Is a boy’s life harder when he doesn’t have a male or father figure in his life? Can a woman really teach a boy how to become a man? Both are fiercely debated questions. But instead of trying to answer those, Emmanuel pushes us to think about something even more interesting: what happens to the boy when he sees his father for the first time after 18 years?
I grew up without a father; it was just me, my mom, four brothers and younger sister. My mom was pretty much the person who did everything. When it came to relating to other men, I never knew what to do or how to act around them. To me, it’s always been a question mark because I didn’t have someone to explain it to me. As I get older, I don’t really care to find out, for some reason. I don’t have manhood figured out, and I’m okay with that.
As a kid, I was very observant and quiet. I liked to have fun, and I did. I remember getting gifts for Christmas and going to the Boardwalk downtown. I remember going to the seaports for New Years and the beach for the 4th of July. But I also remember feeling lonely, misunderstood, and not quite understanding puberty or having anyone I could ask about a lot of things. My mother was always open-minded, which helped.
When it came to relating to other men, I never knew what to do or how to act around them. To me, it’s always been a question mark because I didn’t have someone to explain it to me.
At 13, I remember telling her that I thought I was bisexual. She didn’t respond negatively or treat me any differently. Instead, she told me of a similar experience she had as a girl at a young age. She related with me instead of trying to convince me to be something else. And I felt comfortable hearing that from her. I felt accepted—normal. She never made me feel like something was wrong with me, so I never felt like an outcast.
I do recall people calling me out and telling me negative things about myself because I wasn’t like them, specifically when it came to masculinity. For example, people might have said my pants were too tight or they would make fun of how I raised my hand in class or tried to make me feel bad because I played with too many girls. But it never really bothered me. I was in my own little bubble and had a pretty supportive family, so I was comfortable just being me.
Because of that, I was never obsessed with knowing when I had to become what other people defined as a man. Instead, I focused on being myself and doing everything I could to succeed in life, like going to school, finding a job, and becoming more independent. And because I was never raised around macho men, there was never really this pressure to do this or that. However, when I was 18, I met my father for the first time in Puerto Rico, and that was an experience that taught me a lot about my views on manhood and masculinity.
When I was 18, I met my father for the first time in Puerto Rico…. looking into [his] face was like looking into a mirror, except the person I saw on the other end was just a little taller and darker.
It felt surreal. The last time I was in Puerto Rico, I remember telling my mom that I wanted to meet my father. She told me that she would figure out how to make it happen. And there I was in front of him. I was at my cousin’s house and he drove up. I remember feeling anxious because it was long overdue meeting my biological father.
He got out of the car and greeted us. He was pretty chill and seemed at ease, which really took me back. He wasn’t anxious. He was laidback. It was as if he’d already experienced this before, which I’m pretty sure that was the case.
I introduced myself. It was pretty brief–roughly 30 minutes. It seemed like he was either in a rush or on his way home. I don’t remember. He and my mom talked and caught up with one another. He wasn’t speaking directly to me. So, I kept looking at him and then away. Eventually, he asked why I didn’t look him in the eyes.
At times, my father’s face was like looking into a mirror, except the person I saw on the other end was a just little taller and darker. But I could see myself in him, and it didn’t take long for me to realize that we had a lot in common. For example, he was handsome, fashionable, and very well put together. He worked at a barbershop, which made me realize I get my creative sense from him as well.
That moment was also weird and kind of difficult. I remember trying to express myself freely. I wanted to understand what happened and why he had been so absent. But it was difficult because he was fluent in Spanish and I wasn’t. At that age, I could speak it and understand it, but I was still learning, which meant I couldn’t communicate to him how I felt. And I didn’t want my mother to be the one to translate how I felt.
I remember a lot from that moment, but mainly that I wanted to hear and say so much more.
There was so much I wanted to say but didn’t. Where were you? Why didn’t you stay in contact despite what happened between you and my mother? Have you told your kids about me? I was afraid of how the words would come out and if they would be misunderstood, but those were the questions that really mattered to me and I wanted answered.
When I think back at that moment, the things I remember the most weren’t what you would consider emotional moments or pressing conversations. Instead, I remember him simply saying that everything would be okay and not to worry. He said something along the lines of “make sure you go home and get muscular,” which I thought was a little weird because I didn’t think that was as important.
I remember a lot from that moment, but mainly that I wanted to hear and say so much more. For a while, we kept in touch via email. Since then, we’ve spoken briefly, but I’ve never been able to say what I wanted to on that day. But I’ll never forget what it was like to meet him.