A father is not just a man present at conception, but one who teaches a child to takes its first and final steps. His lessons may be silent ones, based solely on his conduct. They may also be vocal ones, based on words spoken or written. Whichever the case may be, he is a role model for future behavior and expectations. An influence that resonates through time, affecting the life of the child and all future interactions with other human beings. Fatherhood is a lifelong responsibility not taken lightly. Helping bring a human life into this unforgiving world is both an act of courage and a sign of hope in the future. Despite the hardships my father faced during his childhood, he sided with courage and placed his hope in the future. This is how I was born.
This story began shortly after World War II decimated 70 million lives. My grandfather left Spain and migrated to Brazil, able to take only my father. The tyranny of the Franco dictatorship, the devastation of the war and the ensuing economic crisis dictated the terms of his journey. Why he migrated specifically to Brazil was a matter never explained to me, though chance and circumstance may have played a role.
My grandfather´s desperation was not a burden he bore alone. My father also had his cross to bear. Leaving your mother and siblings behind at the age of seven is a traumatic experience that only the direst of circumstances can explain. Migrating to a distant continent, learning a foreign language, while accompanied only by your father is an experience few words cannot encapsulate. Upon his arrival, my grandfather setup a small business and my father began working still as a child. They worked not only to support themselves, but also to maintain my family overseas. This was my father´s early life story.
For an immigrant in a foreign land, courage and self-reliance are never optional. Silence was the armor he wore while facing the hardships of his childhood. When there is no one to hear your complaints, there is little reason to voice them. Modeling his behavior on my grandfather, he became the proverbial strong silent type. One who internalizes his problems and never discusses them openly. With others, he only shared positive experiences. His problems were his own. All imprisoned inside, though his facial expression did not mask the resulting stress.
The separation from his mother and siblings could have broken lesser men, but not him. Bitterness did not overcome his days neither did self-pity. Their absence only instilled in him the desire to one day have a family of his own, perhaps experiencing vicariously through his children the experiences he never had. When he finally met my mother, this longing to rebuild his family structure was brought to life with my brother and me. His religion was his family.
As my grandfather before him, my father spared no sacrifice for his family. But the luxury he provided was not one valued in gold. He strived to provide the best possible education for his children and to maintain a constant presence in our daily family life. Though we lacked the means to travel, we constantly took the ferryboat to a nearby island and rented a small house by the beach. Those were our family trips and sometimes my cousins came along. He was all smiles, despite the simplicity of our vacation. No consideration was more important than maintaining the unity of our family. Our car was always the cheapest, most uncomfortable model. The luxury he sought was not in clothes or items of value, but in his family life. Love is a standard of value that has no exchange rate. This was our family´s creed.
There was also another reason why our family trips were always to the beach. Growing up, my father spent his little spare time spearfishing. His catch was always a welcome addition to my grandfather´s dinner table, but what attracted him to the ocean is a matter of debate. He dove alone and had risky encounters on more than one occasion. Admiring the ocean from a distance is safely appealing to the eyes, while requiring no sacrifice from the ears. There is conversation to fill the silence or quiet peace for deep reflection.
Beneath the waves this is not so. The depths of the ocean abide by their own rules. Finding solace amid the solitude of a world populated by silent creatures, albeit of vibrant colors, requires a certain character disposition that baffles me. One cannot enter a new world without first leaving the old one. This somehow did not apply to him. Maybe solitude was an enemy he already battled on land as a child, not one feared beneath the waves. The aquatic world that was so foreign to me was somehow a home to him. I loved the ocean from the distance of the beach. He ventured far beyond the depths of apparent recklessness. The trust he placed on his harpoon underwater was the self-reliance he armed himself on land. An aquatic world devoid of words spoke to me the language of solitude, whereas he only heard freedom. Perhaps he sought in the ocean what eluded him as a child on land, a freedom consumed by myriad obligations few children have to bear. The ocean also revealed a side of him only maturity would help me understand.
He was fearless in the defense of human life. During a weekend family trip to a nearby beach, the ocean reminded us of what a graveyard it could be. As sunbathers around us suddenly stood up, countless eyes struggled against the horizon, trying to see a horror that distant waves concealed. A man had set aside all due respect for the sovereignty of the ocean, venturing well beyond a point of no return. The tides had a gravitational pull of their own, challenging the earth for a duel frequently lost by the reckless. The current was sucking the drowning man into a whirlpool, having the same inescapable might of a black hole. No fishermen or lifeguards were around. All of us just watched in horror as a human life vanished beneath the waves, arms flailing in the wind, but screams silenced by the distance. That day, nearly one hundred people went home as the sun sought its rest. Only one man saved a human life. He was my father.
This was not an isolated incident. He had saved others before, and never met a stranger he was not willing to assist in a time of need. Many perceived this selflessness as a fault. Never did he use his intelligence for individual gain, taking on professional responsibilities that far exceeded the call of duty, always bearing in mind what was best for the group as a whole, even at his personal expense. This meant that his talents never translated into monetary gain, and that others took advantage of his selflessness. He did as an adult what he had done as a child, working far more than necessary out of a work ethic and zeal ingrained into his sense of self-esteem. Though he always made time for his family, his professional obligations were never entirely set aside.
The same is true of his fidelity. My father never treated other women as objects of sexual desire. His eyes were for my mother only. There is not a single moment in memory that this proved untrue. Raised in a world where women are so frequently valued as prime cuts of meat sold in butcher shops, my father´s personal conduct silenced the voices of all those around me. Being at war with the world is not for the faint hearted, but when fighting for your innermost values, integrity only travels down the road of hardship. Those around me disagreed. There were pleasures to be had, some for money, some for lies. This was having a sexual life. The value of a true meaningful relationship seemed nowhere else found, except at home where companionship and understanding spoke aloud.
Sometimes, it spoke to me directly. My grandfather had an emotionally laconic relationship with my father, which probably resulted both from the hardships he faced in life and from his own upbringing. For someone separated from his mother as a child, this must have been challenging, compromising his ability to discuss his emotional life. Despite knowing his way around words both spoken and written, he lacked my mother´s sensibility. This did not stop him from making amends for the past, establishing lines of communication with me never opened to him. He would try to approach several topics, especially of political relevance, but never emotional. The same emotional bridge of silence separating him from my grandfather was rebuilt in our relationship.
He only tried to cross this bridge during long walks by the beach taken before major life events like going to college. During those times he offered the best advice he could, improvising for his lack of personal experience given my grandfather´s silence on these matters. His motivation was always sincere, but the requisite sensitivity was lacking. Discussing feelings was the purview of my mother. Masculinity builds walls between men that only sensitivity and maturity can bring down. Unfortunately, one´s upbringing can stand in the way. Strength has many forms and sensitivity is one. There is no reason why only women should master sensitivity when men also have an emotional life. Emotions have no gender. Discussing them openly is not a sign of weakness, but of strength.
These few words can never encapsulate a life of integrity devoted to family. The true meaning of a father one learns only with age. His greatest contribution was not only to serve as a role model, but also to complement my mother´s life. Though some discredit the unseen because of the harsh visible realities of the world, this is not true of me. I believe in what I have seen. My belief in marriage and in the importance of meaningful human relationships relies on my own upbringing, not merely on words. My parents have my eternal gratitude for that. Even when the world abandons a man, he should not abandon his values. Narrow is the gate, long is the road. Overcoming the trials of life is bearing a heavy load, one carried by hands both young and old. My parents taught me my first steps. Many ones still lie ahead. May God light my way, may I tread the right path.