Attempting to Find
the Integral
This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category.

By
     Dressed in plaid shorts, a bright yellow shirt and an octopus hat, myfather came through the front door singing Britney Spears’ “Oops, I Did ItAgain.” Marching over to the pantry in his “Go Navy” slippers, leaving a trail ofleaves and dirt behind, he grabbed a bag of extra-salty potato chips and sat down at the computerto play a game of poker. Leaning back, he put his legs on the table and stuffed a handful of chipsinto his mouth. The crunching could be heard from my homework station in the kitchen. I looked upat him - 6'2", 200 pounds, his black hair turning white around the ears and at the back of hisneck.

“Daddy,” I said, putting down my pencil and resting my chin on my hand.He double-clicked the “Check” button on the screen, then cocked hishead.

“I’m right here,” he said, devouring another handful of potatochips.

“Daddy, Mother’s gonna get mad if she sees you eating those.” Helaughed, a deep laugh that did not require him to open his mouth, but instead resonated in histhroat and worked through his cheeks.

“Probably,” he said when he hadswallowed. Then he returned to the screen, double-clicking the “Raise” button as thecomputer flipped over his hand - an ace, king suited in spades.

I heard the computer makeclapping sounds as a virtual pile of money slid over to his seat on the screen. My father waiteduntil the next hand was dealt and clicked “Fold” on a two, five unsuited.

“How’s the calculus?” he asked, a slight flicker of mockery in his voice.My father, the kind of man who thinks in cosine waves and uses the magic number e to define God innature, often found humor in my pain when it came to all-night derivative sessions, but alwaysoffered to help when I was near tears.

“It’s fine, Daddy,” I said. Hepatted me on the back, then gently kissed the top of my head.

“I love you, SweetPea,” he said.

My mother often says I get my sense of style from my father. He lookedawkwardly put together that night in his plaid shorts and bright yellow shirt (ripped up the rightseam). He rarely wears shoes, unless he’s going to work, and instead prefers his slippers.The octopus hat rested next to the keyboard, its purple legs spread out as the bobble eyes hunglimp to one side. This was one of his milder ensembles. One time he came to pick me up fromgymnastics in cycling shorts, a dress shirt, a cowboy hat and biking cleats with knee-high Santasocks. It would have been okay except that the biking shorts had a couple of holes.

Unlikemost children, such outrageous behavior from my father never bothered me much. My father iseccentric, as is everyone in my family. He’s smart and witty, and good at what he does. Hewas an all-American sailor, competed in the Olympic trials twice, and is an ex-Marine helicopterpilot. He was born in New York City to an immigrant from the Virgin Islands and a prosperousentrepreneur from Spain. He was raised in Miami by his father and attended the Naval Academy.

And that’s about all I know about my father’s past. His childhood to me is inone picture, the only photo we have of him as a boy. In it, he’s lying on a faded couchwearing a Miami Yacht Club t-shirt that has a bleach stain on the shoulder. He’s smiling, akind of smile only my father can achieve, one that lightens his blue eyes and darkens his blackhair. And he’s holding a bag of potato chips.

From what I can gather, myfather’s childhood was not exactly picturesque. His mother came and went as she pleased witha slight alcohol problem dictating her judgment. I never met my grandfather - he died shortlybefore my parents were married - but my sister is his namesake. My mother says he was a wonderfulman. My mother says he looked like Santa Claus and bought her a camera. My mother says that if hewere still alive, he would come to every one of my gymnastics meets, track meets and fencingcompetitions. My mother says he raised my father by himself and that he meant everything to him. Myfather never mentions him.

I do not doubt any of what my mother says. I’m sure mygrandfather was a wonderful man and that he sculpted my father’s personality. I’m surethat even now, 18 years after his death, my grandfather is on my father’s mind and in hisheart. He has not been forgotten. It just simply isn’t in my father’s personality todwell on the past, even the good parts.

My father is the kind of person who lives in thepresent. But even so, he is a man to downplay his achievements, hiding them in the folds of hisjacket with a humble sort of guise. At dinner, while my mother talks of her cases and recentsettlements, and all the things that went wonderfully in the courtroom, my father will just sitthere, concealing the fact that he was promoted to general manager of the FAA systems safetydivision. He lives to hear my mother get excited, to listen to my latest rant, and to quiz mysister and her friends on the difference between poder and poner. He lives to give the waitress adollar if she can tell him the cosine of one and will gladly break out the ’80s Crip Walk tojoin me on the dance floor. My father is both generous and stingy, enjoys naps and bike rides,treasures an evening out with his family, and is never lacking for intelligentconversation. It is these things that my father lives for.

My sister and I once madea New Year’s resolution to focus on our father. We decided that we did not fully understandthe depth of his achievements and introduced the idea of Daddy Appreciation at dinner. It was metby a hearty laugh from him and an insulted look from our mother. We quickly moved onto morepressing conversations, like who was driving me to fencing practice. And that was that. Ourresolution died when my sister and I came to the quick realization that an idea such as letting ourfather bask in whatever great achievements were his was simply not in his character. This modestyis something I both admire and envy.

My father is a man of the now. He focuses on thelittle things, like warm January days, the achievement of building a deck, and the taste ofspaghetti squash in Alfredo sauce. My father is intricate and clumsy, forgetful while having theperfect memory. It is each of these characteristics that makes me appreciate and love him eventhough I do not fully understand their origin or how they were cultivated. They have becomeunimportant to me, as they are unimportant to my father. The past is in the past and it’swhat I care about that matters to him. It’s what my mother cares about, and my sister.It’s the things that make us happy, and the things that make life beautiful and complete.When it comes down to it, it’s the bag of potato chips and my calculus.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category. This piece won the September 2005 Teen Ink Nonfiction Contest.






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