The Hardest Conversation I Had Before Moving to the States
When I was growing up in Colombia, it wasn’t unusual to eat beans and find rocks in them. Back then, people with recent dental work needed to avoid corn, jawbreakers, and, apparently, beans.
I remember my dad eating a plate of red bean soup in the kitchen.
It was the kitchen of the last apartment my parents lived in together before their divorce. I especially loved the kitchen because it had two entrances and was large enough for my sister and me to play tag.
At some point, he stopped eating his soup to pull a tiny rock he had been chewing on.
My dad placed the rock on the table. He looked frustrated. It didn’t take much to frustrate him those days.
Then, he kept working on his soup. A few minutes later, he was chewing on another rock. He grabbed the rock out of his mouth and angrily chucked it across the kitchen.
It took my dad two or three seconds to realize he had not chucked a rock but his molar.
Even after three decades since their divorce, my parents don’t like each other.
Here are two people who loved each other wildly.
My dad, guitar in hand, serenaded my mom at her window sill. My mom went against everything her family wanted for her, eloped, and ran away to Florida, where they started their family before returning to Colombia.
Now, they can’t even say one nice thing about the other.
Maybe twice in his life, my dad has said, “Your mom did a good job raising you two.”
And my mom, in turn, would say, “To give your dad credit, he can turn the ugliest piece of lumber into the most beautiful piece of furniture.”
Now, that’s not really a compliment as much as it is the mention of a hobby. Something someone does on the weekends after getting inspired by different Pinterest boards, “To your dad’s credit, he can turn ingredients into yummy smoothies” or “To your dad’s credit, he knows how to make strawberry jam.”
If you were to list things kids need from parents, furniture wouldn’t make it into the top 100.
I remember sitting once in such a piece of furniture he had designed. It was a wall desk that made it into my room at the first apartment my mom got after they divorced. My dad would come some evenings and help my sister and me with homework.
It must have been night because I remember the lights being on and my dad sitting by my side while I completed calligraphy lines, which were a mandatory part of my catholic upbringing.
I was pressing hard on every single stroke, making my #2 pencil resemble a Sharpie. My dad gently grabbed my hand and softly told me, “You know? It’s okay to cry if you need to cry.”
I didn’t need to cry. I was angry. I couldn’t comprehend why the two people I loved most in the world couldn’t work it out.
But I did. I cried for a few minutes.
My dad helped me understand that underneath the anger was sadness.
A man with his temper could’ve easily gone the route of toxic machismo — it would’ve definitely not been out of place in Colombian society.
Instead, he taught me that men can be sensitive.
Years later, my dad was sitting in the last apartment we rented in Colombia on a chair he designed.
The chair came with us wherever we moved. It was a throne chair made of mahogany. The arm stumps had carvings of Pharaohs on them, and the legs had carvings of elephant hooves where they met the floor. Both carvings were highlighted in gold lacquer, contrasting the dark stain used on the rest of the chair and the mint green on the upholstery.
My dad had been moving around the country, trying to find a place to call his own until he finally returned to Barranquilla to be close to us. But by then, we had made the tough decision of leaving everything we knew behind and trying our luck in San Diego.
He told me with tears in his eyes, “Never look back. That was my mistake.”
The day I left, I boarded the plane and looked out the window so no one would see me cry for two hours straight.
I wasn’t just crying because I had a layover in Phoenix, which has been, historically for me, one of the worst airports to fly into. TSA in Phoenix acts like they have never seen a brown man before.
I was crying because my dad taught me that it was better for a man to cry when they felt sad, or lost than to put on a facade of fake bravado.
Maybe if he would’ve been able to follow his advice, we would’ve grown up close to him. Maybe he would even have a full set of teeth.