Around 14yrs. old, peer pressure prevailed in my father’s youth. The gang he so admired decided that the brotherhood could only be strengthen by the ultimate permeant act of solidarity. A common tattoo. Unanimously they decided it would be an eagle, strategically placed on the inner left forearm. Naive, and not the case, typically the chosen location by heroin addicts to hide tracks. Dad was bullied in being the first to enter the tattoo pallor, along with assurances all would follow for their turn at the needle and ink after him. Dad’s recollection of the ordeal to me was graphic, and at a young age I knew I would never do to my skin what has become the 21st century common place; some in efforts to appear unique, express art, claim gang affiliation, tell life stories, express loss, or identify with an ancient culture.
Story telling involved dramatic body language as Dad described the pain and blood being wiped away as the colored ink was forced permanently deep. What seemed like forever, this boy yelled out, revealing he was far less macho, if at all, than the zoot suit persona each hoped to convey. The sounds scared his homies in the waiting area out of their commitment.
Nando, wiping away his tears before emerging from the inking room, to find no brotherhood. All alone, hiding his rite of passage as he entered his mama’s kitchen. Mothers always know when something is up. Grandma confronted him with questions, not waiting for his denial, she grab his shirt arm and revealed the scar of adolescence. Yelling different Spanish curse words, like Qué chingados es eso?! and wooden spoon whaling, she beat fear into my father. Years later as he told me the story, he shared deep gratitude for his mother and her rage. “As little as grandma is, I feared her”. “That fear kept me from straying too far from good”.
How different my father’s life might had been “if” when he emerged from the inking room into the pallor all his buddies stayed and fulfilled their tattoo pact. He might of been one of those tragic endings, many as criminals spending their lives in jail, some died a very early death, he was so grateful to have escaped.
Dad painted homes for a living. When Julie and I were small Dad would come home tired from work. We would tackle him, then he would lye on the floor. The two of us would crawl around him like little monkeys, slowly pulling the dried paint speckles from his hairy arms as he grimaced with his eyes shut tight. Mom would be preparing dinner. Then when we would couldn’t find anymore that would easily peal off, or he couldn’t take the pulling pain any longer, we would cuddle in the crooks of his arms. I often managed to end up on his left side, gazing and touching his forever eagle, that would then wrap it’s wings around me. Dad would end the cuddle session as he’d kiss us gently on each eyelid several times. I never would have guessed I would feel this way, but I so wished I would have taken a photo of his tattoo before he passed.