We never held it against him. We understood. We were patient, and we finally wore him down. I remember when Papi first told me he loved me. I was approximately 26 years old and he just volunteered that information to me one day. I was shocked; you really don’t know what a pleasure, euphoric feeling, and the wonderment to actually hear your father say he loves you. I didn’t do anything to prompt him. I didn’t do anything especially nice or thoughtful for him.
We were at a church social and about to leave so we went to say good-bye to my parents. I gave Papi his kiss, when he said it. “Bye and I love you.” And he meant it. He even said it to Queenmaker, my boyfriend of nine years. We looked at each other in astonishment. Queenmaker mentioned how honored he felt that Papi said he loved him too. He saw the look on my face and said, "What?"
"Do you know that’s the first time my father has said he loves me?!!” The most important thing about that phrase is the “and”. That’s where he put his emphasis. It created the necessary pause to let me know that he means and knows what he is saying. I think he told all his children that year that he loved us. And we knew that something had triggered the beginning of a relationship we had always wanted. He says he loves us more and more often as the years go by.
As children we were just such a huge responsibility. He may have looked at us as adversaries, the reasons that kept him from the quiet life he wanted, the dreams never to be fulfilled or to have my mother to himself. As adults, he could see himself in us, that we were good kids, who showed patience, intelligence, tolerance, courtesy and love. We all established an excellent work ethic, which we tribute to him. Maybe he realized that we were all grown up and he was seeing less and less of his children. Maybe he even missed us. I don't care why he said it. I was okay if he never had said it. But when I heard it, the still waters deep inside of me gushed like a happy geyser.
No matter how hard he tried to push us away, we always came back with unconditional love for him. That is what we learned from my mother. My mom was all about unconditional love. My dad was always an open book. His emotional state was always right on the surface for us to read and it was usually angry. He wasn’t an absentee father not physically, but definitely emotionally.
He loved a good joke and when he was happy and Mami was happy, the kids felt like vases being filled up with their laughter and happiness. Don’t get me wrong. Papi was not always a sourpuss. He was just moody. He was just Papi.
From Papi we learned acceptance, justice, tolerance and truth. We also learned stubbornness, candor, detachment and irrational anger. He was one extreme while my mother was the other extreme. We picked and chose from their characters both positive and negative. We learned what or how to be and what not to be. As adults we have learned that the phrase, "I love you" is one that must be heard and said a dozen times a day.
My mother taught us to look at things from the other guy’s perspective. She told us that it was very hard for him to express his feelings. As children we always did look at it from Papi’s perspective. When I look back, if I had five noisy, fighting brats, all trapped in a little house, I’d go crazy or just run away. But he stayed because it was the right thing to do. He always taught us the right thing to do. But that day I knew he did it because he loved us.