My father

My father wasn’t a very talkative guy, not even when he actually had something to say. I don’t carry many memories of him, for he would just leave home for work and come back. Even though, I remember this man always wearing a three-day stubble on his face, talking grumpily and staring very undeeply. I wonder what his past was like. I was just a child after all and I surely couldn’t grasp such weird things of the world. I really wanted was to be part of all that ‘family-affective setting’ with a father who comes, caresses your head, hugs you and asks you how your class was. I understood perfectly that my parents had to work hard for the sustenance of the family and that they would not always have the time for family stuff.

We were together during the weekends at least. I remember that my father would take some time to teach us (my brothers and I) the ‘art’ of drawing. He found it important for us to have a fine motor system. He did have one himself. By placing a talc bottle on a shelf, he wanted us to reproduce the image as perfectly as possible. His intentions weren’t bad but sometimes he would just go too far and cross the border between possible and desirable. This all might have affected our motor system positively. Once upon a time I found drawing a nice hobby. I could draw anything but especially faces. Landscapes too. My sister liked designing fashion but unfortunately she didn’t pursue that activity. My youngest brother can draw strokes and features beautifully. He is good in faces and still life. Is a fine motor system then a genetic thing? If so I think I should thank my father for that gift. My brother and I haven’t become anything like draftsmen or designers but we have our own drawing style and personal techniques. Besides we write correctly and have a smart handwriting.

I have no idea what he was thinking back then and what he thinks now.Yes, he is alive. He’s pretty much alive and must be around 65 years old. I haven’t had any contact with him for a long time. And the incognita why he never made the first movement to contact me is the reason for me to write this column in my blog. Ladies and gentlemen, here’s a Daniel’s story starting by my biological father. I hope he will have access to my words as everybody has internet nowadays.

I actually don’t know for sure how he and mom met but I know it has been somewhere in the early 70’s in their own homeland Sergipe. Its capital, Aracaju, unites people from the whole state (that’s how we call province in Brazil) that’s why I assume they met there. My father comes from a village called Ponta dos Mangues, which belongs to the city of Pacatuba, Sergipe, not far away from the border with the state of Alagoas. Though still young, my father had already 2 children from a previous marriage in São Paulo. These two children of his I would only be able to meet personally later in 2003. My mother comes from Itaporanga d’Ajuda, interior from Sergipe. Her family, Barbosa, had been living in Itaporanga for many decades already. My parents moved to the capital together looking for jobs and better lives. This moving into the capital came to be known in the history as rural flight, which forced many people from the Northeast of Brazil, also known as retirantes to leave their hometowns and look for better lives in promising São Paulo. My father had some kind of construction based education as he could design spare parts so that it would not be necessary anymore to order any missing part all the way from the manufacturer, what was also time and money saving. This education of my father must have helped my parents to start off with their brand new life in São Paulo.

As far as I know my parents had 5 children. I was the third and the eldest of the boys while the very first child (a girl) was stillborn. I never really felt ‘at home’ at my father’s presence. Once he took to with him to his work; the 20th floor of some building site and introduced me to his workmates who all seemed pleased to meet me. That is by far the one moment I remember having had the feeling that my father was proud of me. On all the other occasions, it was exactly the opposite. For example, once he caught me playing dolls with my sister, well, I was not really playing dolls with her, I was only giving her a helping hand by holding one of the dolls in my arms and bottling ‘her’ (like she said I was supposed to) while she brought the other two ones to bed (or something like that). My father couldn’t possibly understand this. All I heard next was the sound of his belt being pulled out of his trousers very fast to hit me with it but with that same reflex action to look back and check what was going on I succeeded dodging his belt’s blow and it hit nothing but the floor. The one thing I still ask myself is why he didn’t actually hit me.

It’s Daddy’s Day and I have to give him a card ‘shirt’ we had cut out and written a message inside of it. I know my father is lying in bed and I try not to wake him up but the door creaks while I try to open it. The bedroom is dark and this makes me feel twice embarrassed. The look in his eyes says: what the hell are you doing here but I must finish my mission like the teacher told us to do.

I came closer and kissed him on his cheeks. I get such a creepy feeling from his stubble beard and I just run away. I don’t remember what happened next or if he said something or not. I was only 8 but already convinced I didn’t need a father at all. Just about the same time I met my mother’s brother, uncle José Humberto who acted as a father for me in many senses. Unlike my father and like all other fathers in the world, my uncle was loving and kind. During the months before that, my father’s sister Maria Matildes had sent us many letters. Her letters brought news about my father’s father Domingos Rafael. My grandfather probably. I was already used to the idea that I was the one person in the world without grandparents. Anyway, I had one but he was terminally ill. My father set out to see his father but he never came back again. His father died and is buried in the cetemery of Pirambu, state of Sergipe.

Now I understand why he never came back even though he never said that before. But he had met someone new a few months after his arrival in his new address. My mother did just the same thing. And so their marriage ended at least in the practice. Differently from what I read about children of divorced relationships, I didn’t miss him at all. My one anxiety was thinking that he might change his mind and return or just come back to pick a few belongings he still needed. But luckily this never happened. He never called or wrote a letter in the following 8 years.

My mother had also a new partner by then, with whom she is married with nowadays. She wanted us to see our new ‘stepfather’ as a father but that was an impossible mission as we were still expecting our ‘real’ father to come back at any time for any reason and that something still might change. Time flew and here I am 16 years old going on 17. We moved all the way to Sergipe, Itaporanga d’Ajuda, my mother’s home town.

With Deda (met him by chance during my vacation)

I decided to stay a few months in my father’s city, Pirambu. He still lived there with his partner, his mother (my grandmother Bertulina, aka Dona Nina and Flávio, a son of a brother of my father’s called José Antônio. On vacation in Mangue Seco in 2012 I met a nephew of my father, Seu Deda. I had no idea I had so many relatives. My father’s partner was not really what I would call an ideal ‘stepmother’ as she was only 2 years older than me but she told me a lot of things about me father I should know. Some of these things weren’t necessarily positive. Flávio, my cousin, had been living with them since his parents divorced and he felt very protective, why not to say jealous, of my grandmother. He had even threatened me with a knife once. Well, he had a point: the fact that we were first cousins didn’t actually have to mean that we had to like each other. My grandmother seemed to like me very much and she said she also liked my mother. I even found a picture of my mother as a teenager in her bedroom. Well, let’s say that I swiped the picture. My grandma was back then pretty old and our conversations were somewhat limited because of her hearings’ capacity.

Other weird relatives lives in the same village. One was Seu China (something like Mr. China, because this brother of my father looks like a Chinese in a way). His my father’s brother on father’s side. Well, it’s a long story. Grandpa was married to Dona Nina but he also had a second family even though not officially married as bigamy is not accepted in Brazil as in most countries. The children from his marriage and the children from the extra relationship were born about the same period. Seu China was born in the extra relationship. He and my father were not really in speaking terms. I never knew why. He never wanted to talk to me either. Probably because I was my father’s own son. All in all I guess my attempt to get to know my father’s family better failed. My relationship with my father was less intense, though. When I saw him after so many years I could hardly recognize him as his face was so sunburned. He didn’t recognize me either. I was no 8-year old child anymore but an almost 17 year old man. He was coming all the way from the sea, carrying his fishing rod and he smelled of prawns. After he recognized me he embraced me but all I felt was the same shivering I felt when I was a child and he was around. That was even worse than the smell of prawns.

He used to call himself a pirate. He would simply set out to sea with his vessel and a few sailors only to come back a few days later bringing lots of fish. And so he made a living. He had certainly given up on civil construction, probably for lack of opportunities. Maybe for lack of ambition. He just made such a radical change in his life. Many times I wanted to ask him why no contact all these years but I decided it should be his choice to explain me that. But he never did it. Even after so many years no see, here was I having a meal with my father, on his own table but the one thing his mouth did was chewing his food while I hardly could see him ‘hidden’ behind his meal.

One day I just packed and left without even saying goodbye. A few years later I had a last personal contact with my father. I was married by then and had invited him to spend an evening at home with my family. Once again he let me down. He made no effort to be communicative or show any interest whatsoever in his own family, his own blood. Back in 2001, as an out gay, I received this phone call from my father, which made me happy at first, for I thought for one second that he was sorry and that he was willing to revive the by him neglected family bonds. But all he needed was som information about how he would be able to get his pension. He didn’t say another word. At that moment, I decided to close my father’s last chapter and actually forget about him. I wrote him a long letter telling him how upset I was and how disgusting I found his selfish behavior towards his own children. If it never were his intention to approach and try to build a real relationship with us, then he didn’t need to contact us at all – for sure not to deal with his own daily life’s problems. I decided in my heart to exclude him from my life and not feel guilty for it as we don’t choose who our father is. For the same reason we have the free will to choose who you don’t want to be in your family any more. After all, is blood really thicker than water? How does this benefit me in any way? Of course I wish things had been different but they weren’t. I prefer accepting this and letting go than living the rest of my life asking myself: ‘what if’?

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