his milestone birthday and I know it meant the world to Dad.
I’ve got more to say about that, but first here are a couple of facts to chew on.
- By turning 90, my dad has joined the ranks of a small but growing slice of the U.S. population.
America’s population of persons aged 90-and-older has almost tripled since 1980, reaching 1.9 million in 2010 and will continue to increase to more than 7.6 million over the next 40 years, according to a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau. People 90 and over now make up 4.7% of all people 65 and older, as compared with only 2.8% in 1980.
- It may come as a surprise that being born Latino adds years to your life.
“That’s because Hispanics have demographically higher rates of longevity than do non-Latino whites and African Americans. Hispanics are also the fastest growing demographic in the United States,” according to a 2012 report by Hispanic Link News Service.
“The evidence began coming to light in a pioneering 2010 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It found Hispanics on average live 80.6 years, non-Hispanic whites 78.1 years and African Americans 72.9,” the article said.
- Generally, the more education a person has, the longer his or her life expectancy. Likewise, the less educated are expected to not live as long. But the pattern is less pronounced between highly and less educated Latinos, who not only outlive their less educated white and black peers but also live nearly as long as highly educated whites.
These findings have puzzled the experts, who can only speculate at the reasons for the so-called “Hispanic Paradox.” Some believe Latinos’ longevity stems partly from the fact that immigrants are unusually fit physically and psychologically and come with dietary habits and a lifestyle commitment to achievement. The thinking goes that hard, intensive work adds endurance through an ethic of good health habits.
I suspect there’s a lot of truth in those theories. Our mom lived to nearly 86 despite a 7th grade education. In Dad’s case, he was born in the United States and attained just an 8th grade education as a consequence of limited opportunities in a time of open discrimination against Latinos. (Later, in his 40s, he earned his G.E.D.) No doubt he’s added years to his life by giving up smoking decades ago and becoming a near teetotaler. But nothing defines him more than his sturdy work ethic.
He made a living with his hands, wore a uniform with his name on it, carried a metal lunch bucket and thermos to work, and was capable of making or fixing just about anything.
Saturday’s celebration was at the home of my niece, Bernie, and her husband Terrell. They live in Bonsall, a small residential community just east of Oceanside.
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My older sister, Rosemary, and her husband Robert came over from Oceanside. Lori and I, our daughter Simone and her wife Kyndall, all came down from Portland. My younger sister, Cathy, flew down from Dillingham, Alaska. Her son Austin and his wife Starr, who live in a suburb outside Anchorage, made the trip with their three children, Justice, 12, Jada, 9, and Ashton, 5.
Dad and Oralia, our stepmother, drove in from Silver City, New Mexico. Aunt Linda, the widow of Dad’s late brother, Manuel, drove in from Santa Ana. Uncle Luciano, the sole remaining brother, also lives in the area and had planned to join us, but suffered a stroke two nights earlier and was confined to his hospital bed.
With this many people gathered in a single residence, we made good use of the patio on a sunny afternoon. We pitched in on a catered lunch by a taquero who prepared tacos, beans and rice on a portable grill. There were traditional beverages like horchata and agua de melon and coolers full of Tecate and other beers.
There was a colorfully decorated birthday cake, homemade Jell-O and a lively rendition of “Happy Birthday.”
We took turns saying a few words about our dad, and so did the grandkids. It was touching to hear, through sobs and quavering voices, how much he has meant to each one of us as a positive role model, a provider and patriarch of a growing family spread along the West Coast.
We also made a point to thank Ora, a retired registered nurse blessed with the patience of an angel, for being such a loving wife and caregiver. As we all know, Dad can be as stubborn and hard-to-please as anyone.
Yet he is essentially a humble man, soft-spoken, and fond of making jokes that sometimes only he understands. He gave up his driver’s license some time ago because of failing eyesight and he wears hearing aids, but he gets around without a cane and his doctors say he’s in good health for someone of his age.
Two moments that stood out to me:
When our youngest son, Jordan, and his wife Jamie talked to him via Skype from their home near Tacoma, Washington. During those few minutes of a video chat on a tablet, he was a digital grandpa, undoubtedly blown away by the wonders of modern technology.
When he rose after all the accolades and declared himself the happiest man on earth. “I want to thank everyone who’s present for making it possible. I didn’t know if I would make it, but I had hopes.”
The man who brought my sisters and me into this world literally had his moment in the sun this weekend. How very cool that he could bask in the love of those who mean the most to him.