On the train home after seeing my daughter Stephanie for the first time in many years I reflected on the situation. I realized that the reason I felt so bad about leaving my daughter Stephanie when I went away to serve my 15-to-Life prison sentence was because I had experienced the issue of abandonment by my father. My father Roberto was an abusive alcoholic that made my mother's life a living hell.
My mom told me that when I was six months old, Roberto, in a drunken stupor, held me by one foot and hung me out of the third floor window of their South Bronx apartment. He turned and looked at Lucy and screamed and cursed in Spanish and threatened my mother, saying that he would drop me to my death. He did not, but it was the final nail in the coffin in their relationship. Soon after that my mom divorced him.
The next time I had contact with my father was on my eighteen birthday. I walked out the front doorway of the South Bronx apartment that I shared with my mother Lucy. As I was about to enter my hopped up Ford Torino, a man crossed the street and approached me. He looked like he was homeless, dressed in shabby clothing. The first thing I noticed about him was the two-inch long cut on his left hand that was caked with dry blood. I tried to walk away from this stranger and ignore him, but he caught up, and stopped me.
He put out his wounded hand, palm facing me, and placed his finger tips on my chest. "Do you know who I am?" he said. I looked very deeply into his eyes and something from within knew the answer. I replied "Yea, You're my father." We embraced.
He spoke to me in Spanish. I had no clue what he was saying and just stood there and looked at him. I did not respond. He was surprised when I told him I did not speak any Spanish. He shook his head in disbelief. I made it a point in my life to abandon any trait that would remind me of my father, this included learning to speak Spanish. I looked at Roberto and I asked him why he had left me. He stood in silence as he put his head down and dropped his shoulders in shame.
He looked up at me as his eyes swelled with tears and he embraced me. I arched my back up high towards the sky and my arms dropped pressing my sides purposely so they would not touch him. We stood there in the middle of the south Bronx Street for what seemed to become an eternity.
I thought of all the years I wanted to have a father, but sadly he was not around. My childhood memories were void of his existence. Not knowing him made me feel inferior as a child growing up. I asked the question again. "Why did you leave me?" He looked at me with deep silence as he could not answer. I gently put my hand on his shoulder and purposely avoided looking at him as I walked away. He understood my actions and from that day on I never saw him again.
This story is an excerpt from my new book "This Side of Freedom : Life After Clemency."
I do not want the same thing to happen with my daughter Stephanie. But is it too late for me to fix up our broken father and daughter relationship? I wondered about this. This story shows how serving hard time breaks up relationships between people, especially parents and their children. In my case my daughter was totally damaged by the prison experience and it is my hope that somehow we can one day make up our differences and one day share a fruitful father and daughter relationship.