“Learning is always rebellion… Every bit of new truth discovered is revolutionary to what was believed before.”
—Margaret Lee Runbeck
Today’s story is contributed by Pamela P.
Everything Dad said I couldn’t do, I did. I was determined to prove him wrong, to be my own kid.
Athletics — “girls don’t do that,” said Dad. Other “no ways.” Boys. Bikes. Electronics. Pants. I did them anyway. All the things that “girls didn’t (or shouldn’t) do,” I would jubilantly embrace.
My family is Chilean; we came here when I was 3, fleeing Pinochet as political refugees. America didn’t soften Dad. He was — and is — the stereotypical Latino man (and dad). Overprotective. Authoritarian. Rigid. Sexist. And racist, too.
Dad was obsessed with sheltering his “little girl” from the ways of a land strange to him, but so comfortable, a perfect home to her. He was doing his best (I know now) but he was also driving me crazy.
(You can probably tell, I resented my father growing up. Today I am exactly what he was not — an artist, a progressive, an activist — he embodied everything I would come to abhor.)
My parents would later return to Chile (the States weren’t for them). My sister and I, as adults, stayed on.
In 1994 — when I was 24 years old, over 20 years since we fled — I journeyed back to visit Mom and Dad. I met my cousins, aunts and uncles. These relatives had previously been distant rumors. Now here they were, in brilliant, living color. They were eager to fill me in, especially about Dad.
Dad was born to an educated, upper-crust woman living in a small town in Southern Chile. Her parents were wealthy landowners. She and her five sisters were forbidden from fraternizing, much less marrying, any man from this region. They were considered too provincial, “low class.”
Yet Dad’s mom, my grandmother, didn’t care. She fell in love with a local man. She became pregnant with my dad — and the whole family went berserk. She was spurned.
My grandmother would die from complications of the birth. My Dad was “raised” by his aunts — if you could call it that. This was a bastard boy — half a person, at best.
Dad was denied an education, even shoes. He was the family’s inconvenience, its nasty little secret. Among all the cousins and half-siblings, it was always clear that Dad came last.
That’s when it came to me. I understood. No wonder my father was angry. No wonder he was so harsh, strict, unbending and protective.
Dad had no one there for him growing up. He was on his own from day one. His road had been hard… largely without love.
My relationship with my father improved after that. We are still as different as we can be — but we no longer lock horns. I try to understand him. And he tries to understand me.
I’ll never be like my Dad in his “old world ways.” I’m an adventurer, a free spirit, and have friends of every shape, size and color. But I accept others for who they are, and that now includes Dad.
He did the best he could for who he was. Now, while I may not agree with many of Dad’s ways, I understand that he came from a place, a background different from me.
I learned a valuable lesson through those many years of butting heads with my father.
People see through a historical lens… glass colored by experience, sharpened by knowledge and softened by love.
I no longer judge others through spectacles formed by experience, suited only to me. And that includes Dad.
It was a long road to this place, but now I feel confident when I say, “Te quiero, Papi.”