From Chicken Soup for the Latino Soul

Learning to Appreciate Papi

In 1963, when we left Cuba and immigrated to the United States, my parents lost all their possessions. We moved to McAllen, Texas, where my parents had to start all over again. They both felt strongly about my mother staying home with us. This meant that my father had to work even harder to make ends meet. It also meant making many sacrifices as a family. Throughout my childhood, many of my memories are of my father working in the family fabric store. My father worked twelve- and fourteen-hour days, usually seven days a week. Occasionally, he would take a Sunday afternoon off.

Not once in all those years did I hear my mother complain about the long hours my father worked. My parents were in their late twenties, and I’m sure they missed not spending more time with each other as a couple. However, they were both committed to making it in this country, and they knew that unless they supported each other, they would not be able to accomplish their goals. My mother never spent money carelessly, buying only what was necessary. She cooked, cleaned and made all of our clothing.

My mother would remind us on a daily basis about how hard my father worked, about how much he loved us and about the sacrifices he was making so that we could establish ourselves in the United States. My mother taught us to be considerate toward my father, and as we watched the way that she always took care of him, we learned to take care of him, too.

When my brother and I misbehaved, she would tell us how disappointed my father would be when he walked into the house from work and found us punished, sitting in silence. I remember hearing my father’s car coming up the driveway and my brother and I promising my mother that we would never fight again, pleading with her to let us get up before my father walked in.

For many years, we lived a few blocks from downtown McAllen, and on Saturdays we would walk to the fabric store. We would usually find my father standing behind the counter, bantering with a customer as they haggled on the price of a few yards of fabric.

I loved watching the way my father would make a slit at the end of a piece of fabric with his scissors and then rip the rest of the fabric with his hands. I can still picture him with his pencil behind his ear, a habit he still has, and his scissors sticking out behind his belt. And how proud I always felt that the man behind the counter was my Papi.

Saturday was the busiest day of the week, and my mother would always bring him lunch. The three of us would go into a small office that wasn’t much bigger than a walk-in closet and sit with my dad while he ate.

Instead of resenting my father’s work, we were taught to love what he did and to admire him for his commitment to success. We always understood that he was doing this for us. My brother and I love the family business because it is so much a part of who my father is. All the years of hard work that he put into the business paid off, and because of him our family has had a wonderful life.

I have so many memories of our doing things together as a family that when I became an adult and realized that those trips to the beach or picnics at Anzaldúa Park were few and far between, it was hard to believe.

In a family, children learn about relationships by watching how their parents behave and treat each other, as husband and wife. Part of being a parent is teaching your children to love your spouse. One of the most important things a mother can do for her children is to teach them to appreciate, to love and to respect their father.

María Luisa Salcines

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