“What can I do to be closer to my family?” asked Querido. He had just finished his interview with me, and I had asked him if he had any questions I could answer. We were standing on the bare soil outside of his home in La Pita while his chickens swept the ground for a bite to eat. He was fresh off his broccoli field from working all day, and he generously gave me half an hour to ask him his thoughts on fatherhood. Querido looked sincere as he waited for me to answer his question. I had never been asked this before, and the gravity felt immense. The opportunity to advise Querido reminded me that fathers could read these stories and learn to be closer to their families.
Querido is my host mother’s brother. He and his sister grew up with their siblings on the farm where he lives today. My host family and I drove to La Pita from Jarabacoa through the winding roads that hugged the curves of the mountains. During the ride, Darielys got a little queasy from her father’s driving; Damazo, her father, was pushing our crossover around turns like it was coupé.
Darielys was the first person I interviewed in the Dominican Republic. I had just arrived in Jarabacoa, which is an hour away from Santiago where my flight landed. Darielys and her brother, Daniel, had been questioning me throughout dinner about how I had come to stay with them. Although it was late in the evening, Darielys agreed to an interview.
As the rest of the family got ready for bed, Darielys and I sat at her dining room table so she could tell me about her family. At first, Darielys said she wishes she had a stronger relationship with her father then quickly added that he has done a good job overall. He encouraged her to pursue a career in medicine so she can provide for herself. This August she starts college in North Carolina, where she will prepare for a graduate program to become a physician’s assistant. When it comes to how similar she is to her father, she thinks that she acts like him when they argue. “He never admits when he is wrong, but when we fight I can tell that I don’t admit when I am wrong,” she told me. Their fights sound like typical disagreements teenagers have with their parents. Darielys is mature enough to realize what she can learn from her father’s passionate personality.
Damazo also taught her what to look for in a partner. (This pattern continues from Jamaica.) Although Darielys does not see herself wanting to marry, she said her father showed her how important it is to be with someone who shares her beliefs. “That comes first,” she told me. Her relationship with God is a priority, and she wants the same for someone she would marry. Her father is a pastor, and he prioritizes having a relationship with God. She remembers him talking with her about how a man should also love and provide for his family as well as always respect women. These conversations with her dad about values have helped create a clear picture for what Darielys wants for her future. In other interviews, people have also credited their father for laying the foundation for core values. Darielys said what makes her father different from the other fathers she knows is his presence in their home.
Damazo and I met when he picked me up at the Santiago airport. My friend Kristi at Vanderbilt had introduced me to Victor, who works in the Dominican Republic. Victor was unable to host me, but fortunately, he connected me to Damazo the day before I arrived in the country. Damazo immediately made me feel like family when we piled into his car to drive to Jarabacoa from Santiago. The next morning, I woke up in Daniel’s bed, who had graciously given up his room while I stayed with the family. The rooster next door had been crowing relentlessly for hours so I gave up trying to get more sleep.
Daniel and his father took me to Colegio de Agua Vida, a school near their home, where Damazo and his wife worked. When we arrived, Damazo asked everyone who walked by his office if they had a few minutes to be interviewed. Issaac, Ramón, and Ramona each brought their stories to the table with the help of Daniel as a translator. I would lean over to ask him during interviews how to best phrase my questions in Spanish, and I recorded the conversations with my phone. (Since speaking with them, I have listened to their recordings several times to pick up what I missed from the language barrier.) When we left the school, Damazo took Daniel and me to visit one of his past students, Rosalina, who had recently broken their leg. He was there to check on her; it was apparent Damazo tried to make everyone feel like family. We stopped a few more places around town before coming home, and during our car rides he told me that fathers in the Dominican Republic prioritized work over education and this is a problem. “For 10 women [in school], there are 2 men,”he told me. Damazo also insisted the fathers should spend more time with their families, and I saw that he leads by example.
Damazo told me about his own father while he drove me back to the airport on the night that I left the Dominican Republic. Damazo disagrees with many of his father’s ways. The first being the way Damazo did not begin school until he was 11 years old because his family was taught about work before anything else. When I asked him if he would let his kids travel on a fellowship like mine, he said yes without hesitation. He believes “it would teach them to be independent.” His kids are going to college in the U.S. because he does not want to repeat what his father did. He remembered his dad hugging him only one time in his whole life. This comment helped me better understand how much fathers can impact their family in more ways than showing up or talking with them. Families can also benefit from physical contact from their fathers: hugs, kisses, and pats on the back. Damazo explained that men are taught that these expressions conflict with their masculinity but they make a dramatic difference.
I admired Damazo's evident effort to do well by his family, especially the way he spoke with kids. During dinner my second night, Darielys came home from babysitting, and he listened to her complaints about the kids she had watched all day. Earlier, Daniel told me about the time his dad held him accountable when his GPA dropped slightly. Daniel usually made all A’s but he had gotten a B in a class last semester. Damazo seemed like an exceptional example of not only a great father but also an example of someone who decided to improve where he thinks his father fell short.
However, Darielys’s first contention about her father was that she felt they could have a stronger relationship.
I have a list of about 50 questions to pick from during my interviews, and the last question on the list is “Do you think we ask too much of our fathers?” I was inspired by how close Damazo is with his family, yet Darielys wanted more from her relationship with her father. This type of contrast led me to add this question to my list before I began my study. Over the next year, if the interviews continue to show that people wanted more from their fathers then the answer might be yes, we may ask too much of our fathers. We might also ask too much of our mothers and our leaders in general. They can only give so much to the people for whom they are responsible. I am looking for what fathers do to face this challenge of giving their families what they need. These stories could bring into focus what adversity fathers face, and so far I am still looking for how fathers overcome this challenge.
As I learn more about solutions to this challenge, I offer this advice to fathers, like Querido, who are interested in getting closer to their family: spend time with them, talk with them, and give them hugs as often as possible.
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