When I first spoke with my father-in-law, he was in Governador Valadares and I was in Manhattan, but the distances were bridged by our love for his daughter. My Portuguese seventeen years ago was pretty weak, but we managed to chat briefly.
I was understandably nervous at the time: Mércia was his oldest daughter and his only daughter among five sons until her sister was born when she was nearly thirteen. Her brother who lives in New Jersey had filled me with stories about how tough her father was, but when we first met face-to-face a year later, I extended my hand to my father-in-law and he pulled me into a firm abraço: handshakes are for strangers; hugs are for family. Further evidence of his gentle heart manifested itself at our wedding ceremony when I saw him dabbing tears from his eyes.
I believe that the thing I loved the most about him was his sense of humor: gently ribald with a laugh that belied his often gruff exterior. One year for Christmas I gave him a bubble maker that consisted of a man bent at the waist with his pants around his ankles as the bubbles wand passed slowly over his ass, the delicate release of the bubbles serenaded in counterpoint with the eerily authentic and loud fart sounds. To say he loved it would be to grossly understate things. At New Years' Eve that year in Itaipé, Minas Gerais, my mother-in-law's hometown when the clock struck midnight he raised the bubble machine high over his head, much like the Lawrence Welk Show as if produced by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone.
Nothing moved me more than my first ever contact with him when Mércia passed me a note from him in the mail. I don't remember much of what he wrote except for the last three words as they were in English: "I love you."
Eu te amo também, sogro. Vou sentir sua falta por resto da minha vida.
Rest in peace.