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A Man Called Dad : A trumpet-playing professor; a screenwriter with rules all his own; an eccentric actor whose silences can wither a man; a doctor forever chasing a dream; an ex-sailor who finally comes to his son's rescue . . . sort of. Five writers recall life with father. : A Father's Elusive Dream

June 14, 1995|LUIZ SAMPAIO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Luiz Sampaio is the editor of the VIVA Arts Quarterly

My father always dreamed of going to such far off places as Milan's La Scala opera house, far, far away from the noisy vizinhaca kids practicing their jinga steps for the Brazilian Carnaval. He envisioned foreign lands with beautifully appointed homes, classic cars, beckoning with wines, cheeses and exotic, cool-weather fruits. Flint, Mich., is where he ended up.

The flat fringes of Flint were fertile ground for GM-soaked living in the boom years of the '60s; the neighborhood committee (we lived in a "closed" area of Flint) had admitted one Latino family--the Sampaios from Brazil. We were desirable Latinos; my father was a doctor.

As part of my dad's assimilationist program, we had to talk and walk and drive and dress and eat just like the trashy car culture families living next door. My father succeeded American-style quite well on the surface. Everything seemed to be just as he had dreamed: exotic fruit--nitrogen-injected apples and malathion-sprayed cherries--graced our kitchen table. Even the weird suburban-green vistas and crazy '60s cars were part of his vision of paradise. And it was all visible from the aluminum-framed windows of our picture-perfect house, including the Mott Golf Course & Miniature Car Course.

During his boyhood in rural Brazil, my father had the innate ability to change his outward appearance to fit the local character. He said it had come in handy when he pretended to enjoy the pulsing Carnaval rhythms while, in fact, he was humming Puccini in his head. That same canny facade was visible on weekends when he donned his loudest double-knit plaid slacks to go on family outings with rabid hordes of giant, beefy, sports-addicted Midwesterners.

One particularly hot summer day as he listened to Verdi, sipping martinis, I begged him to go down to the Mott Car Course. A few minutes later we stood in front of a perfect miniature version of a race car course. When our turn came, we jumped into a scaled-down Corvette and started off.

I carefully drove over a bridge and around a curve when my father grabbed the controls out from under me with a slightly wild look on his face. Between the heat, the opera and the martinis, my normally self-controlled parent became a motoring maniac, speeding through three miniature stop signs, belting out an aria from "Madame Butterfly" at the top of his lungs, turning the corner at unmaintainable speeds. The speed bumps swiftly threw us onto the meridian strip, wheels of the overturned miniature auto whirring, echoes of Puccini still wafting through the air.

The chameleon had finally bared his colors. He blushed.

Although my father lived in America for many years, he returned to his native land, where he continues to have major plastic surgery on his face. He had his first nose job when I was 3 years old. He has never stopped changing his appearance since.

Feliz dia dos paes, Daddy.

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