The Most Important Things

“He lay there holding her. It had been hours on a rainy Sunday afternoon in February, and as the hours passed so did the sunlight that peaked through the cracks of the blinds in their bedroom. He did not move from his spot beside her even as darkness filled the house. The minutes passed, evening came, and he did not turn on the light. He only watched her chest rise as it filled with air and she exhaled. And he held her tightly.”


Initially, I hoped to use these lines above in a short story about the most important things in life; not money, possessions, frivolous things that come and go, but people and the relationships we form with them. I think the lines suffice as they are.

I watch many films. Two of the most recent I’ve seen, Dunkirk and Darkest Hour, are complements to each other. Both films tell the story of Europe in World War II as Nazi Germany ran over the continent with an ease that borders on unimaginable now in 2018. With the U.S. choosing not to intervene until that point in the war, the United Kingdom was under imminent threat with the majority of its military stranded on Dunkirk beach in northern France. In the end, more than 330,000 soldiers were rescued by a fleet of civilian ships. While the war turned later, tens of millions of young men were dead by the time peace returned in 1945.

I have been thinking about those times, and how fortunate I am to live a peaceful life. It is easy as Westerners living in the 21st century to be lulled into deceptive comfort. But, even in its deceptiveness, many of our lives remain a relief compared to the hard ones lived by those in generations past. I think of the many young men who gave their lives to war and it makes me truly sad.

Oftentimes, I place so much value in things that are, ultimately, unimportant. In the face of death, illness or the many other ways tragedy transcends into our daily experiences, these things are insignificant. What is a new iPhone, an expensive suit, a home in the suburbs compared to people? I imagine the millions who die prematurely in war would give anything to spend a final moment in the arms of their lovers, at a table eating dinner with their family, or telling jokes at a bar with their friends. Yet it seems so often we overlook these most valuable relationships in our pursuit of other, lesser things.

The scene described above is an image of two lovers. It does not matter their location, ethnicity, age. It is what I imagine when I think of an important moment. It is moments like these that I will cherish above any possession, and that I hope to remind myself of when my mind grows tired from unfulfilled longings for what is ultimately fleeting and superfluous.

My Dad and the Soccer Ball

I’ll always remember the ball,
bouncing up and down on his foot
in the park behind our house.
Those days he danced to the beat of Copa Mundiales.

My brother and I squealed,
“Kick it up in the air, Dad!”
He’d bounce it two or three more times, then kick it high above his head,
maybe forty feet in the air.
With our eyes glued to the ball, we chased until it landed in front of our feet.
We grabbed it with our hands like American boys,
then brought it back to watch him do it again.

In school, I told everyone my dad would’ve played with Maradona
if he didn’t quit Newell’s Old Boys.
Eran otros tiempos, he told me when I asked why.
Small town boys near the campo wanted to go fishing after school,
not take two buses to Rosario.
They played because it was fun to bounce the ball.

I wanted to be like him.
The immigrant plumber who worked 14-hour shifts
in dusty Newark basements
for Portuguese men who didn’t know he looked like Maradona once.
Like Maradona in the old videos I watch on YouTube.
Smiling wide with the ball bouncing, bouncing.

For years he trained me between work shifts at 16th street,
playing with middle-aged Arabs and Mexicans.
Hours we spent in that park, where he bounced the ball,
and he’d say, “I want it right here, hit it here,” and we’d stay there
until I did it right.
I wanted to bounce the ball like he did,
con amor like a lover, not like the English do.
“You must treat the ball with respect,” he told me.
I didn’t know what it meant then.

I’ve heard it said: Argentineans are born with the ball at their feet.
I don’t know if that’s true.
But I know my earliest memories were of him with the ball at his feet.
And the picture that still sits 26 years later
on a shelf he built in my old bedroom,
is evidence that maybe my story was different:
Maybe I was born with the ball in my hands.
Maybe I brought it to him, pleading:
“Dad, dad—do it again. Kick it high for me.”


I’m not sure why I got the urge to write about my dad this week. I probably saw someone post a photo online of them with their parents and it made me think of this picture. He’s on my mind a lot these days as I coach a soccer team for the first time. The way I act on the sidelines, and the things I tell my girls, remind me of him when he was at my travel team practices as a kid.

For years, I thought my dad was probably the best soccer player in the world who wasn’t famous. In high school and college, when I played with the old immigrants guys at 16th street park they’d always tell me to invite my dad. He’d never come, though. He’s an old, rickety plumber with tendonitis who smokes way too much for his own good.

When I was younger, he’d throw himself into some of my practices and marvel the kids with his moves. There was a jerk on one of my teams who was the best player on the team—the coach’s son—and he’d often try to embarrass the younger players like me. My dad, noticing this, asked the coach if he could run his own drill: a 2v2 mini-tournament. He volunteered to play with me, and suggested coach and son play together. My dad made the poor fella look so foolish that he ripped off his jersey and complained how it wasn’t fair. I’ll never forget my dad telling him in broken English: “The way I just made you feel is the way you make these boys feel every practice. If you don’t like it, stop doing it to them or I’ll keep doing it to you.”

That’s the kind of man my dad is. He’s a hard-nosed guy, but he tries to be fair—to an excruciating extent, oftentimes, for me. He never gave me an inch as a soccer player or as a son. He worked ridiculous hours for not enough money. If I made a mistake or was lazy, it was disrespecting him and the time he dedicated to me. It’s no surprise, then, that I’m such a perfectionist now.

My dad and I have rarely seen eye-to-eye on anything throughout the years. But, I know I wouldn’t be the man I am without him in my life; without those times he’d wake me up at 6 a.m. to go and work plumbing jobs with him when I was 14, and really I just wanted to go out and play with my friends on Saturday. After work, we’d go to a Portuguese restaurant in Newark sometimes and have the best meals while watching soccer games. It was his way of telling me: “I know you hate this, but I need you. I’m trying my best to teach you something. You’ll appreciate this one day.”

I have many more stories about my dad, and lessons I’ve learned from him. But, it’s not even Father’s Day, and I’m rambling. I feel very fortunate to still have this picture of him, though. It’s almost crazy to think it’s been in the same spot for more than two decades. I’ll never forget it, or the hundreds of days we spent together at parks kicking around a soccer ball together.