I got up early, a man walking with his two-year-old son said good morning and I responded with a smile. It was too early for me to talk to a stranger -- still in meditative mode and planning out a day of human interaction and writing.
But I remembered it was Father's Day and decided to strike up a conversation.
'Taking the baby for a walk, huh?'
'Yes. He gets up very early everyday and wants to go outside for a walk, so I take him out every morning.'
The little boy looked at me with a very serious look on his face as if I had interrupted the ritual he needed to get his day started.
Growing up with a father who was present but not present
I grew up with a father who was present but verbally abusive to me, so when I see a father who appears to adore spending time with his kids, it makes me very happy. It is somehow reassuring. I feel endorphins release in my system at the thought of a child receiving love and guidance from his/her papi.
And I can honestly say it was a great thing to have had a father who was abusive because his behavior led me to study philosophy while in elementary school, and I learned how philosophical tenets were not just stuff for sitting around daydreaming in an open field and for recitations to wow everyone with one's intellectual prowess, but an actual guidebook for living a life of reflection and introspection not bound to quotidian suffering. One of the most important things on which I focused as a child was psychological resilience. I wrote in my journal about what each unpleasant experience taught me -- my focus was on keeping the lesson and letting go of the pain. This process was quite successful because I occasionally glance at painful events in my past but I never stare. I live fully and happily in the present with the occasional disappointment but there is always introspection and reflection to fall back on.
In a creative nonfiction workshop in which other writers critiqued my work, I wrote an essay about how abusive my father had been and how I had forgiven him a long time ago. One woman was furious I had forgiven him and she insisted I be angry about it. I laughed because it seemed silly to be angry when there are so many wonderful things happening in my life all the time, and my father's mistakes in life inadvertently led to my having all of these great opportunities. Life is funny that way.
Relying on my brains
As a kid, my solution to every problem was to do research, so I am adept at finding relevant information for every situation. I relied on my brains to avoid getting beat up by New York-born Latinos who were hip and spoke English and by African-American kids who were suspicious of us speaking Spanish, thinking we were gossiping about our non-English-speaking classmates.
The beauty thing
Ever since I was a kid, people have told me I'm beautiful and my mother taught me to say, "Oh, that's very nice of you to say. Thank you." and leave it at that. I read Anais Nin's journals at thirteen and made lists of the authors she liked and read the authors she liked and made lists of those authors' favorite writers and the librarians knew me by my first name. Being intellectually engaged excited me more than looking through fashion magazines. The idea of someone else dictating how I should look seemed preposterous and still does. Creating a sense of ennui is just a marketing ploy.
Oddly enough, some men who don't read books or go to museums or watch foreign films or pay attention to politics and have no knowledge of philosophy want to date me because they think I'm good-looking. I have never had a superficial focus. A man's physical appearance has never been the draw, nor do I care about his finances. I have no plans to intertwine my life with a man to the point of needing to know his salary or how much money he has in the bank.
I find a strong sense of self, and psychological resilience to be the most attractive traits in men and humans in general. Having a purpose beyond paying bills is really appealing to me.
The perfect Father's Day
I went for a four-mile run in Central Park, letting Baden Powell play with perspective, the pollen bounce off my skin and kids whiz by on tricycles with their fathers. After the run, I headed to the Silent March to end the NYPD Stop and Frisk program. It was a beautiful march; there were African-Americans, both native and non-native-born, South East Asians, East Asians, the Zulu Nation, the Black Trade Unionists, Gay rights groups, and then, I saw one of my heros -- Ben Jealous, the former head of the NAACP, who has devoted his life to fighting human rights abuses. I have been to many protests, marches, etc., but I had never seen Mr. Jealous in person. He is very tall and exudes a sense of purpose and calm. His daughter was sitting on his shoulders, playing with his hair as he spoke to reporters. I had the opportunity to shake his hand and thank him for his service. Reporters took pictures.
I was interviewed by a reporter from Channel 47. And that evening, I went to see a musical with my friend Lisa.
Happy Father's Day, papi
And I did speak to my father, who passed away in 2005. We didn't speak of what could have been; I thanked him for what he was able to do as a father and asked he continue providing the guidance in death he was unable to give in life.
It was a beautiful peaceful day.
Love When You Say Love, Poetry by Odilia RIvera-Santos