Although I’m a 24-year-old male, I have no shame in admitting that over the past year I have cried harder than I’ve ever cried in my entire life. Twice.
Both of these occasions involved my dad, and neither of them was caused directly by him. In fact, he wasn’t even aware that either of them happened.
I am going to tell you about both of these occasions so that you can understand why my dad has been one of my biggest inspirations and also one of the people who has caused me the most pain in this world.
Instead of simply telling you the two stories, I am going to tell you a few things about my dad first so that you can get to know him a little bit. Throughout this description of him, I will tell you why his decisions and his actions have brought me to a point of tears unlike any other event in my life.
My dad has barely taken a vacation day in 7 years. He started his own business where he delivers Mexican products around the metro area and in a couple cities outside of it. He networks around, builds relationships, buys products to sell, delivers them in person, pays all his taxes and keeps the whole thing running himself. No employees. No excuses.
A few months ago I went to work with him. While we drove, he told me that he had always wanted to live by a beach. That was when I realized what his feelings must have been back on July 14, 2010 at 12:04pm when I was on a trip to California with my girlfriend at the time. He texted me saying “Han nadado nene… supongo q si. Q envidia, yo hace años q ni a un charco llego” [Have you guys gone swimming son?… I’m guessing you have. How jealous, I haven’t even been to a puddle in years](I still have the exact message saved on my sim card).
My dad has been putting two sons through college. Given that I legally couldn’t work until I was 21 (even then, I could only work on-campus for a max of 20hrs) and my brother couldn’t work either until he was 20, it’s been my parents who have had to pay for us because we really couldn’t even if we wanted to. In a nutshell: either they pay for our education, or we don’t do anything with our lives. It’s that simple (again, there was no alternative to school since we couldn’t work). I say that he puts two kids through college, even though my mom earns more money because when my mom wanted to go to India with her friends, or visit family in Mexico, my dad said “Go! I’ll be here.”
My dad is one of the kindest, funniest, most considerate people you will ever meet. He can make friends with anyone if he wants to, and he’s always quick to toss a double-entendre into the conversation just to give people a chuckle. The whole reason why I’m good at either of those things is because I watched him do it and I started doing it until I got better. He’s one of those people who actually knows how to listen to people regardless of how much ‘power/authority’ he supposedly has over them. When my brother and I were kids and we behaved badly, he used to gives us a few hard knocks on the head as a way to discipline us until I said “Dad… it hurts me [emotionally] when you do that” and then he never did it again. EVER. I feel like most parents would say “well, if you want to stop being punished, then you should stop behaving badly” but instead of doing that, my dad decided to tell himself “I am the one who needs to change my way of punishing. Regardless of what my kids do, I am doing something wrong.” It takes a real man to understand that violence and physical punishment create more resentment than lessons.
My father loves my mother. He’s the kind of man who explicitly tells my mother that she’s wrong in the middle of an argument and he warns her that she’s going to gain weight when she indulges in greasy food. What an asshole, right? But he only tells my mother that she’s wrong when she contradicts something that she said and he can prove it, and he doesn’t actually care if she breaks her diet but he knows my mom wants to be on a diet. As he’s told me “If I don’t tell you guys the harsh truths that you need to hear, maybe nobody will.” He’s the kind of guy who surprises my mom with little presents and gestures just because he knows she’ll enjoy them. To be honest, I never really knew, nor cared much about what feminism was until I realized that I pretty much fit into those beliefs because that’s how my dad is with my mom and how my brother and I were raised. The number one thing in my world is my mother, not because she gave me life, but because she’s the number one thing in his world.
There are a lot of great dads who do these things. While I admire every single one of them and I hope that others follow their example, here’s where I’m going to get serious.
My father is an illegal immigrant. Honestly, I’m not even sure of all the details, but I’m pretty sure he became illegal in exactly the same way that it could happen to me… by default. Whether you actually know something about immigration or you just pretend like you do, let me teach you the golden rule about illegal immigration in [apparently] any country: If you don’t get the fuck out when “we” want you to, then you’re an illegal. It’s seriously that simple. That’s why there are tourist visas, work visas, marriage visas, etc… if your visa expires without someone in that country helping you get a new one (and it’s not always so easy for them), then you either get out or you become the illegal scum that people/politicians in that country complain about, regardless of how much you contribute to that country or what a great, moral person you are.
(Please don’t try to argue with me about this. It has been my whole life for 13 years. I know what I’m talking about regardless of what you think you’ve read.)
If you really want to get political, or you want to get patriotic, and you want my dad in jail or out of this country because “he deserves to be punished for breaking the law,” then let me show you his punishment:
My father can’t travel much. After a certain time, he couldn’t renew his license because he didn’t have the legal documents necessary. He’s barely ever gotten a speeding ticket and he even stopped driving completely for a month when there was an erroneous DUI on his record (how the hell some police officer put it into his record along with a picture that looks nothing like him is beyond me). O AND BY THE WAY, his job depends on driving. If he doesn’t drive, he can’t deliver his products to his clients (some of which are a three hour drive), he loses them and his entire work and income go down the drain. My mom and brother had to take time off from work/college to drive him around because we couldn’t afford for that to happen.
He hasn’t taken vacation days in years because he really can’t afford to take many. And even if he did take time off, he can’t get on a plane because security would stop him for not having a valid ID. We’ve already visited every city in a 10-hr drive radius, so where does he go? Chicago again? Well, he seems to be happy with that. But it kills me to know that he deserves better.
My father spends most of his time alone. One of my favorite quotes says “If you are lonely when you are alone, then you are in bad company“… well, my dad must be pretty badass if he spends most of his time alone and he hasn’t gone crazy. He drives from one place to another and he is friends with all his clients because they love the guy (he’s super social when he wants to be). But driving from here to there all day means he actually spends more time by himself than with any of his clients, so how deep is their relationship, really? Every Wednesday, my dad gets up at 4:30am and drives three hours to deliver products to some clients in another state, and then he drives three hours back home. I love all the thinking I get done when I am driving by myself, but you have to wonder if six hours in one day, every week, on top of all the regular driving is just too much.
And yet he does it. He has to.
My father spent 7 years hearing stories about how his own father was dying, and he couldn’t even go hug him, or his mom. My grandpa was dying from Parkinson’s near Mexico City. This was particularly painful for me as well because when I was a kid, we lived in the same house as my grandparents until I was 6. At one point we even had my great-grandma in that house too. We did all kinds of things together so to me, my grandparents are practically my parents as well. This had a huge effect on me because I grew up with so much love and caring that I cannot stand the idea of living far from my parents when I have my own children. When we moved here to the U.S., my grandparents came to visit every year for five years. Every year. My dad would somehow make time off and we would drive to the nearby cities to show my grandparents around(Chicago, Dallas, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Denver, etc). But then my grandpa got sick. Really sick. And he couldn’t travel anymore. My dad couldn’t leave the country because leaving this country means being punished (i.e. not allowed to come back for 10 years, or indefinitely), unless he actually crossed the border illegally, which can get him killed for trying. My grandpa was no longer able to come visit and my grandparents don’t have a computer or a solid internet connection in the rural town they live in outside of Mexico City, so they couldn’t Skype.
All my dad had for the last 7 years of his own daddy’s life were phone calls saying:
“I’m fine son, how are you?”…
“I feel a little weaker and I forget some things, but the medicine is helping”…
“Son, your dad can’t really talk much on the phone any more because he forgets who he’s talking to, so you have to speak loudly and slowly”…
“Son, your dad can’t really talk on the phone anymore. He’s doing okay, but the medicines are really taking a toll and he’s not very talkative or active”….
I don’t ever want to imagine what the last phone call sounded like or felt like to him. I just know that I woke up the morning of September 7th, 2013 and when I walked into the living room my mom said “your grandpa died a few hours ago…”
We knew it was coming for years; I could almost say I wished for it so that it would no longer be such a torturous anguish to imagine him being gone. I just wanted to get it over with. But when I walked into my dad’s bedroom that morning he was just laying there, looking up, blinking every once in a while and looking around the room. I knew there was nothing I could ever say or do to make it better. So I laid down next to him. I hugged him. And we cried, I don’t know for how long. It wasn’t a loud, sobbing cry. It was just me and my dad laying there, with tears, a sob or two, and the occasional deep breath that seems to bring no oxygen. We knew that he would never hear his dad’s voice or feel his touch again. His dad was nothing but a memory.
One of those two times when I cried harder than I’ve ever cried in my life was a few weeks earlier when I realized that my grandpa was going to die soon, and there was absolutely nothing I could do to help his son, my father, hug him just one last time. All I could do was sit here, wait for the bad news, and be there for my dad when it happened.
My father is scared of suffering the same fate with me that he suffered with his own dad. The second hardest I’ve ever cried in my life was the day I was fired from my job because I knew what that meant. Staying in this country would mean that I would settle for options I didn’t like and put more of my wishes to see the world on an indefinite hold; losing my job gave me the freedom to finally chase after them.
“Fuck this, I’m moving to Europe. It’s what I want, and it’s my best option if I want to actually do something with my life.”
The day I lost my job was the day I cried so hard because I had to tell my parents that despite their hardest efforts and countless money, their son, who is not a U.S. citizen or permanent resident was back to a shit situation where he would lose legal status in August. Their son was choosing to leave this country willingly and forfeit any sort of legal status; he will be able to come back as nothing more than a foreigner who can only visit a certain amount of days every year. Their son might fulfill his fantasies of going to Europe but he will live seven timezones and a $1,000 flight away . And he might never come back.
My dad has tried to give me all sorts of reasons why I shouldn’t leave and I’ve had a counter-argument to every single one of them (because we all know I’m an asshole like that). We had some intense arguments that got me agitated and enraged with his logic. But I have no argument against his emotions. I don’t know how it feels to experience your father’s death from a telephone. I don’t know how it feels to never give him “one last hug” because the last time you saw him was not supposed to be the last time. Sadly, maybe I will know what that feels like now that I am leaving, but I sure hope not. I know that’s what terrifies him. I know that my dad doesn’t want that for me, or for himself. And yet somehow he’s finally come to terms with it, just like he came to terms with never seeing my grandpa again.
My father has had to risk and sacrifice everything. My dad could have left this country when his visa expired. He could have left his wife and kids here or forced them to move again just because he had to move.
But my dad chose to stay.
He loved his children and his wife too much to leave them behind or to risk a less-happy life than he would be able to give them. So he stayed here illegally, running his own business and following every other law. He became the stigmatized, law-breaking, “go-back-to-your-own-fucking-country” illegal alien that this country abhors, because he knew it was the most loving decision that he could make, and because it would keep his family happy and together. He lost vacations, friends, pride, peace of mind… he even lost his own father because of this decision. Now he’s scared of losing one of his sons in the same way that he lost his father, and he’s somehow agreed to not only take that risk, but help me finance it.
He has every reason to be depressed and give up on everything. What else does he have to lose?
Arguably the most influential book I’ve read in my life is The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck, because it deals with love and and family. It taught me that I should try to carry out every decision I make in the most loving way possible regardless of how uncomfortable I am with the consequences. And this is something that he exemplifies more than anyone I’ve met. He is his own man and I cannot tell you how he thinks, but I can tell you that he is one of the happiest people I know despite all of the things he’s gone through. Somehow his wife, his two sons, and their happiness are enough to make him happy. Somehow the absolute bullshit that this legal system has put him and his family through has not been enough to break him. Somehow he decided that the most loving decision is not always the most legal one. That’s why I’m writing this. I love my father, and the things he’s been through are worthy of at least some admiration. No medal can or will give him the retribution that he deserves or fix the pains he’s been through but at least now you know about it and hopefully you understand the decisions he’s made and why he’s made them.