My father wasn’t in the picture very much. He was only there for about two months of my life. This forced my mom to play the role of mother and father for both my big brother and me.
My father would send money and call for holidays and birthdays, but the calls always felt awkward, as if I were talking to a stranger.
As I got older, I grew to dread the calls. It felt like we were waiting more for the call to be over, which just filled the conversations up with awkward silence.
When I was seven, we moved back to Puerto Rico from Massachusetts. When I was little, my dad would always try to find small ways to excuse his absence, saying he had no money or time to travel. Sometimes he would just tell us that he forgot about us and he was sorry for that. When we moved to Puerto Rico, my brother and I would sleep at his house on weekends.
Every time we did, I would wake up delirious not knowing fully where I was. He would take us on motorcycle rides through the mountains or sometimes we would ride horses. I remember thinking that at this moment in my life he was there for me and I felt like he was going to stay there forever.
But then I turned eight, and we moved back to the mainland. And again the same thing happened. He only called on birthdays. It went back to the same old storys, the “it’s going to be awhile” once a year phone calls.
That was until the summer of 2011, when I was 13 years old. He called saying that my cousin was having a party in Nashville. He wanted us to go.
I kept trying to remember what my dad looked like, and I know that sounds dramatic, but at this point it had been six years since I had seen him. I was genuinely scared I wouldn’t know what he looked like. And that is exactly what happened, waiting for him at the gate. I just stared blankly into the crowd of people. It was when my brother hugged him that I realized which person in the crowd he was.
The whole week we spent with my grandma cooking black beans and rice with chicken. But there was no father-daughter time. I felt like the whole trip, I was going unnoticed. I mostly spent time with my cousins, aunts, and grandma. The only time I spent with my father was when we ate or went to sleep because we slept in the same room. At my cousin’s quinceañera, he wanted a dance with me, but I didn’t feel comfortable doing so. It was like dancing with a stranger.
When it was time to leave Tennessee, my father brought us to the airport. He even walked us to the gate. When he gave us a hug at our gate, I thought the hug would last five seconds. But he held us in his arms for what felt like 10 minutes with tears hitting our shoulders. I realized that all these years I had never thought of him as a father because he was never there for us. But I also realized that maybe he wasn’t there because he didn’t think he was good enough for us. That him being away from us hurt him just as much as it hurt us. That for him, to make such a big move as coming to live with us in the States was hard because Puerto Rico was his home, it was all he knew. He had always been cared for his whole life, and maybe that made it hard for him to believe he could care for us.
I realized that a person can care for you even though they don’t show it, that the words “I love you” don’t need to be said to be known.