I met him late one night. It was dark and I couldn’t make out much of the details of his face, except for a furrowed brow as he worked under the hood of my Jeep. I offered kind words of thanks, but he acted like he barely heard me. When he was done, he gave his daughter a sweet kiss on the forehead and glared back at me with an I-know-what-your-intentions-are-with-my-little-girl look.
I was mortified, but he wasn’t wrong.
Not too long after, we became fast friends. We had a shared love for boxers, Santana, power tools, and milkshakes. We had so much in common that he began calling me junior. But like my nickname, I was always inferior to his every move. He beat me at Scrabble, at poker, at video games, at the punch line to my own jokes. He beat me at Monopoly, at building shoe racks and at painting walls. He exhausted me and riled me up at the same time. And right when I was ready to ring his neck, he’d look at me with kind eyes and say incredibly tender things like how lucky he was to have two daughters.
He wasn’t wrong, but I was lucky too.
For a little while, I too had two dads. One, clean-shaved cerebral puritan, the other a loud potty-mouth fur ball. One a musician, the other a philosopher. One couldn’t agree to disagree, the other (very literally) built a space for me in his home. But like parallel lines, they were never destined to meet. Until today.
Jose Angel “Tati” Garcia had the most extraordinary heart. Although his doctors would disagree, it was a perfect organ. He loved loosely with it. He felt intensely with it. He fired off quips with it. He, at times, told you to go fuck yourself with it, too. His heart came through his boombox of a laugh and his suffocating bear hugs. His heart came through when he would grant you mercy during a wrestling bout or a tickle fight or while biting your finger for no apparent reason. You would feel his heart skip a beat whenever he was with his wife and his heart burst with pride when he was with his daughter.
Tati was born with a heart defect, sliced open and miraculously saved as a baby. His heart withstood being raised by a single, young mother, while his dad, a political prisoner, rotted in a Castro jail. As a teen, his heart ripped when he was separated from everything he knew and sent to Spain by way of the infamous Peter Pan operation. Then, it was mended when he was reunited with his mother in Miami. Decades later he healed some of those scars when he was reunited with his father. He lived his life taking care of both of them and making sure they had everything they needed.
His heart grew exponentially when he met his match. He knew instantly that this would be the woman he would marry, so he did, quickly, not to waste anymore time. Together they had exactly one baby and became a 3-person unit. At times finishing each other’s sentences and laughing at inside jokes that were so inside a look would be suffice to set them off. He gave up trying to teach his daughter how to play tennis, so he took up learning how to dye her hair. And when it was time for his wife’s office Christmas parties, he was sure to bring his signature John Travolta moves. In every way he could, he spoiled them the only way he knew how – with his love.
He was beloved, not just by his parents and his wife and daughter, but by his co-workers. For many years he worked maintenance for City National Bank. He woke up every day before the sun, put on a blue collar button-down shirt with his name sewn over the left pocket and his navy Dickies. He filled his days not only with the mundane things of his responsibilities, but also with making sure that the entire office had everything they needed. Most of the time that included unsolicited advice. He was the office counselor, psychic, conflict mediator (sometimes creator), gossiper, HR manual expert, and go-to person for a good laugh. He truly was a Jose-of-all-trades.
Tati succumbed to his heart and heart-related injuries very early this morning. He is survived by his mom, his step-dad and his dad, as well as his wife, his daughter and his daughter’s wife. All of whom have the impossible task of going through our remaining days with now only the memory of this incredibly loving man.