The Art of Being My Dad
My dad was born into poverty in the tiny seaside village of Agat, Guam, in 1952. His mom died when he was a child, and he never knew his dad.
He was raised by his uncle’s family in another small village, Piti, after being separated from his brothers and sisters.
So he grew up without parents, pained by the fact that his father was never there for him, tormented by helplessness as his family was split up.
But he overcame his poverty and struggles with his artistic talent and intelligence and passion for life. He went on to get a college degree, out of a family that never had a college education. Then he got a Masters of Fine Arts from San Francisco State University, and became a professor of fine arts at the University of Guam.
My dad worked hard to overcome poverty, and I think he became a great artist, the finest Guam has ever seen. He offered a perspective on being an islander from a homeland that is still colonized to this day, and inspired a generation of young artists.
He taught for 24 years at UOG, touching hundreds of young lives, artists who went on to create amazing things in their own right. He befriended the entire community of artists on Guam, and had many beloved friends.
Jose Babauta (usually known as “Joe”) was also the father of seven kids — me and my two sisters from our mom, Shannon, and another beautiful daughter and three fairly good-looking sons from their mom, Doris. He considered us all his finest creations as an artist.
He was an imperfect father, but so am I. He had his moments of anger, but many more moments of joy, of love, of laughter, of inappropriate jokes and endless puns.
My dad gave us a sense of humor that helps us to deal with his death. We have been crying a lot in the last two weeks, but we’ve also been telling a lot of jokes, laughing at memories of him, remembering fondly the times he sang to us with his guitar and gentle voice, laughing again at the silly things he used to do.
He was an imperfect man, but one of passion, of philosophy, of music, and above all, a man who loved his family and his art. He struggled with addictions and illnesses, with the pain of a lost mother and siblings who had a hard life, with the immense pain of being abandoned by his father. He struggled with all of that, and I loved him for it.
He got sick while visiting us here in California, his first trip out here from Guam in the last 25 years. I’m so glad he visited us, and got to play with his grandkids, to see a couple of his brothers and sisters (there were eight of them in total) for the first time in years. I’m so sorry he got sick while he was here, but I’m glad I saw him and told him I loved him, and showed him some art in San Francisco.
His illness turned from bronchitis to pneumonia to septic shock to complete failure of multiple organs. He was in the hospital for more than 10 days, and his illness brought together not only all his seven kids at his side, but all of his family across state borders and oceans. He would have loved that.
My dad, Jose Babauta, died last night at the too-young age of 62. He is loved deeply by all of us — his brothers and sisters, cousins and nephews and nieces, his kids (Leo, Kat, Ana, Tiara, Joe, Brandon, Austin), his grandkids (Chloe, Justin, Samantha, Rain, Maia, Isabella, Lennon, Seth, Noelle, Caillie, and one on the way), his countless friends.
He was an amazing artist, a loving dad. And he will be missed.