Last Thursday in Albuquerque I woke up for my Masters Swimming session at the usual early hour of 5:15 to find a message from a cousin on my biological father’s side of the family tree. It plainly said, “Hey Buddy, I know it has been a long while and I just wanted to share some news with you. I know my cousin hasn’t been in your life and I know you shared with me that John was your dad. And I wanted you to know he passed away.” I was not at all close to John, and I only interacted with him a handful of times in my life. All of those times belonged to the few years after I graduated from High School. I was shocked to hear the news, but thankful my cousin reached out to me. Some of you might remember that I lost a close family friend in December of 2013. Bill was my physical father. He was everything a parent should be, and more. I was loved and supported in all my academic, athletic and musical goals while growing up in Leadville. He and my mother, Jeanne, raised me together as friends. Yes, it was very atypical, but entirely functional. It took me some time to mourn and move away from some sadness when Bill was suddenly taken by long unnoticed pancreatic cancer. And now 18 months later I find that I have now lost a complete father in two parts, the physical and biological.
John was 55 years young and died in quite a tragic way. I was not upset the same way I was for Bill’s passing. I was however affected by the shear tragedy of the event and that some of the baggage I laid to rest regarding his side of the gene pool resurfaced. It was that life long argument I ponder, which concerns John. What is family? The people who love you, support you, and guide you unconditionally? or pure blood? And wherein lies my responsibility to either definition of family?
It took 18 years for John to introduce himself to me. My mother and him dated in the 80s, and I came along one summer. From my mother’s telling, she was unwilling to raise a child and raise John as well. So she told him that he was welcome to come and be father whenever he was ready for the responsibility. He never made it back. I can in part, understand why. He battled life long addictions and demons. They tormented him and periodically controlled him. From the bystander’s perspective he probably just seemed like a waste of potential and talent. He was a phenomenal athlete, and after winning state cross country in 1977 with a low 15 minute 5k he went to Adams State College for two years. Several factors including having my older half brother lead him to drop out and return to Leadville.
After speaking to another cousin this week from the Martinez side, who oddly enough ran for the University of Wyoming, I gained a little more perspective. (You’ll end up with a lot of cousins when you are part of a large hispanic family in a rural Colorado town.) He told me that John expressed a few years ago how proud he was of me, and he wished he could have been a true father. I think the person I became, and all of John’s regrets relating to me tormented him. I often wondered in recent years how much of his regret tied to me held him down low enough for the demons to keep hold. He went on to tell me that John was at heart a very wonderful man with good intentions and a charm that everyone loved; which is a strong Martinez family trait.
But now back to my life long question of what roll am I required to take with a whole family that is only a blood relation. This man denied, and hid my existence from his family for most of my life. I have a grandmother that only recently discovered I belong to her family. I have a half brother who was furious at John for hiding a sibling from him. And is eager to forge a brotherly relationship to heal wounds from his own dubious relationship with our father. So, do I attend the funeral services? What is the right thing to do?
The last time I saw John was maybe three years ago. Bill, my Mother and I were walking down the street in Leadville and we bumped into him coming down the sidewalk the opposite way.(Another example of the small town factor to this story). They stepped into the restaurant we were headed to, and I spent a few moments outside with John. He seemed down as we shared a some awkward platitudes. Then we went our separate ways. I don't even know if there exists a picture of us together.
I thought hard over what to do this entire week. I started a new and rewarding position at work that has been taking up so much of my energy and time. I had a trip booked to race here in New York City this weekend in probably the most competitive professional non draft legal olympic distance triathlon in the nation this year. His Funeral is going on right now I as I fly over some neatly squared off farm land. Say what you will, but this is the right decision for me. I will race for John this weekend to honor him and the athletic gifts he passed on to me.
Thanks for reading,
Alex (John Alexander Martinez)
William (William Hugh MacFaden)
Willis (Jeanne Marie Willis)