I asked my dad to read this quote out loud because I wanted him to understand the quote in the same way I did. Life is about taking risks and exploring possibilities, but his words slurred leaving “pay bills” as the only words that were clear.
I’ve watched my father wake up early and come home late all my life. At most we would spend half an hour a day together unless he took the day off or we were on vacation. At a young age I did not understand how expensive life could be especially in a house filled with 12 people at all times. So I struggled accepting that he had to work from 9:00am to 10:00pm or later to pay bills. I struggled to forgive him for not staying longer on my birthdays, or leaving early on my graduation, and not watching me go off to prom. But as I grew older and started to experience life, I started to understand why he worked so much.
About two months ago, my dad and I broke record for our longest conversation, it was thirty minutes. I was teaching at the time and started to express my issues with the education system to him; lack of resources, imagination, analyzing, and support. Students are taught to repeat and remember instead of evaluate and question. Instead of investing in the school system and help students build their future; we decided it was best to determine their future by using money to invest in prisons rather than textbooks. I was surprised when he said, “That’s why I don’t believe in teachers.”
He spoke about being a young child in Dominican Republic where teachers would make fun of him for not knowing the material. They labeled him as someone who wasn’t trying and therefore did not deserve help. No one stopped to realize that they could only afford one uniform and students could not enter the school without a uniform, so my dad and his brothers had to interchange days that they could go to school. No one stopped to realize that they did not have the textbook for school because they could not afford it, which resulted in not being able to do class activities or homework.
After moving to America, and returning home for vacations a couple of times, he realized that there was a library right by his house with a copy machine where he could have taken out copies from textbooks to complete his homework. His voice became tense, but he filled in the cracks with a joke when he mentioned that not only was he deprived of his education, but also of getting more ladies. “A las mujeres le gustan los hombres inteligente.”
On days he didn’t go to school he worked with his dad cutting weeds in fields with a machete. I was surprised that as a child he was able to use that tool, he informed me that they didn’t have those regulations. You did what you had to do. He laughs when he says he is twenty-five years over retirement because he has practically been working his entire life and he is a little over fifty now.
I wanted so badly to tell him that his bedtime was long overdue. And that instead of his pockets singing in sorrow after a week of long hours, they could sing sounds of the language the world has not heard yet. The language that laid in between his pillows and bedsheets, the melodies of his own world of peace and great triumphs. I wanted so badly for his soul to be awoken so that life could thank him for his presence.
I wanted him so badly to know what a vacation was and what not forcing a smile felt like. I wanted him to know what it felt like to dip his feet in the sand until he no longer saw them, to sit with the world and not worry about what was happening in his bank account, to hold my hand and not feel his heart pulsing from anxiety of taking a day off. I wanted him to meet calmness and calmness to reply, Guancho it is so nice to finally meet you.
But when his English came short of pronunciation and transformed, “You weren’t born to just pay bills and die” into “pay bills” my Spanish stepped back and got lost in translation. My knowledge of phonics of the Spanish language got caught in between the limbo of lost languages. My dad and I stared at each other hoping that maybe our sentences met in between and filled in the missing pieces.
But our experiences got the best of the both of us and “You weren’t born to just pay bills and die,” meant a new life for me and a lost one for him.
Jamerly is a New York City based fashion and identity blogger. Always aiming to break barriers, she tells stories about hardships of identity and social class, provides women with tips on how to expand their closet, and writes product reviews for girls with thick curly hair. As a Dominican American, one of her greatest accomplishment is using her blog to create a platform where Dominican Americans share their stories through the prompt "To be Dominican American means." Visit Jamerly's blog at www.mane-attire.com.