Happy 78th birthday, Dad. It hasn’t always been easy for us. But I’m so grateful for where we are today. You, one of the most interesting people I’ve ever known. You’ve shaped me in so many ways. I thought I’d list one for each year you’ve been alive. This list could have gone on forever, as could the reasons I’m proud to call you “dad.”

  1. That time we stayed up late out in the field, under a blanket, with shotguns, to shoot the coyotes that were eating the chickens.
  2. Teaching me how to slaughter, butcher, and barbeque cow, chicken, lamb, goat, trout, duck, quail, and too many poor animals to remember.
  3. Buying those six acres in Anaheim Hills when I was 5.
  4. Buying that ranch house in the avocado grove down the street.
  5. Putting wheels under it and moving it up the hill and onto the 6 acres.
  6. Working right next to you for the next 12 months, building a block wall under it, against a hill, giving us two stories, a basement, and our new home on “The Ranch.”
  7. All your guns, “one for every window and door just in case.”
  8. Letting me fall out of trees, cut myself with the knives you bought me, not fussing over me when I was “hurt.”
  9. Being there for me in my times of greatest need.
  10. Your countless sayings: “Everyone wants to be pope,” “It’s new for 27 days and after that it becomes a responsibility,” “Looking for a helping hand, try the end of your sleeve,” “I’ll hire the brains.”
  11. Never playing by the rules when you didn’t need to.
  12. Telling us for decades that “germs are good to help build your immune system,” then learning decades later that it’s true.
  13. Singing to us all the time when we were little, strumming that guitar, Folsom Prison Blues, Ring of Fire, You Are My Sunshine, King Of The Road, and dozens of others.
  14. Teaching me how to whistle so loudly without the use of my hands, “Just in case you are ever out in the wilderness and you don’t have access to your arms because they are broken or tied up.”
  15. Achieving your dreams.
  16. When you bought homing pigeons and then we took them to Mexico. You left their cage open back home. When we returned a week later, they were there, just like you predicted. I remember they were white. I remember knowing they’d be there because you said they would be.
  17. Being a fighter.
  18. The countless family gatherings at The Ranch on Sundays with dozens of cousins, aunts, uncles, Nonno, Nonna.
  19. Retiring in your 30’s so you could be home at the ranch and build things.
  20. Teaching me how to lay tile, frame, drywall, plumb, install electrical wire, roof, lay cement, stucco, and basically how to build a house.
  21. Always driving pickup trucks. Always Chevy’s.
  22. You never ever come to our home empty handed. Always some eggs from your chickens or strawberries or something. Always.
  23. Referring to yourself as “Kelly.” (Still don’t know where you got that nickname or why you use it.)
  24. Still buying food on sale and shopping at the 99 cent store.
  25. That time you decided to use a handgun to slaughter a pig. I think it was that silver Colt 45. Missed and shot him in the eye. All the other pigs chased the blood with screaming violent greed. The herd ran right through the fence. You chased. They must have covered all 6 acres. You got ‘em. Knew you would.
  26. Our vacation home in Mexico.
  27. Taking us there as a family, hundreds of times.
  28. When you cried when I graduated from UCLA.
  29. Never being impressed with high society, even though you certainly had the means.
  30. Being as stubborn as hell.
  31. Being so physically affectionate so I never doubted your love for me.
  32. Teaching me how to wrestle a calf when I was around 10. I don’t think anything has made you happier than those few times I was able to turn it over.
  33. Blowing me away with your grasp of history, even until this day.
  34. Teaching me how to change a tire, replace a carburetor, clean cables on the battery with baking soda.
  35. Being so damned smart that I basically had google with you before there was google.
  36. Teaching me how to never give up. Never.
  37. Teaching me about racial discrimination.
  38. Sharing all the stories about how Mexicans were discriminated against while you were growing up.
  39. Teaching me to respect my property and that of others.
  40. Teaching me to have very high respect for the law.
  41. Teaching me how not to stress out about money.
  42. Because it’s all “just a number on a screen.”
  43. Never being a conformist.
  44. Referring to me as “My beloved son.” It used to bug me, but now makes me feel special.
  45. Teaching me how to deliver puppies (and calves and lambs and piglets, etc.).
  46. Teaching me how to repair that broken motor at the bottom of our artesian well. And devising that pulley hitched onto your pickup truck to pull it out.
  47. Teaching me how to catch crawdads and boil them.
  48. Instilling in me a love for the Roman Catholic Church (and never letting me forget about it).
  49. Teaching me how to be a dreamer.
  50. Teaching me how to stick with my beliefs, even though they might be unpopular.
  51. Teaching me how to tie knots.
  52. Teaching me how to fish in the ocean.
  53. Teaching me about mindfulness and meditation, decades ago.
  54. Not being into fads.
  55. Teaching me to jump off cliffs at the river.
  56. Teaching me how to wash a car.
  57. Letting me wash the Cadillac with you every Sunday before church.
  58. Teaching me how to play guitar.
  59. Teaching me how to hitch up the till to the tractor.
  60. Making me till acres of land on Saturdays.
  61. Teaching me how to castrate young pigs and to keep holding on no matter how hard their back legs kicked. The first time I must have been around 7 or 8.
  62. All that you do and have done for Bree and Edison and Elliot.
  63. Teaching me how to smoke salmon.
  64. Instilling in me love for la familia and always reminding all of our family that “It’s All About Family.”
  65. All those trips to the Colorado River.
  66. Building that pit barbecue.
  67. Out of brick we bought from Mexico.
  68. Using cactus leaves we picked from our cactus bushes.
  69. Teaching me how to make eye contact.
  70. Teaching me how to fish in streams.
  71. Teaching me the value of a dollar.
  72. That time you joined us at Lake Sabrina for our annual fishing trip.
  73. That your brought your pocket knife.
  74. That you always have your pocket knife.
  75. That you filleted the trout we had just caught while it was still alive, introducing the kids to sushi.
  76. Building me that massive skateboard ramp.
  77. Buying me a 410-gauge shotgun when I was 14.
  78. Taking what you were given by your father, and being better to me than he was to you.