My dad was a study in anger. His mood could manipulate the people around him. That’s the power of charisma for good or evil. When at his most charming, people fell around him like dominos—his easy chatter, gregariousness, affability and generosity had him winning at almost every game. He maintained his Spanish accent that under social situations, was like standing under an umbrella of warming jasmine in the night: exotic, romantic, lingering and intriguing. All fuel for the narcissism hovering around us like the constant grayness of London.
When his mood turned dark, his façade fell. You could tell as his anger evolved on his face by the somewhat surprised countenance to his visage: forehead raised, eyebrows lifted, ears back, lips somewhat thinned underneath a very trimmed, grey-white beard. Depending on how deep his anger ran, these features deepened. His forehead added some furrowing. His jaw bunched from teeth nashing a bit of a grind. His anger was colder than a walk-in freezer, and more silent than a mid-winter blizzard in Toronto. You could feel the refrigeration as soon as you entered the room. It caused a startle in your footstep. Practically, creating a misstep. A misleading smile often ghosted my dad’s mouth, lending to a false sense of security that all was well. It was not, and the stony silence that followed a clearing of the throat was a precursor to unknown days of tip-toeing throughout the house, until he could finally bring himself to lecture whomever it was that transgressed him.
In the meantime, the pages of books and magazines were crisply flipped as he sat in front of the fire place. His scrumptious dinners were prepared and brought to the table. All things he got done was in remarkable silence. Not like a gentle, peaceful, Dalai Llama silence. No, this was the silence of some bizarre power game that I never really understood. What was the point of all the drama? The stress level at home would reach a fevered pitched as the pseudo-calm carried on relentlessly. My step-mom and I actually spoke in hushed tones for several weeks during my university days. My dad would steadfastly remain emotionally stranded on Tatooine. It became untenable at points. Eventually, I came to understand that dad was simply following the well-worn, prescribed path by millions of Latino men before him: emotional blackmail. He was an expert. He manipulated us as the man of the house, despite all of his pro-women stances; he would hold his anger, proudly creating fear, under the delusion that fear meant respect.
Maybe, if we were a gang. Or members of a drug cartel. Or the Mafia.
©April 2019, Isabel Alvear