“I am a super fan of Leonardo DiCaprio. I could marry him. The year after what happened to my mom, I told you, we used to go out together, just me and him. My brother was older so he sometimes preferred to go with his friends. We went to the cinema to see Aviator, you know the movie with Leo DiCaprio. You know the posters that are in the cinema? There were a lot of huge posters with a big face of Leonardo DiCaprio. I said ‘Wooow’ when I entered. My dad, he didn’t say anything when we entered the movie. After one month, he gave me a big packet, and it
was the poster. You know the nice poster, the plastic one, they used at the theater. My dad had told me that he was going to the toilet, but he went to talk to the guy at the reception of the cinema to ask if he could sell the poster. The guy said he could not sell it, but if he came back when the movie was not in theaters he could. So, my dad came back to the cinema and paid something, I don’t know, for the poster, and then he came back home. He gave me two posters, one with Leo’s face and one with the plane and Leo behind it. I still have the poster in my room," Elena said.
When I landed in Italy, I did not know who I was going to meet. My friend, Dorothy from Westminster, was finishing up a summer program and offered to introduce me to a site leader from her program. I was in my hostel in Milan waking up from a nap when Dorothy sent me a message saying that Elena would be happy to meet that same evening. We met at a café, and she extended her hand to give me a firm handshake and introduced herself. “I am from Verona, the city of Romeo and Juliet,” Elena told me. Elena speaks Italian, English,
Spanish, Portuguese, French, and a little German. She received a degree in international studies and now works in marketing since getting her master’s degree. Her father owns a restaurant in Verona. Elena said, “If you do something against the restaurant he gets mad because it is his life.” Her great grandfather opened the restaurant and gave it to her grandfather, who gave the restaurant to her father. Today, her brother lives in Verona working for the restaurant, and he will likely take over the family business one day.
Elena and I were finishing the orange juice I ordered from the café, when she began to tell me about her travels around Europe. She had lived in Geneva, London, Madrid, Lisbon, and several other cities, where she could learn these languages. It was her own idea to travel, and her dad always made sure that she could follow her passion. “I love taking risks. I’m not scared of anything,” Elena said, “The more you grow up the more you appreciate
new things.” Her dad made sure she could travel and follow her passion. Her confidence even spreads to her perception of her Italian accent. She told me that she does not want to hide her accent because it is a part of her culture. She said that she does not know why should she speak with a perfect American accent when she likes her roots.
I asked Elena if she would change anything about her dad. “He is overprotective, so I do not talk to him about boyfriends. He interrogates me, even at 28 years old,” Elena explained. She said it is much easier to talk to her aunt, her dad’s sister, or even a guy friend rather than her dad because of all his questions and jealousy. Elena smiled and
wrapped her arms around her shoulders when she told me that her dad still gives her hugs and kisses when she travels home to Verona each month. However, she does not talk about her boyfriend, and her dad does not bring up the subject. I saw dads in Spain avoiding a few subjects with their kids as well.
I met Ticiane the night I arrived. She was taking a trip around Europe, and her last stop was Rome before returning to Sao Paulo, Brazil. I told her about my research on fatherhood, and she told me about her dad. We sat at the metal table by the window in our room in the hostel. The table was covered with the scraps of my dinner, which was 2 Nutella sandwiches, a spinach salad, and a banana. Ticiane had finished her chicken and mushroom sandwich she bought from the grocery store down the street. “When I was 9, a man came to my school to sell a book, and I wanted it so bad but my dad had lost his job so we could not afford books until I was 12, when I got my first book. After
the man told us about the book, I came home and I just cried because I knew we could not buy it. I didn’t talk to my mom about it because she was in charge of our finances. She would be too dramatic, so I told my dad,” Ticiane said. I took a bite from of my sandwich, and when I looked up I saw tears coming down her cheeks and her hand was covering her mouth. The room had gone quiet. I think it had been years since she remembered this memory with her dad. After several long moments, I walked over to my bed and pulled tissue out of a pocket in my backpack, and placed it in her hand. We sat in silence until she continued.
“I do not know why I am crying," Ticiane said, "He did not say anything ridiculous. It was hard at the time living like this. My dad, he could not sleep and he worried and I would see him worry. I would worry and I could talk to him. But when I was a teenager, I was rebellious and did not talk to my dad much. “In middle school, I played volleyball with my friend, Ana Maria, and I was jealous of her dad. He helped us with volleyball and was the coach of other sports and she was so proud of her dad. I wanted her dad. He walked with Ana Maria to school, but my mom walked me to school and I walked home alone. It was a long way back home. At school, he was there to teach us strategy for volleyball and my friend was so proud he was the coach of this and other sports. He was young at heart and had energy. “After the 8th grade, I did not see my friend until after I graduated university. I asked Ana Maria, ‘Oh how is your aunt? How is your mother? How is your father?’ And she said,
‘My parents are apart.’ Ana Maria found out her dad had another family. There was another woman and an 8-year-old boy. Her dad decided to leave and be with the other family. She does not talk with him. He only talks to the middle sister when he needs to talk to her family. Her mother and her sisters could not believe it happened. Now he only sees that other family.” I asked Ticiane if the story of her friend changed how she looks at her dad, and she said that it does not but she thinks relationships are so fragile. Today, she argues with her dad about politics, but they talk more. Ticiane was a lawyer in Sao Paulo defending people who suffered from human rights violations. She left the firm to work in a cosmetics factory for two years to understand the conditions some factory workers face. Today, she works for the Public Ministry in the prosecutor’s office, while getting her master's degree to specialize in civil rights protection for factory workers.
The day after I met Ticiane, Enrique arrived with his sisters, Diana and Nancy, who were from Mexico. We came from different languages, so our conversations were a blend of English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian as we toured Rome. Enrique was telling us in English about a horrible stay in a hostel with a girl in Germany when he asked me how to say “snore” in English.
I was telling them about my study when I asked Enrique how to best phrase in Spanish the question, “What is the biggest challenge for a father?” We were on a bus from the catacombs, when Diana asked Ticiane how to say someone is fat in Portuguese. I am not sure why Diana was getting that translation. At the restaurant for lunch, we worked together to read the menu in Italian and order food.
I see emotional strength in the stories of Elena and Ticiane. Elena’s father abruptly lost his wife, and through his heartache created an unforgettable memory for his daughter. Ticiane’s dad struggled with a feeling of defeat as his family lived in poverty although he is an educated engineer. They both stayed the course despite their emotional turmoil, unlike Ana Maria’s father. My travel lets me share stories about fathers and how they impact their families. People who grew up without their father could read these stories and
hopefully feel less confused like I feel. Learning you are not alone in your experience can offer affirmation. Moreover, every story makes fatherhood seem bigger than I can express in these posts, and I think that is part of the beauty of it. I cannot capture the scale of the Colosseum nor the detail of the Sistine Chapel, and I cannot quantify the impact fathers have on their families in its totality. I can only describe these wonders and hope we learn from them.
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