In the late rainy winter of 1989 my mother came home from Disneyland and sat down in the family room with my father, my sister and me and said, "your dad and I are getting a divorce."
After the parents split, my father packed up and moved into a one-bedroom apartment a few blocks away, next door to a senile old woman who thought he was her son and kept trying to give him lunch money. He briefly became a member of the National Rifle Association and went from time to time into the hills outside Salem, Oregon to shoot up milk jugs with his .303 British rifle - his way of getting the post-divorce bugs out of his system, I suppose.
Part of my father's move involved a divvying up of the parents' music collection. My mother kept the LPs by Bread, the Carpenters and the Bee Gees, while my father carted off a box full of Tammy Wynette, Ray Stevens, the Heritage Singers and, because he was in his Gloria Estefan phase, the Miami Sound Machine's Primitive Love album. To this day, the thought of my father - a reserved 34 year-old divorced man - alone in his apartment with a World War II-era rifle and his Miami Sound Machine cassettes remains a puzzling image. Contrary to Gloria's threats to the contrary, however, I'm confident that the rhythm never, in fact, got him.
My sister and I spent alternating weekends with my father back then. One Saturday morning as he sat reading the Statesmen-Journal - waiting for us to get ready for church - my father's face suddenly went pale with worry. I was buttoning my shirt when he looked up at me and, reading with alarm from the paper, informed me that Gloria Estefan had sustained critical injuries in a tour bus accident.
"Hmph," he said, as he says about everything, when he finished reading.
"You know she's Cuban, right?" he asked us as he drove us back to our Mom's house the next afternoon at the end of another shared-custody weekend. Estefan's Cuts Both Ways cassette was on repeat in his Nissan Sentra's stereo.
"She married her producer, Emilio."
He chewed over the name aloud a few times. Emilio. Ehhh-Meee-Leee-ooooo. Emily-O.
"He's probably Cuban, too, wouldn't you think?" he said, obviously making a mental note to check into that.
Later that week he phoned us up at our mother's house to confirm that, yes, Emilio was indeed Cuban, but of Lebanese extraction. That my dad should know these things, much less care, didn't seem at all strange to me at the time. I figured that all fathers knew of such matters, that it was a paternal duty, genetically hardwired, to teach one's son about cars, sports, sex, money and the personal life of Gloria Estefan.
At that age, my musical worldview started and ended with the playlist of K-103 FM ("playing Portland's soft rock favorites from yesterday and today"). If you couldn't hear it there, chances are I didn't know about it. Back in those days, an admission ticket to the Oregon State Fair included whatever musical act was playing that day. Taking advantage of this, we usually spent multiple days with the parents at the fair, taking in the likes of Richard Marx and Kenny Loggins at the LB Day Amphitheater. The Miami Sound Machine, much to my father's dismay, never played the Oregon State Fair and he was forced to settle for the company of his cassettes.
Only later did it occur to me, when my friends told me of their world-changing discoveries of Eat a Peach or Bitches Brew in the family attic, that I may have been shortchanged in my early exposure to popular music. But you never know: perhaps there will come a day when a working knowledge of Gloria Estefan's discography will come in useful, though I'm not sure that's a world in which I want to live.