"What's the first thing you're going to say to your father," is the question I've been asked the most. My answer is always the same, "I don't know." What I know is that the first thing I'm going to do is hold my dad. And look at him. Probably while wiping tears from my eyes.
When dad said goodbye to me, I was just five years old and now I'm coming back a grown man with grey hair. How did he cope without his children? Where did he find strength? What was going through his mind as he saw his family leave the country? I want to know about his life and the past forty-three years. He's eighty and has never left Cuba. He doesn't have a computer nor a cell phone. Lives alone in a small apartment in Havana.
This is more than just a trip to Cuba and meeting my father - this is a life project.
My mother was not the first single mom nor was I the first kid to grow up without a father.
I didn't realize I had a "story" until people began sharing their personal situations with me. I'm finding that my experiences are resonating with others as well. This is a story about the yearning a son has to know his father and the strength of a family in a very difficult time. It's a story about unconditional love, humanity and sacrifice.
Why is all this so important to me?
As I get older, my dad is getting older too. When you're young, we think we're invincible but we're not and time really is precious. My heart said it was time to reunite with my father before it's too late.
My mother, who is returning to Cuba with me, is the strongest person I know. When we came to the United States my mother was twenty-five years old, malnourished, as were we, weighing a mere eighty-five pounds. She didn't speak the language and had two small children to take care of. Mom worked two factory jobs during the day while learning English and earning a GED at night school. My loyalty and allegiance to my mother kept my feelings towards my father one dimensional. It wasn't until recently that I began to change my perspective as I immersed myself into this emotional journey. Our family was issued visas except for my father, a common practice at the time. He could have said "No, you're all staying in Cuba." It would have been that simple. Instead, he sacrificed so we could flourish. He let us go. Giving us a chance and a future.
We never saw dad again.
I end with the same question and answer that I started with... I don't know what is the first thing I'm going to say to my father, I just know I will hold him. Tightly.
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