May 31 - June 6

“Are you like your father?” I asked.  Amado said, “I am more like my mother.  My face is slender like hers was and, like her, I do not like trouble.  I got one thing from my father: I am clever.”  He laughed to himself and went into the dining room before he turned back around and added, “And like my father, I love women!”  Amado laughed even more at this important closing point.  

Please, take my anecdotes to learn a lesson about the impact Amado’s father had on him, and not the way all Cuban fathers impact their families.  If I wanted to define fatherhood for all of Cuba, it would take lifetimes, and over those lifetimes the role would evolve to meet the needs of the family.  So, during my time in Cuba, I spoke with the English teacher, Amado Fournier, who’s family name comes from France, and Juan Luis Hernandez Milián, the grandfather of my host family. 

Amado teaches English to Jessica, the daughter of my host family.  He is 66 years old and lives in the municipality called 10 de Octubre in Havana, Cuba.  As I write this, Amado is teaching Jessica English in the dining room in preparation for her written English exam in 2 weeks.  Before they began their lesson, I came downstairs and sat on the couch in the living room.  Amado stood at the open living room window with his hands behind his back watching people walk down the street.  The front door is usually kept open in a feeble attempt to cool the house, but it is only 09:00 so the temperature is still comfortable.  Amado turned to me and said, “Hola,” before he walked down the hall to meet Jessica in the kitchen.  He came back minutes later and said, “Jessica says you want to learn Spanish.”  I explained that I am studying fatherhood.  He said that he is an English teacher, and he taught for over 40 years at the university before retiring.  He would be happy to tell me about his father.

Amado first said, “My father was present.”  His father was a doctor with two wives, which was not uncommon at that time in Cuba.  Amado’s mother was the second wife, and his father’s children were all considered Amado’s brothers and sisters.  His father took care of everyone as they all grew up in the same town.  Each of his siblings graduated from university and became professionals in different fields.

Amado told me his father taught him many things.  He taught Amado what to value most of all, such as doing right and not wrong as well as getting his education.  So, Amado went on to graduate from university, and he became an English teacher.  Amado happily lives in Cuba and is very proud to speak English because when his dad discovered that Amado wanted to be anEnglish teacher, he pushed Amado to pursue this profession.  Amado’s father wanted him to pursue his dream. The last thing Amado told me about his father is, “Yes, my father was an example for me, and I miss him a lot.”  His father passed years ago as well as his mother.  After the interview, I tell him that I am visiting 20 more countries.  Amado has a few siblings who have been abroad, but Amado is afraid of flying so he stays here in Cuba.

The biggest thing my father taught me was how important it is to show up. When Amado opened the interview with the fact that his father was present, he affirmed this lesson.  Amado’s father would probably be quite proud of him not only for following his dream of becoming an English teacher but also for valuing education and integrity and being friendly to me, a stranger in anew country.  I wonder if Amado’s father actively saw himself as such an example to Amado.  He is retired and still proud to share what an influence his father is to this day. His father taught him to be clever and to complete his education.  His father taught him to love his brothers and sisters as well as to love women.  His father set an example to take care of his family, and Amado took care of his family.  Today, Amado’s grandson is in school because his father and his father’s father and his father’s father’s father went to school.  Amado is proud that he knows he made his father proud. 

Amado (left) and Jessica (middle) paused their English lesson to take a photo with me.  Juan (right) was reading by the living room window, like he does every morning.

A couple weeks before leaving for Cuba, I found a place where I could live while in Cuba.  When I showed up, I was surprised to find I am living with an entire family.  Jorge and his daughter, Jessica, live here with Juan, Jessica’s grandfather, and Jessica’s husband.  When I first got to their home, Jessica was whipping up a snack in the kitchen and came to the front door to welcome me.  She led me to the back of the house and up the narrow stairs to the bedrooms, which is what I did as soon as I found my bed.

I woke up the next morning, and I began thinking about what my friend, Carlo, asked me about a week ago, “How much free time do you have?”  With the abrupt transition from structured classes to the empty schedule of a Keegan traveling fellow, I realize that this morning was completely free time.  The only things on my calendar are my flights to Jamaica and the Dominican Republic in the next few weeks. 

That same morning in the living room downstairs, Juan, the grandfather, sat in the rose-print chair by the window. Juan is a retired professor from the university and speaks Spanish, English, and Russian.  He told me there is a plan for the Cuban Federation of Women to open a school for parents.  This is a new organized effort to teach mothers and fathers how to parent.  It suggests that Cuba is making the effort to educate parents on how to support their families.  If I return to Cuba in a few years, I hope to see this school come to life like the university building I saw for doctors on my drive from the airport to Jorge’s house.  The Cuban Federation of Women is taking this role seriously, like myself, and we will see our communities benefit from the part we play in actively educating people on fatherhood

By studying fatherhood, I hope to continue the effort to celebrate the role of the father and to demonstrate the magnitude of the opportunity for fathers to impact their family and the generations that follow.  This study shows how values and vices can begin and end in a family because of the way a father chooses to behave.  As I travel, I will see the shortcomings of some fathers and the successes of others.  With a greater knowledge of fatherhood, people can share wisdom from different cultures and improve how fathers serve their families.  There is more than one way for men to father, but all men can use these stories to become more effective leaders in their households, workplaces and communities.  Finally, when we study fatherhood, we realize that the children this man is responsible for will take everything he does as an example as they grow up because he is their dad. 

Juan told me the most important thing about fatherhood is being an example, and this is important to me becauseI followed examples outside of my home to become the man I am today.  I paid close attention to friends' fathers, the men at my church, the men on TV, the men at my jobs, the men at my schools, and the men who coached me.  I adjusted habits in my work ethic, the way I dress, and the way I treat people thanks to these examples.  I noticed in high school that I had become an example, and I took responsibility for the way I conduct myself, so that anything I do another young man could use my actions to form his own values.    

My sister took this photo (right) the morning I left for Cuba. I smile because I do not yet know that the shirt I am wearing is the only t-shirt I remembered to pack.  When I got to my home in Cuba, I took inventory of everything I had.  I had 4 tubes of toothpaste and only one t-shirt.  (Hand-washing that shirt has become a part of my nightly routine.)

This corner where I was staying (left) sits across the street from the park (right), where I met several families.  

Often I saw dads walk down the street with their children (above).

Leandro, Dario and Jimmy showed me highlights of their ballet choreography and posed for a picture with Leandro’s girlfriend (I never got her name).  They attend La Escuela Nacional de Ballet for contemporary dance, and they came to the park to celebrate the completion of their exam that morning.  Dario says Cuba is a country that everyone should visit, and then he revealed that they are “very drunk”.  When Dario held his water bottle up to my chin, it smelled like it contained pure vodka. 

Catedral de La Habana (above) is a tourist destination where I met Maria and Agueda (not pictured).  They each had some criticism of the fathers of Cuba.  Maria said her father was marvelous, but then gave me a knowing look when she added that fathers today need to be in their children’s lives. Agueda also praised her father and said the fathers today no longer are examples of how to value respect and education. She attributes this to each generation changing over the years.

While caught in the rain on my way home from the cathedral,I met Camilu and his 5 grandsons.  They were playing in the rain, and the boys were screaming and chasing each other when I first saw them.  Camilu gave me a firm handshake and invited me into his home for coffee.

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