My father was a hard-working man. I know fairly little about him considering he lived with my family until I was eight. He died a few years later. I do know that he was hard-working, when he could get work.
My mom re-married the same year he passed, and besides the fact that my stepdad and I look like polar opposites, by the way I speak of him you might not even know that he was my stepdad, except when I say “my real dad…” and follow it up with one of the few facts about him I know or mostly likely as an answer to some kind of ethnicity question.
My dad left his native Colombia sometime in the early to mid-eighties. He was the youngest son of seven or so children. I know he didn’t make it past the 5th grade. His family needed money more than he needed an education. He and my mom met in a bakery shop where he worked. He didn’t know much English then. He wooed her instantly and she dropped out of her sophomore year of college so that they could be married.
These aren’t the facts most people want to know when I tell them my father was a cocaine dealer. Actually, most people don’t want to know any details. Instantly when I say my father died, people assume it was cancer or a car crash. They have this image of a father beloved by his whole family who worked and lived a middle-class life only to have cancer and have it all end, or some terribly tragic car accident that occurred on his way to a school performance. No one wants to pity or commiserate with the girl whose father was imprisoned and deported.
It makes it all very hard to talk about. I don’t tend to talk about it. And when I do talk about it, years of desensitizing to words such as “drug dealer” and “dead” make me seem callused or worse yet, like I am joking. This scene plays out often:
Me: My father died.
Friend: Oh no, I’m so sorry. How did it happen?
Me: He died in Colombia. He was shot by the guerrilla warfare surrounding the drug cartel.
Friend: He was in the military or Special Forces or something?
Me: No, he was the dealer.
Friend: (after some hesitant laughter) Good one!
The truth is that even after I convince someone to believe me, no one wants to talk about it. It’s become a shameful part of who I am. A part that prays people don’t find me ignorant or evil. I become this stereotype of Colombians, sometimes after they unknowingly make a joke about Colombia’s drug industry only to later find out it’s not a joke. It’s my life.
I write this today because the 9th anniversary of my father’s death is near. I used to write him letters asking how he could ever possibly choose a life of drugs over a life full of his three children. I used to believe he read them. I had to believe it because no one wants to talk to the girl whose father is villainized in every All-American Superhero movie or after school special. I don’t get to ask my friends to go release balloons in his name or to walk a lap for his life. I have to think about him every time a bad guy in a movie is shot cold, and the audience cheers. In those movies, I always think about the little girl that man left behind, waiting at home for her father to return. All the times my dad would spin me around, play soccer with me, or jump on our trampoline together in silence- I have to remember alone in my room.
Sometimes I wish someone would ask about him, so I could tell them everything I know about him. As I said, I don’t know too much, but it’s nice to think maybe I could uncover who he was, because I know that underneath his drug use and habits, lived a man who has the eyes I have and I don’t have the eyes of a drug-dealing villain.