In my thirty-plus years of life, I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve had a heart-to-heart conversation with my father. My dad has never been much of a talker. Like many Latino men, he was raised rather old school: to be quiet, respectful, responsible, a provider, and “the man of the house.” He doesn’t understand “stay-at-home dads” or men who choose a life of creativity versus hard work. He’s an American citizen, but once upon a time, he was an immigrant seeking respite from his war-torn homeland and hoping to provide a better life for his familia here in the States. He’s not always the easiest person to understand, or even get along with (and I certainly got my hot temper from him). But he’s my father y lo quiero mucho.
Growing up, there were a lot of fathers like mine in the neighborhood. You didn’t see them all that often because they were constantly working. My father came to the U.S. in the 80s and immediately found work in construction. He spent day after day underneath the hot, unrelenting sun that turned his olive skin to more of a burnt sienna. I would write him little notes and sneak them into his lunch box at 5 a.m. before he’d leave for work. I wouldn’t see him again until sunset when he’d quietly eat his dinner in front of the television before snoring himself to sleep and doing it all over again the following day. He never once complained about work, the long hours, insufficient pay, verbal abuse from his bosses. None of it. And neither did my uncle, who also worked in construction and nor did any of the other dads I knew.
It takes a special kind of person to leave their homeland behind. Yes, people often escape because of terrible circumstances. But not everyone does it. You have to be strong, brave, and maybe just a tiny bit of a dreamer. Men like my father, who made the long trek from their homes to a country where they didn’t even know the language, are courageous. They are fighters through and through. Survivors. And while they did it because they knew that their lives might improve, they also did it because they knew their children might have a better life.
My father never even got to graduate high school in his home country, but he was able to work his way up the ranks from worker to supervisor. He became a homeowner more than once. He became a business owner. Because my father crossed into the U.S. when he did, because he was able to stay, I was born. Because of all his sacrifices, my brother was able to obtain a Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s degree. Because of the ways in which he raised and supported us, I was able to not only pursue a higher education, but I was privileged enough to pursue my passions. My mother instilled in me a love of writing and the arts, but it was my father who created a life in which I was able to pursue the things I love in the first place.
Men like my father continue to arrive in the States in droves. They seek a better life for themselves and for their children. They want to work, to make something better out of their lives. They don’t send us to Little League or Scouts because they can’t afford to, and they certainly wouldn’t be able to volunteer as coaches or leaders. They probably don’t ask us about the details of our school day, but it’s paramount that we get the education they might not have ever had the chance to receive. They can’t go on our field trips because they can’t afford to take time off work, but they’ll be damned if they don’t make sure we can pay the $40 trip fee. They do not ask for our help, because that just isn’t their way. And while it took me many years to understand that, now that I’m an adult, and now that I am a parent myself, I whole-heartedly get it.
To the immigrant fathers around our nation being celebrated this Father’s Day, I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for making the lives of your children the best you could. Thank you for not putting your burdens on us. Thank you for those nights you might have gone hungry so that we, your children, would never have to know what that was like. Thank you for working hard, saving every penny, and making sure we understood the value of a dollar. Thank you for not allowing us to grow spoiled or entitled, and teaching us to have respect for every worker; no matter how many times we witnessed spoiled, entitled children behaving poorly towards those men working in the fields, on janitorial staff, building houses and fixing roads, and whatever else it took to keep a roof over their head.
And to my own father, gracias por todo lo que has hecho para nosotros. My father continues to offer his help every moment he gets. Though not perfect (who is?), he is kind and giving and generous. He gushes over his grandbabies, and when he does, I see those glimpses of just how large his heart is. He would do anything for them, and anything for us, his children. Thank you so much for being such a wonderful human being. Every day, I’m working hard to make sure I’m deserving of your respect and making you proud. Feliz Dia del Padre! Happy Father’s Day!