babies and pregnancy · birthday · Christmas · culture/multiculturalism · depression · education · Hispanics/Latinos · writing

Happy Father’s Day?

Father’s Day came a bit early for me this week. An excerpt of a short story, Daddy’s Little Girl, about my strange relationship with my father and the trip to the Dominican Republic that brought us back into each other’s lives after a nearly ten-year estrangement was published in Tertulia Magazine.

Given the format of the story, there was tons of background information that I wasn’t able to share. For instance, the way that I found my father, after nearly ten years without speaking to him, was actually very interesting. It’s one of those little things in my life that affirms for me that there must be a G-d creating miracles in this crazy world.

I was 21 when the story developed. I was living with my aunt, A, after leaving my grandmother’s house under duress. I had been living with my grandmother since running away from home just weeks before my 18th birthday.

My grandmother was unhappy with having me live with her. She already had a daughter, another aunt, L, who was just a year older than me living with her. On top of that, her relationship with her thirty-something husband (you read that correctly) was becoming increasingly strained. My grandmother, if she had known what one was, would have forced me to wear a burkha around the apartment just to stop her husband’s wandering eye from wandering over to me. I was really naive. I didn’t have the skills to cope with the situation at home with my grandmother and the post traumatic stress disorder that hit me just after running away from home. I was in the midst of starting a whole new life in college and a break-up from a first boyfriend who was ready to come out of the closet.

So, I ended up living with my aunt, A, the elder of my mother’s two younger sisters. Things ran much more smoothly while I was living with her but there were still many bumps. I realize now, I didn’t have the skills (and I still don’t) to cope with healthy family relationships. I didn’t know how to express my feelings to any adult who was related to me, much less an aunt with whom I’d already experienced a year estrangement after some dicey family politics. She wasn’t ready to be a mother to a almost adult. After some months, she asked me to leave, too, after helping to set me up in summer housing before my senior year of college.

Trying to find a place I could afford after the summer housing stint came to an end, and on my measly salary, led to many sleepless nights. I was desperate. So desperate, in fact, that I responded to any ad, even a strange one from a young man in Inwood. We talked quite often before I went to see the place and he was incredibly flirtatious. My friend, C., refused to let me move in with him but she agreed to see the place with me first to appease me.

When we arrived at the strange guy’s apartment building, I was overwhelmed by a feeling of déjà vu. C. interrogated the guy while I dazed off, unable to shake the feeling that I had been in the building before. After her interrogation was over, I made her follow me upstairs to survey every floor before knocking on a door I chose at random.

“Hi, my name is…. I think that I had family that used to live here,” I said to the Hispanic guy I didn’t recognize when he opened the door.

“Really? You’re…. I’m your cousin. It’s me, E.. My mother will be so happy to see you. Wow. That’s amazing. You’re father has been looking for you for four years!” Esteban sputtered quickly in a voice marked by confusion and astonishment.

My father was a cousin to both of E.’s “kissing cousin” parents. I hadn’t seen these cousins since about age 14. Eight years had gone by. We’d lost contact after moving out of Washington Heights, the neighborhood south of Inwood, and hightailing it to the Bronx where my mother stopped pining away for my father enough to give birth to my half-sister, the grocery store owner’s baby.

But E.’s family didn’t have my father’s contact information. And E.’s and his brothers were bewildered to see and interacted uncomfortably as I detailed my story of woe, of running away from home because of endless years of abuse at my mother’s hands. Thankfully, his mother and father, my godfather, treated me like a long lost daughter. “We always knew your mother was crazy! There is no way you would have run away with some boy like she told your father. You were always such a good kid.” C. listened patiently, translating the mostly Spanish dialogue in her head to the slightly similar Italian she spoke at home.

After hours with my cousins, my godfather sent me to see my father’s sister, N. She would have my father’s information, I was assured. I hadn’t seen her in over twenty years. I still had nightmares about the day my mother had left her mother-in-law’s apartment in a fit of rage and fury. N was living in the apartment now and when C. and I showed up on her doorstep, I was disoriented with fuzzy, volatile memories of crying in the hallway as we left my grandmother’s house.

“Hi, I’m your niece. I know you haven’t seen me in twenty years but I’m your brother’s daughter. I’m D’s daughter.”

The door opened to reveal my shocked aunt along with her daughter, a preteen cousin I’d never met.

My aunt was amazing. Those early months that we reconnected were some of the best in my life. They were tough because I was still struggling with near homelessness, poverty and depression but reconnecting with my father’s side of the family was giving me the family I never had had. Most of the family was eager to make up for lost time. Everyone agreed that my mother was the “crazy one” and hailed me as the child they wished they had had.

Everyone except my father.

My mother has always been a skillful liar. The monstrous shift between the identity of a sweet mother she presented others and the violent dictator she was with us had always unsettled my sisters and me. Despite my father’s own violent past with my mother (the story explores some of this), he had fallen for her latest bag of tricks. She had convinced him that I was a wayward, boy crazy runaway that she was glad to be freed from. She painted a dark picture of the daughter he had only ever known through rare visits and phone calls. According to my mother’s tale, I was a good girl gone wrong. And my father believed it all.

Hysterical phone calls between my father’s sister and I ensued after my father berated me on our first phone call. He called me names. And like my mother had before him, the worst he could come up with was that I was my mother’s daughter. She had called me evil, tainted by his blood. He called me crazy, tainted by her insanity. I had expected to be greeted with the open arms I had received from my aunts and cousins. Boy, was I wrong.

In the end, my aunt appealed to my father’s memory of my mother.

“Do you really believe her mother? Her lying mother? The mother who has always lied to you? The mother who we have always known was mentally ill?”

My father never apologized but he took my calls. I called him regularly, hoping to build the relationship we should have had, the kind that inspired father’s day cards. But he never called me. And it was C. who suggested that visiting him was a once in a lifetime experience that she was willing to fund, even if he wasn’t. And because of her generosity that Christmas, six years ago, the present I unwrapped was a new family.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s