With all due respect to Art Linkletter and Tammy Wynette, kids do say the darndest things…or not. I’m not talking about kids in general and their innocent world view that prompts laughable statements. I refer to my current household’s younger members.
From three of my marriages I sired four daughters and a son. I adopted one son who came with my second wife with the blessing of his biological dad. My third wife was pregnant by her then husband when we began cohabiting and my name was written on his birth certificate as his father. That’s the legal side. To me, it’s the less important side.
I never thought of any of my children as step-children, half-brothers, or by any term other than “my children”. I loved them equally and they called me Daddy. I believed this was the only way to be.
It’s different here in El Salvador. Margarita has four children by four different fathers. Two are minimally involved, one not at all, and the fourth has never even seen his beautiful daughter. The child who is ignored and who ignores his father is the most affectionate toward me. The one who has never known her father is completely dependent upon her mother and is affectionate when it pleases her. The other two are older and too big to sit on my lap and listen to stories. That’s fine.
They call me Hermano (brother) Roger. Hermano and hermana are the common terms used when speaking to or about another person in your church, social, or business circle. Husbands refer to their wives publicly as Hna. Rosita. Likewise their adult children and parents. It gives one a sense of place in the community as an equal. The title “Don” elevates one and makes me uncomfortable when I hear “Don Roger”. I’m not above anyone. My students call me Hno. Roger. Most kids and their parents call me Hno. Roger. It feels good. But when my kids call me Hno., I do not feel good. I feel like I’m just another guy.
I care not that I’ve had the honor and pleasure of hearing “Daddy” when I was younger. I yearn for it still. I thank God I still have enough of the energy and drive all around as I had when I was younger. Divorce laws robbed me of the privilege of raising even one of my children to adulthood. Of those areas in which I feel unfulfilled, fatherhood, the raising and shaping of my child is the one that eats at my soul.
It is one thing in the U.S. to marry someone with young children who have little or no contact with their natural parent. If you’re a half-way decent human being and really care for these children, eventually you will be called by a parental name and be reconized by the child as mom or dad. That doesn’t seem to be the case here. The four children have four different last names with their mother’s maiden name appended as is the custom in the Spanish speaking world. There is no way “Brown” will ever be attached on paper or in anyone’s mind. I may be a good guy for giving them a home and whatever goes with it, but they will never be my children in this community and culture. As much as I would love it, I have no hope of ever having Adriana think of me as papi let alone have her call me by that most elegant of titles.
In marrying Margarita, I had hoped to complete my life and my exodus by having a child with her. Preferably a male child. Call it ego or call it nature, I don’t care what you call it or think of it, like any other mammal I am programmed to add as many genes to the pool as I can. That’s biology. I also want to leave something behind other than short-lived memories of a teacher, a husband, a guy who fed us, clothed us, and sheltered us…oh, and who gave us things we never would have had otherwise. I want the name “Brown” to flourish in this country. If people choose to remember Don Roger, let it be through his descendants who do much more than he ever did, ‘God rest his soul’.
But now what happens? What I was told would be the removal of a couple of ovarian cysts turned out to be the removal of my wife’s uterus. Rather than being concerned about my ability to perform my husbandly chore, rather than consider how God blessed my ancestor Abraham at age 90, I’m faced with the fact that I married a women who now can’t do her part in procreation. To be quite frank, I feel no different than the Shah of Iran or the late King Hussein of Jordan. I may not have a kingdom to leave to a son but I do have a legacy.
In El Salvador, a civil marriage is for life. You can split up and live with other partners. You can have children with them. But you can’t divorce your wife even if she can’t get pregnant. There are women who would love to have my child if it meant some security for them and whatever other kids they might have. They’d even give a child up to the father and his wife to raise if they believed it would have a better life. But that’s not me.
So, the chances of my ever hearing the word “daddy” from my child’s lips are now nil. My reason for maintaining my youth and strength is vaporizing. Would I feel any different if Luís and/or Adrianita addressed me as “Papi”? I doubt I’ll ever know.