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My Father’s Reappearance
Jovani Hernandez
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“If you love me so much, why aren’t you there for me, Dad?” I was 6 and my dad had called to tell me about his visit to Disneyland. He said how much he wished I could have come—despite not inviting me.

I remember asking my mom a couple of times, “Why doesn’t Dad live with us, Mommy?” She replied, “Don’t worry mijo, I love you enough for both me and him.” With that answer, I accepted not having him in my life. Because I also had my older brother to help fill the father role, I didn’t think about him most of the time. My mother was careful not to give my brother and me a bad impression of our dad.

When I was 12 or 13, my mother told me more about him. He was only 18 when I was born. She said he was her soulmate, and I liked hearing about how happy they were together. But then, when I was 4, my parents separated and my father moved away. I don’t know where he went and I don’t have any early memories of him.

Even though I was mad at him, sometimes I had the urge to call him. He was half responsible for my creation, after all, and I wondered what he was like. Seeing families with two parents and happy children on TV made me want to reach out to him. However, my pride and anger stopped me from doing so.

When I was 15, my mother was diagnosed with colon cancer. She contacted my father to ask him for money to help with bills, and to come visit my brother and me so he could get to know us. He said yes but didn’t come through. This had happened before.

When I was in 7th grade, my mom had asked him for money for my school’s camping trip. He had agreed but never sent the money. I must have called him 20 times the night before the trip, but he didn’t answer. It was important for my grade that I go, so my mother used some rent money to pay for it.

Too Little, Too Late

When my mother died last year, I lost my support system. My older brother was away at college, so I ended up living with my mother’s husband (who acted as a minor father figure growing up). My older half-sister Alexia became my legal guardian. But I do what I need to do for myself. I fill out school and medical forms and go to the doctor by myself; I do my own laundry. So when my dad called to say he wanted to be there for me, I was angry.

“It’s time for me to step up as a parent. I’m here anytime you need money, clothes, or anything,” he said in a serious tone of voice.

“That’s all Mommy wanted you to do when she was alive! Why would I need that now?”

I hung up on him. I felt that it was too late for us to form a relationship.

Six months went by without talking to him and I found myself wondering how he was feeling about my mom’s passing. I thought about the sadness and regret I’d heard in his voice on the phone. Plus, no matter how much I attempted to ignore his existence, I’d think of Mom telling me, “Don’t forget, he’s your father despite any flaws he may have.” She also told me, “Hating anyone is giving them power over you.” These words replayed in my mind. When I watched my friend Frank and his father bond about puberty, sports, and even girls, I wanted a father around.

Hearing His Apology

I got calls from unknown numbers and ignored them as I always did, though I secretly hoped it was him. I wanted him to feel how I felt as a child. I wanted him to know what it was like to reach out to someone who completely ignores you. I wanted him to understand that his absence made the pain of my mom’s passing worse.

But one night, I gave in to the persistent calling, and picked up a call from the unknown number.

“Jovani? Finally you answered.”

“Who is this? And why do you keep calling me?” I said, pretending I didn’t recognize his voice.

“It’s your dad. I’ve been calling you because we need to talk. Did you get my voicemails?”

“No.”

“Give them a listen. I’ve been thinking about you. Good night,” my father said as he hung up the phone.

image by YC-Art Dept

The rest of the night I contemplated whether I should listen to the voicemails. My stubborn pride told me not to, but I decided that it was only fair that I do. And I was curious.

Although two of them just said “I hope you’re doing fine” and “Please answer,” the most recent voicemail was something I’d never heard before: my father crying. He said, “Jovani, I’m sorry about the things I’ve done. I was 22, had no job, and no means of supporting you. The fact that I was scared and thought you were better off without me is why I left, but I see now why that was wrong. Growing up, my dad neglected me, and being selfish, I forgot to think about the pain you’d feel if I left you as well. Call me when you can; we need to talk about a lot, but let’s do it in person.” I never thought that I’d hear anything like that from my father’s mouth, and I decided to meet up with him.

A Smile I Recognize

Entering my father’s truck for the first time felt like a fantasy. As I got comfortable in my seat, he said, “Thank you for giving me the opportunity to finally talk to you a little.” I watched the curve of my dad’s lips as he smiled—a smile I recognized from my own reflection. I realized that there was nothing to be nervous about. I finally had the opportunity to have a simple conversation with him—one that wasn’t over the phone. I wanted to ask him about his interests, his jobs, his hobbies, and compare them to my own.

We went out for Spanish food, and talked about our daily lives. When my dad dropped me off at home I was enthusiastic for our next meeting. I said, “If you’re ever free, let me know. We can meet up again.” At that moment, I disregarded the anxiety I had about him disappearing again, and felt appreciative of the time we had.

After meeting my dad a couple of times, I realized everyone deserves a second chance. He started checking up on me regularly and we get together every couple of weeks now. I’ve discovered we have much in common, like we are both workaholics: He owns his own company delivering furniture for Sears.

A Second Chance

I was doing homework on a recent Sunday morning when my dad called. “Come downstairs. I have a surprise for you,” he said. When I walked outside, my father got out of his truck and hugged me. This affection was unusual; he usually gave me a high five or a handshake. “I know I haven’t been the best father ever, but I need you to know that I do think about you a lot, and I love you even if you hate me. This is for you.” He went to the back of his truck and pulled out the best gift I had received in a while—a bike!

“No way!”

I had mentioned years before that I wanted a bike. I couldn’t believe he remembered that. I think he gave me such a nice gift to show how sorry he was.

“Let’s go to the gas station and pump up the tires. Then let’s go to the park,” he said with a huge smile. For the first time in a long time, I felt like a little kid. And for the first time ever, I knew my father had been thinking about me while I wasn’t around. That was something I used to stay up nights wondering about.

At the gas station, I thanked my dad. I noticed his eyes get watery when he said, “I’ve never seen you happy like this.”

“I’m usually happy. You’ve just never been around to see it,” I said.

“I’m sorry I’ve missed so much. I’m seeing my mistakes come back to me now,” he answered as tears streamed down his face.

“Well, be there more often and maybe you wouldn’t have to get emotional just because your son is happy around you for a change,” I said.

I was glad that my father apologized to me in the voicemail and again with the bike. In the 16 years of my life, I had never heard him acknowledge that he was wrong for neglecting my mom, my brother, and me. Now, I could tell that he was sincerely sorry.

Mixed Feelings

But trusting someone who has hurt you takes time. I am ambivalent about my feelings toward my dad. We have discussed our relationship on many occasions, and for now, we have more of a friendly relationship rather than a father-son one. He seems to understand my mixed feelings considering that we’ve only been in touch for about five months. My older brother still resents him, and their relationship is extremely hostile. They rarely talk.

I have not yet asked him about his lack of assistance when my mother was sick, but as far as forgiving him goes, I have. My mother was never a resentful person, and she taught me to see the best in everyone.

I am not sure if my father’s actions were justifiable, but I don’t see the point in beating him up about his mistakes since he frequently acknowledges how bad he feels about them. Whether the words I said to him following my mom’s passing dug deep enough to create that change, or my father just realized on his own that what he had been doing was wrong, the fact that he is making efforts to get to know me is what matters right now. If it doesn’t work out, at least we can say we tried.

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(NYC-2017-03-12)

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