Letters to a Man Who Once Was My Child
I have written these letters innumerable times during sleepless nights since your wedding. They are terrible documents, and should never have had to be written. Nor read. If you have the will, stop reading now. I find it impossible not to continue writing.
By the time you receive these letters you will have returned from your honeymoon, and they will not have interfered with the joyful moments of an event that should not be burdened by a heaviness of heart. I could have called rather than written, speaking frankly with you directly. I can assure you that I chose to write not out of cowardice, instead deciding to express myself on paper because conversation is ephemeral and when subsequently recalled, given to misunderstanding. The written word endures. Although motivation may be open to the interpretation of the reader, the deliberation of the writer remains intact, to be examined in detail on subsequent occasions if necessary.
If you in fact do read these letters to the end, you may find the need to return to them, and perhaps modify your opinion as to what provoked their writing, and whether there does indeed exist just cause in their content.
I will attempt to wound you as lightly as possible, but should you ultimately understand me, I imagine you will feel pain. It is best that you react in a conventional manner and be angry with me for the injury I must inflict. It will be so much more expedient, and bring you peace of mind.
I did seriously consider never sending these letters, after all what was to be served by your becoming aware of their existence if their reason for being was in giving voice to my anguish. In re-reading them however, I have found obligatory reasons to expose you to their content; to continue that essential instruction I was required to impart throughout your childhood.
You repeatedly declare that I am the person who provided the tools for your consummate economic achievement. That pleases me. However, recent events have caused me to believe I have somehow failed to contribute that other necessary element in your education that makes you whole. Perhaps you will find here the words on which to build your character and redeem your soul.
When you called to tell me you were getting married, inquiring if I could attend your wedding, as though it were possible I would not, I suspected nothing amiss. In retrospect, I think I imagined a repetition of your sister?s wedding; simple yet elegant, where there were no surprises.
I was unaware, because I now believe it would have embarrassed you to tell me, about the magnitude of this event: the various rehearsals, the family gatherings, the dinners and breakfasts to connect the two families in a bond that was to ensue as a result of the union of their children. These were events to which not only was I not invited, but which I did not even suspect took place, until at the reception your mother?s companion, a very agreeable fellow whom I had just met, asked me if we would see each other again at the breakfast with the families, planned for the morning after the wedding. I was so offended and humiliated at finding myself superficially marginalized that my only response was an abrupt: "No. I gave up having breakfast some time ago."
How was I to imagine the elaborate affair you were organizing, when your first and only question regarding your wedding was if it was "all right" to seat me at a table with your employees? Of course it was all right. I would have sat on a haystack in a barn if that was where you were going to get married!
I first became uneasy about my participation in your wedding ceremony after arriving at the airport, when I called and asked to see you prior to the wedding. You indicated it would be preferable we meet in a restaurant rather than your home. At that unfortunate and fateful dinner you explained this curiously unusual proposal, conceivably by way of apology, by emphasizing that your biological father, mother, and future in-laws were occupied in your house with complex, last minute preparations for tomorrows ceremony. Somehow I could not overcome the impression that I was unwelcome there. I have since come to interpret our clandestine gathering in that restaurant as your reunion with a disreputable individual who could not be allowed to associate with decent and honorable individuals. As though I possessed some sinister and incurable disease, and that you, through some gratuitous sense of obligation, acquiesced to the surreptitious encounter.
Was it my imagination, or did I truly hear a cock crow three times as you kissed my cheek in greeting?
In retrospect, many events now assume a different dimension: the numerous occasions on the telephone when you expressed your delight that I could, "really and truly," come to your wedding. Can your constant repetition perhaps be suggestive of a contradictory sentiment? That you were hoping on one of these instances I would offer some inadequate excuse, perhaps an unexpected consultation with the president of some foreign country that could not be postponed, thereby allowing us to exchange our obligatory poignant regret. Did you really believe there was some possibility I would not attend? Even for an essential meeting with a president? In addition there is the mystery of an invitation that never arrived, an invitation that has yet to arrive; was it in fact sent? I would like to believe that these suspicions are just that, and I do feel mean and small at having allowed these thoughts to poison my heart.
When I entered the church, delayed in my arrival by obstinate traffic from my hotel in midtown, your bride was about to walk down the aisle and I discreetly took a seat behind your biological father, mother, and grandparents. As you know, I practice no formal religion, yet never have I interfered in the worship you and your mother adopted, considering this a matter of individual need and conscience. Within the context of my humanity, I consider myself and am regarded by those who know me as a just and ethical person, far more so than the legion of hypocrites who crowd the pews on the Sabbath. And I am generous to a fault.
During our covert dinner, you displayed a gold cross hanging from a chain around your neck, saying that your bride-to-be had given it to you when you converted to her religion. I was frankly surprised and, although not verbalized in order to avoid making you uncomfortable, I questioned in my mind your motivation in accepting what I considered a gratuitous obligation in order to consummate a marriage vow. Did your God no longer satisfy you? Did you find greater serenity within a different ecclesiastical institution? Or are you now an easily co-opted and coerced individual? I now ask myself if you also agreed to embrace the easier solution regarding our relationship, or did I cease to be of significance as a parent?
The final moments of the wedding ceremony set in motion the unexpected paradox that was to follow. I found myself in the peculiar and incongruous circumstance of congratulating your biological father and mother at the receiving line exiting the church, just like any other friend of the family. The paradox being that I was not a friend of the family. I was your family. I raised you as my son from the time you were three years old. I was your father.
I was a strange intruder at this occasion, and I did not belong. If you know nothing else about me, you must at least suspect that the hubris I most suffer, appreciate and nurture is that of pride; some would describe it, in error, as arrogance. Although, as with Ahab, I would smite God Himself if He were to insult me, it would be a response provoked from a sense of personal dignity, of self-respect. That little monster, pride, grew to gargantuan proportion, insisting I leave; that I abandon you, that I salvage what little was left of my self-esteem by refusing to participate in this farce, this repulsive charade of your creation. But I stifled my pride. I humbled myself before cruel Fate and the mocking Furies. For it was more important not to embarrass you, not to cause you an avoidable awkwardness on this happy occasion. I loved you so very much. So I stayed and even continued on to the reception. Smiling repeatedly and profusely. And I allowed the monstrous fiends to make me hemorrhage where no one could notice.
We all raised glasses of champagne and toasted a man who pranced into the hall with the roll of drums; heraldic music blaring. The speakers proclaimed him to be your father, while I stood and applauded at a table reserved for me, your employees, and a distant family friend. I found myself asking who this man was that I was congratulating, and what was I congratulating him for? I am acquainted with your biological father, of course. He slept with your mother and you were conceived. A simple act, really. But from the age of three I was your father and you were my son. Your father never contributed economically to your welfare, and he was never asked to do so. Nor was he ever reminded of his careless disregard. I can?t remember even one occasion when he contributed emotionally. Can you? Do you remember receiving a single gift? Or a telephone call? I was the one who emphasized that you must not lose contact with your biological father, and I always paid the air fare for you to visit him. It was I who resolutely insisted that you had to go, even on those occasions, as an adolescent, you preferred the company of your friends.
It would be simplistic and formulaic pseudo-psychology, underestimating my intelligence and motivation, to assume that my inherent objective and aspiration is for you to rebuff your biological father. If that had been at any time the object of some subjective insecurity on my part I would not have suggested and insisted you vacation with him. And I would not have responded, after your mother and I were wed, when you and your sister asked me what you should call me - "dad" being the obvious answer - by asking "what do you call me now?" You both simultaneously spoke my name and we left it at that; you have always addressed me by my given name. Your "dad" was your biological father; I was more than that. What I did not expect at your wedding was a kiss, a handshake and a "keep in touch." Yeah, dude, I?ll do that.
You are not the first person in contemporary society with a commitment to two fathers, and it would not have been unique inviting both to participate. That simple.
I gave you your first bicycle and your first car. You learned to drive on my lap behind the steering wheel. I dressed you in your Cub Scout uniform and watched you play Little League. I gave you your first puppy. I took you to "Puchapec" park. I rewarded you with ten cents when you answered correctly that we were crossing the "Chimpanzee" bridge, or that we were driving past the "Piretate" building. I rushed you to the hospital and comforted you when you suffered migraine attacks. I purchased and administered your medicine. I demonstrated how to mow the lawn and clean the pool. I taught you that to respect yourself, first you have to respect the result of your labor. I repeated over and over that whatever you do, you must do it to the best of your ability and always strive for perfection. I endeavored to explain that the world is similar to an enormous forest, populated by birds of diverse song and different color, and that each and every one is valuable in its own right. It was I who once, and only once, physically beat you, crying in frustration because you had succumbed to peer pressure: "I didn?t bring you up to be a drug addict!" I repeated what my mother said to me as a young boy: "regardless of what you must do in life to earn a living, if it is honest work, take pride in what you?re doing." I told you that every morning, when you look at yourself in the mirror, you must value the person returning your gaze.
I fed you and clothed you and worried about your grades. I left you notes signed, only half in jest, "Yahweh." I rented the house in Quintas Tlaloc, an expensive house, so you and your sister could play with the dozens of other children in the secure garden compound that surrounded the family oriented horizontal condominiums. You shared all this with me, and oh, so much, much more. Have you forgotten? This is our undeniable narrative.
You lived a lie at your wedding. And you were dishonest before the world when you paid tribute and honored one and only one man as the beneficiary of your affection and esteem. Whether an act of cowardice or convenience I am unsure, but that it was shameful and undeserved I think is indisputable.
You and your sister came "as a package" with your mother, and in my youthful overconfident arrogance (I was your age) I conscientiously, and in retrospect perhaps unwisely, accepted the responsibility. I was overwhelmed by the insistent and unlimited love and sacrifice your mother demonstrated, which left me awed with admiration for her struggle to raise the two of you as a single mother without financial assistance, and I wanted to help.
Your mother must remember very well my personal distress on those terrible nights when I would awake startled and bathed in perspiration because I could not find work, and I owed the rent, and you needed food, and we had run out of toilet paper. I could have sent you to live with your father, or grandparents, or simply walked out the door. Although I may be justly or unjustly accused of many things, I did not shirk the task I had assumed. I refused to take the easy way out.
I was proud of you as a selfless child who always shared his toys, when children of your age exhibit unparalleled possessiveness. I was proud of you as an adolescent, for your responsibility and work ethic at a time when most teen agers resent intrusion in that complacent world of their own creation. And I am proud of you today as a young adult, if only for your accomplishments.
It is gratifying for me to assume that I was responsible for a small part of the individual you are today. Recently you have repeatedly expressed, almost to the point of my discomfiture, a debt to me for this. I always considered what I did to be my task as your father, for which no expression of gratitude was, nor is today, necessary. However, it is imperative for me to inform you that I did not consider myself hired help to raise you, so that now that the little master has grown to adulthood, he will express his appreciation to the household staff with lip service, a shaking of the hand and a pat on the back. I cannot condone, although I must accept, what appears to be your misguided biological preference for your shameful conduct. Under this premise, society would have to allow for rapists who have procreated to be honored by their biological offspring, while rejecting those who dedicated a major part of their life to their upbringing.
When you were a child you struggled with a question you frequently asked your mother: is your father he who conceived you or he who is bringing you up? You were born in Mexico and I brought you to the United States. Are you Mexican or American? You have changed your religion and you now have a different Father in Heaven. According to your new religion, it is considered a mortal sin to deny Him.
I want you to know, in the now apparently likely event that you have forgotten who I am and what I believe in, that this letter does not manifest a complaint for not receiving equal recognition with your biological father. I possess an excessive sense of self-esteem to supplicate even for that which I consider rightfully mine. I have always disregarded the gossip and praise of others, considering both to be trivial, and ultimately insignificant. I have attempted to live my own life, free of the shackles of contemporary, popular convention. I do not need, have not solicited, and disregard the obligatory applause of those participants at your wedding. But I did expect, indeed I believe that I deserve, respect from you for what we shared. For that which I unselfishly gave you. For that which you received. That is what this letter is all about. Respect.
As a child, I remember questioning the debt that one owes to parents, siblings, religion and country, notwithstanding one made no cognizant decision in accepting a covenant that one was obliged to value for a lifetime. I determined to modify accepted convention. I denied the conformist, unadventurous cultural traditions and unyielding, obdurate faith bequeathed to me by birth and searched to encounter a more expansive, unbounded universal paradigm.
Why was I my brother?s keeper? Could I allow myself the ultimate sacrifice for a country whose political judgment I did not respect? Should I accept, without question, the word of the self-proclaimed interpreters of the Will of God and forfeit seeking Him on my own? There was no changing who my parents were, but I assumed that surely I could make a personal Covenant with God, seek a land more suitable to my convictions, find those I could embrace as brothers and sisters, and raise children, not necessarily my biological offspring, that I would treasure as my own.
I do not need to hear the derisive guffaw of the mocking Furies to know that the great experiment to which I dedicated my life failed. Was I foolish or just na?ve? God never answered. I am a stranger in a strange land. My brothers and sisters have deceived me. And I must now admit that bloodline is an overwhelmingly determining factor. However, in the final analysis, given the ephemeral nature of the cosmos, does it really matter?
Cuco S?nchez, Arrieros Somos: "?Me rio del mundo, que al fin ni ?l es eterno!"
There was a time when I considered God to be a sadist. I informed my mother of this errant conclusion when I was ten years old, undoubtedly scandalizing her. It was inconceivable for me at that time to accept that this magnanimous Entity she and the clergy described in such precise detail could be capable of giving that most precious of gifts only to retrieve it at His discretion, as His willful caprice. Remarkably, some years ago I told your mother that I understood why one must die. I am now comfortable in the company of death, who has been my constant companion since witnessing my birth, and I now understand that death is the ultimate recompense that is ours.
You are undoubtedly familiar with the refrain from a Mexican song that expresses with eloquence another of my most cherished sentiments: "I thank life for all it has given me." I now close this chapter of my journey with you, content with my actions and stature as a man; that I have behaved nobly, conscientiously and generously, with few regrets.
As a grown man, there are existential and philosophical questions you must struggle with because your answers will determine who you are. Never accept mediocrity, strive for the excellence that exists within you. Never forget that what you produce is a reflection of the content of your soul.
We now face each other as equals, you are no longer my child, nevertheless I feel compelled to trouble you with one final piece of advice: never allow yourself to succumb to the deceit of allowing gods or men to define for you your place in this universe, or to prevent you from doing that which your mind tells you is correct. These manipulators of your destiny will promise the unpromisable in return for your conformity and your obedience. In the end, no one will assume responsibility for the outcome except you.
And if one day the deceptions of life force you to write a similar letter, with bitter ink, it will be superior to all you can receive for having lived someone else's concept of what your life should be. Find the strength to take the road less traveled, stumble over rocks, and on occasion lose your way; the reward at the end of your journey will be that it was yours and yours alone.
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