“This is not right,” my dad mumbled to himself as we left the nursing home.
“What happened?” I asked.
My dad was in deep thought as he started the car. He was visibly upset, and out of concern, I wanted to be included in the conversation that was happening in his mind.
“Nobody visits him. His family left him here. He’s alone. Nobody deserves to die like this,” he explained.
It was 2007 and he was talking about his former boss, El Pelón. I honestly don’t know what his real name was. He called him El Pelón because he was bald and everyone understood it as a term of endearment.
We had just visited El Pelón at a nursing home, and knowing he was there — lonely, aging, and dying — upset my dad. El Pelón was more than just a former boss to my dad; he was a patron who my dad saw as a friend. They went way back.
In 1982 I was two-years-old, maybe three, when El Pelón singled out my dad among the droves of Mexican immigrant factory workers at the factory. El Pelón surprised him with a pencil and a calculator one day and put him in charge of a small team on the assembly line. The last time my dad had held a calculator before that was never.
El Pelón wasn’t too concerned about my dad’s lack of education or experience and gave my dad as much direction as his cheap course in Spanish afforded him to.
My dad’s initial response was to try to decline the promotion for fear of failure. In broken English, he tried to explain his many limitations, but the language barrier was so bad that El Pelón thought he was just excited about the promotion.
Fortunately, everything worked out because my dad was so scared to mess up and let his patron down that he quickly learned to ask for help or delegate tasks to ensure the work was done right and on time.
El Pelón was also very patient. He introduced my dad to the important managerial tasks that he needed to complete to ensure quality and to comply with policies. He wasn’t worried when my dad responded to new things with blank stares or panicked expressions. He simply repeated instructions until my dad got the hang of things. El Pelón guided him as much as he could with his limited Spanish. My dad did his best to ask for help with his broken English. They both used hand gestures and facial expressions to fill in the gaps where they could.
About a year into the job, my dad was called into El Pelón’s office for an important meeting. My dad quickly realized that something was wrong. El Pelón was not his usual joyful self.
My dad wondered if he had made a mistake or caused some sort of problem and upset El Pelón.
He was shocked to hear that El Pelón was offering him a promotion. But why isn’t he smiling? My dad wondered. Why the long face?
"Loyal employees are not lemons. You do not squeeze the juice and then throw them away".
Before my dad could ask his questions out loud, El Pelón answered them. It turns out the promotion came with a relocation package. My dad was being offered this new opportunity with a bonus and a salary increase if he would agree to pack up his family and relocate to the Midwest. The factory was being shut down and all manufacturing would be moved to a new location. They were willing to pay top dollar to retain their best talent.
It was a great opportunity for my dad. It was more money than he ever thought he could make with a first-grade education.
El Pelón encouraged my dad to go.
“And are you going, too?” my father asked.
El Pelón explained that unfortunately, he would be taking a severance package instead. Relocating was not the best move for him because he had a home, grown children, and grandchildren to consider. It did not make sense to leave so much behind.
My dad turned down the promotion and decided to take the severance package too. After the factory relocated, my dad worked in construction jobs for El Pelón’s son, Keith, until Keith died in 1991.
Over the years, as El Pelón aged, my dad kept tabs on him, dropping off groceries and running errands from time to time. They never lost touch. The last time we visited El Pelón at the nursing home, I understood why my dad decided not to take the relocation package back in the eighties; even though we didn’t have anything to lose and could have easily moved, it did not make sense for him to leave so much behind either.