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Tribute to my father - David D. Medina

When I was little in elementary school, I sincerely believed that my father knew everything. I could ask him any question, I thought, and he would have the answer. What he said was the undeniable truth, and I lived by his words. I was in awe of him, and I believed that no human being could possibly know more than my father. It wasn’t until middle school that I came to the frightful conclusion that my father was fallible. I was not disappointed but saddened, saddened that my father was not the king of knowledge. Despite that realization, he was still the one person I looked up to.

As I grew older, I began to admire his other qualities: his unbending work-ethic, his love for his family and friends, and his joy of life. I also enjoyed his gift of story-telling. Later in life, when he was struck by Parkinson’s disease and was limited to sitting in an armchair, he loved to tell me stories about his past. And this is what I learned from him.

He was born Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, 1926, in Hualahuises, a small town in the state of Nuevo Leon, Mexico, and grew up on a ranch called Los Becerros, which translates to the Calves. He was given the name of Francisco Javier Medina Gutierrez, but to his relatives and close friends, he was known as Pancho. He lived with his 11 siblings in a big house with no running water and no electricity. They went to sleep early, got up early and bathed in the river.

My dad attended a small elementary school in the country with his brothers and sisters. At that school, his oldest brother fell in love with the teacher, and got my father to deliver a love letter to her. My father, probably no more than 10 years old, rode his horse from the ranch to Hualahuises, a stretch of several miles, to hand-deliver his brother’s declaration of love to an older woman. My father said the teacher found the letter amusing but did not reciprocate.

Having reached the highest grade that the school offered, my father was sent to the big city of Monterrey to continue with his education. He started in the sixth grade, but was so ill-prepared that he was demoted to the third grade. Discouraged with his educational shortcomings, he decided to return to the ranch and help his father.

His father died at the relatively young age of 50. My dad’s mother, my grandmother, was left with the Herculean task of raising 12 children, and she did an excellent job as all her offsprings turned out to be outstanding human beings.

My father joined the military and was chosen to be a chauffeur for a general in Mexico City. After he left the military, he became a bus driver and took passengers almost every day from Linares to Monterrey and back. The bus made frequent stops at roadside stores and restaurants and ranches. On one of those stops, in Cabezones, he met hia future wife, Lucila, my mother, and immediately fell in love with her. Every time he went by Cabezones he would stop and give her a gift.

He then ventured north to seek his fortune. He entered the United States through the Bracero guest worker program in the 1950s. He landed his first job in the Texas Valley, tilling soil with a tractor at night. He said he got the job because no one else wanted to work all night long. He then moved with his wife, Lucila, and their first-born, Francisco, to San Antonio, where he managed to get a job driving a tractor trailer for a little more than a year.

Just a few months after I was born, the family moved to Houston so that he could become a bricklayer. We lived in the Second Ward, which then was a neighborhood full of Mexican immigrants. He became such a good bricklayer that he started his own construction company and made enough money to build his own house and put his five children through college.

When my dad retired at the age of 64, he decided he wanted to get his high school diploma and pursued his GED at Houston Community College. I still remember when he used to do his English homework and would recruit his grandchildren to help him answer the tedious grammar questions.

As you can see my father was the embodiment of the American Dream. He came here with the desire to improve himself and his family. But he also helped others. Our house was always full of relatives and friends from Mexico, some who came to live with us for a brief period while they worked for my father. My father was a generous, kind man, who was charming and charismatic and was loved by all his relatives, especially by his grandchildren and his hundreds of nephews and nieces.

Throughout our conversations, he would always tell me that he was ready to reunite with his wife because he missed her dearly. He is now with her, and we on this earth are happy for them to be together again.

My dad may not have known everything, but he knew what was important in life. He knew that the love for his family was supreme. And I loved him for loving us so much.

My father died Feb. 19, five days after his 97th birthday.


David D. Medina is director of Multicultural Community Relations at Rice University. Medina also writes feature stories for the award-winning Rice University magazine and edits the newsletter Rice At Large. As director, he works at enhancing relationships between minority communities and Rice. He has worked as a reporter for the Austin-American Statesman, the Dallas Times Herald, the Houston Post, The Wall Street Journal and Newsweek magazine. Medina received a B.A. in Spanish from Drake University, an M.A. in Spanish from Rice University, and an M.A. from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

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