Father's Day

My Dad Is an Octogenarian — Here Is His Message for Young People

My dad, Carlos Crombet, or Chuchin, as he is lovingly referred to by everyone, was born in 1932 in the town of Alto-Songo La Maya, Santiago de Cuba. This December, he’ll be 90, but you’d never know it. He still drives, cooks a mean shrimp creole, dances salsa, plays dominos with friends and makes regular trips to the barbershop, his gray hair growing defiantly.

Courtesy of Bertha Crombet

I’ve grown up listening to all the stories from his youth — some more believable than others. Once, he told me he came second in a boiling hot soup eating contest. Another time, he told me he could still vividly remember being dragged to the premiere of “Gone with the Wind” by his mother.

A different time, he told me that we were direct descendants of the great Flor Crombet, a beloved hero in the Cuban War of Independence. Mostly, I believe him, the myth of his life too strange and charming to debunk.

My dad grew up comfortably as the grandson of Chucho Bosch, a landowner who made his fortune from sugarcane plantations and cattle ranches. Of course, as soon as Fidel Castro rose to power in 1960, all of his family’s land and wealth were confiscated, leaving my dad to do something he’d never had to do before: work.

He held a series of odd jobs, including weighing sugarcane, playing professional minor league baseball and driving a cab — which is how he met my mother. Along the way, he made lots of friends, traveled, saw wars begin and end, got married, became a father and in 1996, when he was 64 and I was 6, our family won the Cuban lottery and moved to America.

Courtesy of Bertha Crombet

I know how lucky I am as the youngest of four daughters to still have him here with me and in good health, so I thought I’d pick his brain about what keeps him feeling like a young man of 40, what advice he has for new fathers and what he has learned during his long and vibrant reign on earth. Here is what he had to say, translated from Spanish. 

You’re almost 90 and nobody can believe it. What’s your secret?

Good genetics. My grandpa Chucho was the youngest to die in my family in recent memory at 72, but everyone else lived well into their 80s and 90s. My dad, who was an amazing father and a great friend to me, died at 85. My mother died at 96. Both of my grandmothers also died in their 90s. And I’ve led a pretty healthy life… played sports, never smoke or drank. My dad was a smoker and I never managed to convince him to stop, but I knew I never wanted to start.

And I ate very well, I had a voracious appetite, although not so much anymore. My mother was an excellent cook, and every birthday, she would stuff the biggest chicken in the coop with a smaller chicken and roast them whole for me to eat. Then, she’d invite the whole town over to watch me feast.

I think love helps, too. Being loved and loving others will keep you going for a long time. 

Courtesy of Bertha Crombet

What’s something important that you think young people these days don’t prioritize?

Friendship and family. I made friends everywhere I went, to my detriment. When I worked as a cab driver, I’d end up not charging anyone! I never made any money. But I made lots of friends, and if they’re still alive, I still talk to them. Friends turn into brothers over time. The last time I was in Santiago, it took me hours to get to the house where I was staying because I had to stop so often to greet people on the street — all my old friends!

And family is so, so important, maybe the most important thing. When I played baseball for the Santiago Cerranos, an American major league team asked me to come play for them here, but I didn’t want to be so far away from my family. No one will believe that — but it’s true. My parents loved me enormously, and I loved them. And I think I’ve loved my own children just as much. Family is always first.

What advice would you give to young people in the world right now?

Be honest. Be kind. Do everything with pride and love. When I was a young man in Cuba, someone could be starving and still not steal a carton of eggs because that would dishonor their family. The world doesn’t really work that way anymore. There’s no honor system.

Mass shootings didn’t always exist; they’re an invention of modern life. Despite a general improvement in quality of life, people are more arrogant, more petty, more angry, more power hungry, more interested in what makes them money than what makes them happy and good. Be happy and good. Don’t fall in love with money. Stay humble. Choose to be generous to others. Give whatever you have. Someone always has less. 

What advice would you give to a new father?

Honestly, being a dad has been the most difficult task I’ve ever had to complete in my life — because it’s so important! I believe that in order to be a good parent, one must be a good person. I always wanted to hold myself at a high standard so that I could set a good example for my children and now, my grandchildren and great grandchildren. I never got into a fight. I never raised my voice in anger. I never drunkenly stumbled home. Try your best to be a good human and that will translate into being a good father. The rest, like genetics, is luck!

My dad wanted me to conclude with his own words in his own language: 

“Felicidades a todos los padres en su dia y muchas gracias.”

A ti, papi. Por todo. 

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