My immigrant parents separated when I was less than two years old. I was a first generation Colombian kid in a small town in Westchester, NY — the land of well-manicured lawns, cul-de-sacs, and seemingly happy homes with married parents that often had two to three kids per household. But in my small house, my sister and I were raised by our mother, with our dad a few towns away. Despite not having him under our roof, I was lucky. Though he was distant, he was still very much involved in my life and made a point to teach me things that I’m now finally able to grasp.
I have fond memories of our Wednesday night dinners and weekends at his apartment rewatching Power Rangers, Selena and Splash. We did father-daughter things, like bowling, and when I would sleep over on Saturday nights, I’d hear the murmur of boxing announcers coming from his bedroom TV. I grew up understanding that Saturday night was “fight night” in his household. Like most kids, Latino or not, I looked at my dad as the strongest man in the world. I would find barbells and hand grips around his house, and his biceps were massive. His physical strength and athleticism made me think that he’d protect me forever. That he’d be there for me when I would eventually have my heart broken by boys, if I ever became an entrepreneur, and with sports knowledge, I could never pretend to know on my own.
A lot of those expectations didn’t quite net out. As I grew up I faced the harsh reality that growing up in a house with one parent — despite having the other less than 10 miles away — meant ‘single-parent’ status. I’ve denied this forever, feeling strongly that while she was a single mother, I still had both of them there for me. For decades, I have associated so much of myself as simply replications of my mom. She has a hard-as-rocks exterior, is a shoulder to cry on and lends her ear to listen to everyone, from family to strangers. She is career-focused and stops at nothing for her family and for herself. I’ve undoubtedly always been my mother’s daughter. But this is no surprise; it was to be expected.
But what about my dad? Sure, we have the same caramel skin and dark hair, affinity to speak English instead of Spanish, love reading, and understand the valuable concepts of alone-time in romantic relationships, but what did I really take on from him? What is his legacy to me? What will people say when they see us together? “They are cut from the same cloth,” or “she was raised by her mother.”
It turns out, I have just as much of my father in me. Those that know me well would say that I’m quite the optimist, despite the cards I’ve been dealt. I manage to find the good in everything, and I’m always hopeful for a happy ending in any situation. It’s a part of my unrelenting nature.
When I was around ten years old, I experienced the tragedy of losing a pet for the first time. A right of passage and important life lesson for any child, I refused to accept the fate of my sweet cat. I felt despair, and all the tears and hugs in the world couldn’t soothe my young sadness. I remembered my dad telling me repeatedly, over the years, “anything you can imagine is real. Anything you want in this life, you can have, just use your mind to paint it, and wholeheartedly believe it.” Typical father speak, “you can be anything you want to be.” So why couldn’t I bring her back to life? I tried. It didn’t work. It was then that I stopped believing my father. It was my moment of, “your parents don’t actually know everything.” It was my simple, childish, but real way of reacting to the disappointment of not actually being able to get what I wanted.
As I got older and accepted that my Westchester upbringing was different than that of my friends, I decided to focus on strengthening my relationship with my dad. Eventually, we found common ground, running races together and connecting on a deeper, more spiritual level. Every time I saw my dad, he had a book with him. One might say he was a devoted ‘self-growth’ and ‘self-help’ category reader. He was always reading, always improving. I would see books by Joel Olsteen, Eckhart Toole, titles like, “Your Faith is Your Fortune,” and “The Power of Awareness” littered on his bookshelves, nightstand, and his car. When I’d ask my mom about it, she’d say, “ay, su papá siempre con sus imaginaciones. El todavía sigue imaginando que un dia va a ganar la loteria!”
As it turns out, my dad had been practicing something called manifestation. Others refer to it as the Law of Attraction, and readers of Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret, The Magic, and The Power have heard of it. It is the notion that your thoughts and your energy can create your reality. There are countless descriptions, philosophers, and self-help gurus that talk about it, but the principles are roughly the same: your vibration attracts (so vibe high), positive brings positive, negative brings negative, feelings dictate outcomes. A simple google search and walk through Barnes & Noble will open your eyes to the phenomenon. In recent years, I started paying attention to my dad’s constant lectures in the car, over lunch, and during our phone calls. The conversations always went the same way.
Dad: “Are you running?”
Denise: “I ran three miles one time this week, I haven’t been able to find the time to remain consistent.”
Dad: “Hmm, I’ve run six every other day.”
Dad: ”What about the books I gave you? Have you read them? What do you think?”
Denise: “I started Dad, but are those things really true? I can really manifest and attract the things I want in life? It seems impossible…”
Dad: “That’s the problem daughter, you have to believe it. I’m telling you, this works.”
My early thirties brought difficult times. Heartbreak, debt, loneliness and a strong sense that I was lacking direction in my life. After a few months of despair and confusion, I knew it was time to wake up. I took my dad’s advice; I started running. Then I started investigating the philosophers he had spent so much time talking about. I spent hours in the library, reading the teachings of Neville Goddard, Abraham Hicks, searching for podcasts and YouTube videos about the concept. Now years into it, I am a believer. I’ve tried hard — because it is hard, to remain in a high vibrational state, and that has brought me consistent feelings of love, joy, growth, and gratitude. While I haven’t been able to eliminate all of the negative thoughts, and “bad stuff,” like sadness, jealousy, and anxiety, everything I’ve learned has helped me control my thoughts, take control of my own future, and most importantly, create the best relationship I’ve ever had with my dad.
Often Latin men, particularly those of a certain age, are seen as machistas. They get a bad rep and are generalized by negative narratives. They are often seen as hard, not soft, spiritual and gentlemen-like. My dad fits into the latter category. He is spiritual, positive beyond my wildest dreams, and worldly, despite having never visited more than two countries. He has been one of my greatest teachers and has made me, me. Too bad it took me decades to realize that. Today, I let my imagination run wild. I spend hours visualizing the life I want, in great detail and know I am capable of controlling my outcomes to a certain extent. I have learned about the differences between our subconscious and unconscious minds, and the role that quantum physics and cybernetics plays in all it. I might not have been able to bring my cat back to life when I was ten, but everything my dad has taught me and led me to is bigger than that. I have a lot of big, wild plans in store for myself. And I know they’ll come true, because I can already feel it, and I can already see it.