“Papa I don’t think I said, ‘I love you,’ near enough.” – Dan Fogelberg
I was never a Daddy’s girl.
I always longed to have a relationship with my dad that involved the type of closeness that other girls seemed to have with their fathers.
But my dad, to me, seemed emotionally distant.
Unlike my mom, who wore her heart and emotions on her sleeve, my dad was the breadwinner, the traditional husband playing the traditional role of putting food on the table and a roof over our heads. But when it came to matters of the heart, mom was my go-to parent.
Dad was emotionally distant.
I never doubted his love. I just wished his left brain would step out of the way long enough to allow his heart to step to the front.
There were, however, moments when the chink in the armor allowed a glimpse into his humanity.
Like the day decades ago when we got the news that dad’s father had died. We were in New York. My grandfather died in Cuba, meaning my dad would not be able to grieve his father in the traditional sense. I remember that day as if it were yesterday.
My dad was propped up on pillows in bed, with a faraway look in his eyes. I couldn’t have been more than 7 years old, but I felt his pain. It would be years before I could define and finally wrap myself around what he must have been feeling that day.
But Dad was emotionally distant.
So life went on and we never spoke about what it felt like for him to lose his father. My dad was the next to youngest of his near dozen brothers and sisters. He was the one they all looked up to. And so, perhaps he felt it was his responsibility to not let his emotions get in the way.
Now, don’t get me wrong. My dad was a wonderful man who sacrificed everything he had to make sure my mom, he and I got out of Communist Cuba to make a better life in the U.S.
I never knew how much my parents struggled because they never complained. Ours was a happy family, and I was a happy child.
But dad was emotionally distant.
He did everything a father was supposed to do — except that one thing I craved the most.
Fast-forward some 30 years later, when my dad, who had invested a portion of his retirement money into my business, lost it because of my carelessness.
It’s the day he kept my business afloat by sitting in my office, picking up past-due bill after past-due bill and writing check after check to keep creditors from coming after me.
“Mima,” he said to me,” using the endearing term he had used for me all my life, “Que paso?” (Translation: My little girl, what happened?”)
It was a loaded question. — one without judgment or reprimand. But one that touched my heart as I realized how unconditionally my dad loved me. It had nothing to do with the money. It had everything to do with suddenly realizing I had been taking for granted a father who was ready to do whatever was humanly possible to shelter me from pain.
I felt like the prodigal daughter coming home. For the first time in my life, I wept openly in front of my dad.
That was the turning point.
I wish I could tell you that from that moment on, dad miraculously changed into a wear your heart on your sleeve kind of guy.
He didn’t change. But I did.
I finally realized that my dad may have seemed emotionally distant, but that was not a reflection of his love for me. It was simply the byproduct of expectations I created in my childhood and carried with me into adulthood. I was still carrying the little girl on my back and didn’t realize how much she was weighing me down.
But dad and I never spoke about it.
That is, until April 15, 2015, the day before he died. The day I found myself alone with him beside his hospital bed. He was unable to speak, but his eyes said it all.
“Go, Papi,” I said to him. “I will take care of Mami.” It was the last thing I ever said to my dad.
He left us the next day.
I have so many regrets about missed opportunities, that the tears won’t stop flowing as I write this.
Every day I ask him for guidance. And every day he leads me. I only wish I had taken advantage of those opportunities to reach out to him while he was alive. The cliche has become reality, and it cuts like a knife to my very core.
Where did the time go, Papi? Has it really been three years since you’ve been gone?
I hope you know that I loved you as much as you loved me.
Mami, Kelly and I left your ashes to be at home in Cuba two years ago, but you came back with us and are always close by.
I thank you for your love, your kindness, your devotion, and your strength … qualities I took for granted, but that have given me the peace and strength I need to live out the rest of my days.