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A Tribute to My Dad

Updated: Sep 17, 2019

In June 2019, I was assigned to compose the most difficult piece I’ve ever been requested to write – my dad’s obituary. While I managed to put together a nice tribute to his life, there is only so much you can properly portray in 20 short lines of text. And so, here is the written tribute that my dad deserves.

Born March 31, 1948 in Brooklyn, New York, Robert Michael Villoria, age 71, died June 13, 2019 in his home in Las Vegas after battling cancer for the second time.

A hopeless romantic and an uncontrollably, blind optimist. He’d regularly joke that even the slightest heartfelt commercial would send him reaching for a Kleenex. We’d always joke that when it came to Father’s Day cards there was an unstated rule that the goal was to see how many tears I could cause to him to shed - happy ones of course. His optimism was not only infectious and inspiring, it was, at times, infuriating. Whether it be health dangers, financial issues or everyday aggravations, regardless of how bad things would get, he would always crack jokes, discover a reason to smile and find a positive spin, choosing to talk of nothing but how great things would be afterward.

He was brave. Once a Marine, always a Marine, he would say. But his bravery went so much deeper than his willingness to face danger when needed. He’d be brave for others, even when it wasn’t needed. Whether it was for mom while she was struggling to recover from an intense surgery or for me when I’d become scared of a struggle in life or a diagnosis. It was in these moments of our weakness or intimidation that he would provide us the bravery we needed to face the challenge, and the optimism to push through it.

He was a protector. He would always say that if anyone ever messed with his wife or his kids, we better get ready to visit him in jail. A bit intense, maybe, but we knew it was all out of protective love. If there was an issue that he knew was cause for concern, he would do his best to protect us from the truth, shelter us from the harm it might cause, and would take the brunt of the worry to try solve it without causing alarm. Whether necessary or not, he made it his role to shoulder the burdens of life so that others wouldn’t have to.

He was not perfect, nobody is, but he tried his best and did everything within his ability, to do the right thing and do what he believed was best. His flaws were never malicious, and his insecurities were rooted from his perception of what people would think of him. He was a man of adamant perseverance and reputation.

He was beyond proud of his Castilian Spanish and English heritage.

He lived by the concept of doing what you love and enjoying the best things life had to offer. A page from the optimistic chapter of his behavior. He believed that laughter was the best medicine and made it a mission to crack jokes and act goofy to cause others to laugh. He had humorous antics that he relied on to solicit a laugh from others, like jumping and acting spooked anytime he walked by a mirror, making up silly phrases or names and using them in conversation to lighten the mood. My favorites were; the phrase he’d made up when I was little, which would ultimately lead to a tickle fight: ‘Wahashonie Bufanoobie Hachi Hachi Hachi Hachi’, ‘Myrion Gumbuddy’, a nickname he made up as a boy, and ‘Hypatushonary Agaflew for Mediocre Acklatch Number 3’, a made up product we would ask for at the store to see if store managers would ever admit to not knowing what something is – (they wouldn’t, they’d usually tell us they were out of stock, or that it was being ordered).

He enjoyed the luxuries in life. Spending weekends during the summer sleeping over on our boat and beaching for the weekend to enjoy barbecuing, swimming and soaking up the sun. Coppertone sun tan lotion was the staple smell of the summer, growing up. He enjoyed driving with the top down on the corvette at night to enjoy the city lights. He appreciated the feeling of a freshly laundered rayon button up shirt. And he relished in the opportunity to enjoy an afternoon Starbucks – an iced decaf non-fat skinny hazelnut latte, to be exact.

He was an opportunist and entrepreneur. When it came to taking the leap of faith he never hesitated to jump. Sometimes he’d stick the landing and other times he’d miss completely, but regardless of the end result it never stopped him from taking the next leap, and doing so with all his enthusiasm.

With all in life that he’d accomplished, seen and experienced, there was nothing that brought a smile to his face more than his kids. He was the proudest of proud parents for every accomplishment big or small and was their biggest supporter, whether outright or more privately.

He served in the U.S. Marine Corps, volunteering for two tours in the Vietnam War.

He shared many of the fun and comical stories from his time during boot camp. Like the time he accidently tripped during a pugil stick drill and perfectly laid out his opponent, or when he let his drill instructor know he couldn’t swim, and as his drill instructor began climbing the ladder of the diving board toward him and threatening his life, my dad found the motivation and dove into the pool with all his gear and began swimming lap after lap. He was a small guy and in great shape. He enjoyed running, and as a result, was hated by his fellow boot camp recruits on training days that involved the cardio. He would be put in charge of holding the flag at the front of the lineup for their runs and since he didn’t easily tire out, the drill instructor would ask my dad if he thought he could do another lap, to which he’d always respond ‘Yes, sir,’ and thus the group would have to keep running.

He shared a handful of stories that were the lighthearted moments in the service. Like the time he won a large bet in poker just as rockets started to fly into their camp, and before anyone had a chance to jump up and grab their gear he yelled out ‘don’t anyone move!’ then threw his hand down and grabbed the pot from the center of the table.

As far as the details of his two tours, he kept much of his service to himself. We knew he enlisted with two friends and that he was stationed in Chu Lai, Vietnam. We were told of his experience as a jet refueler and the times he’d have to race the refueler tanks around the runways during raids in an attempt to prevent them from being hit. We knew he served with the 1st Marine Air Wing. We knew he volunteered as a helicopter gunner and on one mission had his plane shot down, the pilot didn’t make it, that’s all we know of the story. The details were left in Vietnam, but some of the effects came with him. We came to know how much he hated the sound of certain fireworks. How, once, the sound of a car backfiring sent him diving into the bushes when he returned to civilian life. And we knew that whenever a Huey helicopter flew overhead he’d close his eyes and smile, saying ‘I love that sound. It’s the sound of safety.’

Although he was pretty private about his time serving in Vietnam, there was no doubt he was a very proud Marine. He loved seeing Marines in their dress blues. He would tear up at the sound of The Marines' Hymn, there was no excuse for not following flag etiquette, and it was a requirement that every vehicle he owned have a Marine Corps. sticker displayed on the bumper.

He may have been a Marine, but when it came to sports, my dad did not fit the male stereotype. He wasn’t a huge fan of football, though when he lived in Northern Nevada, he enjoyed watching the 49ers obtain Kaepernick from UNR, and he would enjoy hearing about the Patriots’ wins since my husband and I were fans. He wasn’t a fan of rowdy crowds or screaming during games. When Las Vegas got the NHL expansion and my husband and I got season tickets, he took interest in hockey and would always request updates during each game and would watch the games on tv whenever possible. He’d enjoy coming over to our house during any hockey game and having my husband explain the different calls or penalties. He never followed basketball, claiming he tried to play once but his height allowed the other players to dribble him down the court.

He enjoyed baseball. In 1998, after having undergone a complete resection after a stage four colon cancer diagnosis, leave it to my dad to find the positive spin, that weeks of required recovery on the couch meant he could watch the entire Championships and World Series.

His favorite sport however, was tennis. He’d played most of his life. He taught me and gave lessons from the time I was four-years-old and would come to every one of my tennis matches that he could make it to. Growing up, though he was always ready to play a match, it was more frustrating than fun playing against him due to the fact that all he would do is hit slices. I’d always tell him to just hit the ball with a normal groundstroke so I could hit it back and we could rally, and he’d tell me that was “his shot” and I’d just need to run faster and learn to read the ball. While frustrating then, it makes me smile now, because somewhere between high school and college, my game acquired the slice, and now I find that I have adopted “his shot” and continuously resort back to it.

As an enthusiast of the great outdoors, whenever I’d go hiking I would send my dad photos from the hike. Then, in July, 2017 we took my dad hiking with us at Mt. Charleston. The hike was full of memories. It included more rest stops than usual, my dad tripped and tumbled while trying to catch a grasshopper, he learned first-hand why the plant is called stinging nettle, he had a butterfly land on his finger, and we drank from the crystal-clear waterfall at the end of the trail. He let me know how much he enjoyed the trip, and that it was only the second time in his life that he had gone hiking. The first being a hike with a friend from school when he was a boy living in Arizona.

My dad was the embodiment of a storyteller. If he were to be remembered with only one phrase, it could easily be; “Forgive me if I’ve told you this one before.”

Every conversation ended in a story, and nearly every daily outing resulted in a story idea. He loved fiction and the ability to rewrite reality to however he’d see fit for his current mood.

He loved writing. A cathartic practice that many times kept him up until four in the morning. On more than one occasion his 4 A.M. writing sessions would end with him waking my mom to tell her of a great story idea he had been working on, which would immediately terrify her and send her retreating under the covers.

He’d worked on a number of stories over the years and even received positive feedback from publishers at times, but it wasn’t until 2015 that he gathered his stories and put them together in a short story compilation, eventually publishing two short story collections that made him beam with satisfaction and made me proud to see him accomplish.

He passed on his excitement for horror fiction to me. A bond that would allow us to share ideas and chilling concepts wherever we saw inspiration; the isle of a grocery store, a back patio overlooking a storm, or the hallways of a hospital. We’d relay spooky tales or concepts and give feedback for alternate endings and plot twists.

When it came to writing, his personality was one either appreciated or questioned. And while his fictitious characters often found themselves in all sorts of messes, he hated getting his hands dirty. After initially serving as a mechanic in the Marines, he hated grease. But he enjoyed playing in the dirt, with gloves on at least.

He cultivated a passion for gardening. It began with flowers, rose bushes in particular. Over the years this transformed into a 20-foot strawberry patch and a couple cherry trees and before long, each new home moved into required ample backyard space for an extended vegetable and herb garden, which, at times produced tomatoes the size of softballs and squash that weighed upward of 15 pounds. A year-round salad garden and natural spice rack became a staple in the backyard.

After moving into an apartment in Las Vegas, what started as a modest potted plant on the patio ledge became an approved request from property management, over a dozen medium-sized nursery containers of a variety of vegetables, herbs, fruits and of course, an abundance of flowers. He gained the garden envy of neighboring tenants and they would offer to pay for materials for the garden to transform into a community garden.

Continuing with his tradition of sharing his passions with family. It is no surprise that both my mom and I continue to add to our gardens and planter boxes knowing full well that we have him to thank for our green-thumb obsession, and then there’s the shared love of music...

When it comes to music, there are two types of people in the world; those who can’t find a rhythm to the most simplistic upbeat songs, and those will keep a beat going to a lawn mower. My dad was the later.

Music was in his blood. Having taught himself to play the guitar as a young boy, my dad used music and song writing as a way to work through difficult or emotional times. When he left the service, his first voyage in civilian life was moving to Lake Tahoe and, among taking a job at the Sahara Casino, he headed to the Brockway Hotel where he played guitar and sang songs, many of which were his favorite John Denver songs.

Growing up, there was no doubt that the stereo would be on from morning until evening playing out his favorite classic rock, guitar instrumentals, country songs or movie soundtracks…my dad loved his soundtracks. (Ironically his preference of movies were often times concerts, and his preference of music was often times soundtracks). At times it was almost comical to what movie tunes you’d be greeted with upon walking in the door, would it be the upbeat musical numbers from “Mama Mia” or “Rent” or the dramatic somber tones from “Gladiator?” You never knew. With continuous music playing out, came his funky dance moves as he’d walk around with a continuous bounce in his step, from room to room to the rhythm of the music.

Growing up my dad would frequently spend an evening or afternoon playing his guitar. Often times, he’d make it a point to play “Grandma’s Feather Bed” or “Puff the Magic Dragon” and we’d sing the songs over and over until his hands needed a rest.

His hobbies were simple pleasures, and his personality and compassion were as unique as he was.

And while he enjoyed his pastimes and indulgences, throughout my life my dad was consistent on one thing, and that was his purpose in life. Swearing that he was put on this earth for two reasons; to be a husband and to be a father. Everything else was trivial. Despite his imperfections or shortcomings, he did everything in his power to ensure he was favorable at both.

A fighter to the end. Demanding things be done on his own terms. Stage four cancer be damned, there were no tear-filled days or woe-is-me dialogues, even though no-one would have blamed him for having them. Instead my dad maintained a façade of strength and bravery to the end - refusing to waiver, even though we knew better. Using goofy sound effects and singing, to mask his moments of emotion and story-telling to draw attention from the current plot line.

My dad was the epitome of a giver, the embodiment of a soldier and a man that makes me incredibly proud to have been able to call my father.

It is thanks to him that I am the woman I have grown to be and will always continue to strive to be.

He will be forever missed and eternally loved.

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