Self Discovery

Memoirs of a Puerto Rican child in Philadelphia: Father

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Memoirs of a Puerto Rican child in Philadelphia: Father.


Memoirs of a Puerto Rican child in Philadelphia: Father

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I was raised by a single parent for most of my life.  My  biological father left us when I was four. I have a very brief memory of that day, of him telling me to behave for my mother. Although the memory of him was brief, what happened to us after will forever be imprinted  into my brain. This occurred in mid 1972. My mother worked as a waitress and my father as a cook in the same restaurant. As in most traditional families of that time my father handled the finances. He was the one that paid the loans, utilities, and creditors. Within a few week of my father leaving, creditors began knocking on our door. Creditors my mother was unaware of. In a matter of weeks we had nothing. No furniture, refrigerator, or food. I vividly remember sitting on the floor and starring at my mother crying as she held my brother. For several weeks all my mother could afford to feed us was sugar water. No telling what would have happened to us if it wasn’t for a caring neighbor. I did not see my father again until the age of 13 for a week. Not exactly a bonding moment as I never was able to forgive him for the pain he caused us. My father never paid a dime in child support or ever bought us anything that we may have wanted or needed. At this point in my life I have not necessarily forgiven my father but no longer consider him a factor in my life. I have been asked by my children if I love my father. My answer is “how can you love someone you do not know.” In 30 years we have had less than 60 minutes of conversation.

I am more than the story you know

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What do you see when you look at me?
Do you a see a person who is different?
Am I your equal?

I am more than the story you know.

I am a person who has history.
A person that has an honorable ancestry.
Your stereotypes are part of a story that is incomplete.

I am more than the story you know.

I wear my ethnicity proudly.
Not because I am better than you, but because I am different.
My ancestors were kind, but died extending their hands.

I am more than the story you know

I am of a strong working class, intelligent and articulate.
I can express my thoughts and ponder the secrets of our universe.
I can read Shakespeare and write my own poetry.

I am more than the story you know.

I can love with a passion that is deep and pure
I can grieve for those I have lost
My story is more complex than the one you possess.

I am more than the story you know

I am human just as you
When spilled my blood runs red just like yours
So when our path cross do not judge me for

I am more than the story you know

-by Jose Raul Rivera

My first wife

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I met Liddy (name has been changed) when I was a child in church. However, I did not notice her until I was around 13 years old as puberty was in full gear. Her family was from the Dominican Republic and had come to the states around the time my family did. Although we, Puerto Ricans, had been granted United States citizenship under the Jones Act in 1917, Dominicans needed green cards to be in the country. She was of dark complexion and had what Spanish people call pelo malo (kinky hair). I thought she was beautiful and I fell very hard.

The church we belonged to did not believe in allowing young people to date. Originally I was allowed to visit several times a week under supervision. The relationship continued on and off for several years. She lived a very oppressive and poor existence. Education was not a priority. Being the oldest daughter she was charged with caring for her younger siblings. At around the age of 17 I informed her parents that I was interested in seeing Liddy with the intention of marrying her.

That’s when the shit hit the proverbial fan. I was no longer allowed to see her. It was rumored that her mother may have had a crush on me but was never substantiated. I campaigned the church elders until it was agreed that I could visit her one day a week for a few hours.

Everything was done to stop me from courting her, but the more difficult they made it the more I wanted her. Unbeknownst to me her feelings for me were not the same. It would later come to light that she saw me as means to an end.

At the age of 18 I proposed. I had forgone my dreams of becoming a pilot and college graduate. I got a job working at a photographic lab in downtown Philadelphia. I saved up everything I could. Going back on my promise to my mother to help her move into a better home and leaving my brother without a male role model in the house. My mother objected of the wedding as well as Liddy’s parents, but I forged on. If only I had listened.

So the day of the wedding arrived. My mother put on a brave face and helped out as much as possible. Even though she was opposed to the wedding. Her mother feigned being ill and did not attend the church wedding ceremony. The wedding went on as schedule and we were married on June 21, 1986.

Two months into the marriage is when I would find out the truth that would change me to my core. You see, I was a romantic. I wrote poems, I gave flowers, and I treated her like a princess. But two months to the day of our wedding she told me that she was not in love with me. That she married me to escape from her home and the living conditions she was in. She no longer wanted to be responsible for her siblings. She wanted to be free. She said she loved me enough to stay married and that someday she may fall in love with me.

I was heart broken. I turned my back on my family and on the future I could have had. The verbal abuse I took from her family and friends. I wanted to leave and never return, but the humiliation I would face from the church and family was to great. We stayed together three and half years until we separated.

In retrospect it would have been better had we gone our separate ways sooner. As time went on I grew angrier. My heart began to build walls that would never come down to this day. Had we separated sooner I may have been able to salvage more of my soul and sanity. My behavior became erratic and my thoughts were of suicide. I was so angry and hurt. I wanted the pain to stop, but I could not disgrace my mother by taking my on life.

I would carry these feelings into my second marriage. Eventually being treated for mental illness for several years. Therapy and medication would eventually bring me back to sanity but I would never be the same person again.

The Best I could

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Growing up without a father I was determined, should I be blessed with children, I would never leave their side. Little did I realize without someone to model myself after, I was lacking the tools that help develop a boy into a man and then a father. I always believed giving my children what I lacked growing up would be sufficient. How wrong I was. Although I had a great mother, I failed to realize, then, that she was raising two boys on her own and she may have needed to be a little tougher and stricter than most. Mom loved us to a fault, but sometimes a kinder word may have softened our characters, but when you are poor, deprived of an education, and lacked support you do the best you can.

For a brief time my brother and I had what you would call a step father. If memory serves it was between the ages of 5-10. I’m sure there must have been some good times but I only remember the beatings my mother and I received. Unfortunately and subconsciously this affected what I believed a father should be. Today, I realize the deep impact he had on me, but I also have learned how broken he was as well. I understand why he did what he did – it was what he had learned as a child.

As a father, I hoped for nothing but success for my children. I tried to provide them with everything they needed to achieve that success. In working towards the tangible things they needed, I neglected to provide that kinder word. The intent was there, the want was there, but I fell short on the act itself. Simply because I did not know how, because where I came from this would be considered vulnerability and a man cannot risk being vulnerable.

Today, I wish I had had the courage to be vulnerable. I have learned that a man’s strength comes from realizing his failures and learning from them. It’s OK to make mistakes and allowing your children to be spectators, so they too can learn from them. It saddened me to hear my son say that his children are getting the grandfather he wished he had as a father. All I could do was apologize and implore him to be a better father than I was.

Recent events in my life have me questioning whether being present in my children’s lives has made a positive or negative impact. Are the opportunities that I missed for that kinder word that imperative in a child’s life? Is the message more important than the delivery? I know I gave the message, I also know the intent and affection behind it but apparently it was not received. I know my mother gave me the message and I chose to receive or dismiss it.

My heart is broken and although logically I know I was the best father I could be, I can’t help wonder if I could have done something different. My advice would be to love your children and guide them the best way you can not the best way you know how. We must break the cycle and learn better ways to communicate with our children. I am living proof that what worked on me did not work on my children. We are blessed to live in a time where technology provides us information at an instant. We should take advantage of it; not just to play a game, but to better ourselves and those around us. I am not a religious man but god knows I love my children and I did the best I could.


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Throughout our lives we encounter many crossroads. They can help reshape your life or solidify where you stand. They should never be taken lightly and never be decided on a whim. They are inevitable. Many believe that these crossroads can take on different characteristics and sizes; representing good and evil. I don’t necessarily prescribe to that philosophy; however, I do believe there is a level of difficulty and emotional currency to each path. Occam’s razor suggests that the simplest solution is the correct one, but in life, is it? Does the philosophy hold its value in matters of the heart?
Taking the proverbial road less traveled can decree abandoning conformity and eventually creating a new path often traveled.
Regardless of the path chosen the decisions are very difficult to make. They are situational and no one can occupy the same space and time of someone else to even come close to understanding but we can be empathetic. Crossroads can make or break a life.

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
-Robert Frost