Mi Papi. I remember being younger and sneaking through the Sears catalog looking at all the white men in nice clothes and thinking to myself—I wish he was my dad. I would see television shows and admire the relationships fathers appeared to have with their sons. I always wanted my Dad to be like the TV dad's I admired. To be the perfect father.
There was a time when my Dad would play in the park with my brother and I. He would make us laugh, he would buy us paletas and candy. He was my Papi, and I loved him. We had to take advantage of the times we spent together because he worked the night shift. I remember kissing him off to work half asleep. I—already dreaming of him—would try to fit him into my dreams, but he would never stay. He had to be working—for us.
In the mornings we would go out to buy carnitas for breakfast and we would listen to Rancheras and Mariachi bands as my Dad sang along. He would tell us stories of how he caught bees in his hand when he was younger. Life as an only child who swam el rio—not once, but twice. I was so proud of my Dad. He was so brave. So honorable. His stories were so rich.
Little by little we grew further apart. I got older, and he grew tired. But I must admit … I also started to let him go. He wouldn't tell me stories anymore, and I couldn't tell him mine. I was scared that if he knew who his real son was—he would not love me. So, instead of being brave like him, I kept my voice to myself. I lived my life in the same house as him, and he never knew ME. I got tired of closing off my life to my family. To my friends. To myself. When I came out to my parents I remember feeling so alone. Everyone was against me. Everyone was yelling at me. My Dad was quiet. When I did look up to try to feel some support—he lowered his head and wouldn't even look at me. Me in tears and bruises on my mind and body lost total respect for him. Those first few months were not easy.
After years of talking about being Gay, my parents started to understand me. But my Dad would never talk about it with me. He would drive me home from Cicero to my apartment in Lakeview. For 45 minutes we would drive in silence. I didn't know what to say to him. And he—I'm sure didn't want to say anything to me. I knew I would never have a TV Dad. And I guess he would never have a TV son.
My relationship with my Father would eat me up at night. I would lay down and think of how I could make it better. Finally, I decided to try and make my own change. I began talking with my Dad and trying to form a relationship once again. It was not easy. At first I didn't know what to say or how to act. I knew I wanted to hug him and tell him how much I loved him and respect him. I knew my Father was never going to do it, and I couldn't wait until it was too late. After role-playing scenes in my mind I finally decided to do it.
One day I went to see my Dad and I just couldn't do it. I couldn't say anything to him. After hours of avoiding the scene, I had to leave. Before I left I looked him in the eye—I told him I love him. And we hugged. He told me he loved me too.
Mi Papi is a man with rough hands formed by struggle. Every wrinkle can tell a story of leaving home and making a family. The relationship between my Father and I is not perfect—it never will be. But we are working to make up for the time we lost. I know that as I get older I will have my Father to look up to. He is the inspiration of these words and so many others. For that, I thank him—with love.
Now, TV Dads and perfect Dads are so silly to me. My Father is real and our relationship is one to never forget. It's not traditional, but neither is my life. I'm just happy to know that he loves me and I love him.