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Closing Luncheon - Transcript
Director of the National Latino Fatherhood and Family Institute
Thank you. Good Afternoon. Buenos tardes. Okay good, now you are bilingual. [audience laughs] I want to first of all thank you very much for staying, for you guys [pause], for being present here. And whenever I work with people, whenever I greet people in my house, whenever I work with families, whenever I work with fathers I always begin by thanking them for showing up. Because what I have learned is that if you don't show up then you don't have the ability to really touch somebody. I have learned the significance of that from young children, especially little boys, but little girls as well, who really long to have their fathers show up for their plays that they're doing at school, for their baseball games, or maybe just to pick them up. And so for some people that's a very difficult task, to show up, for a lot of reasons. So I just want to begin by thanking you for staying.
Thank you for the introduction and the invitation and I, you know, I am very proud of the things that I have done, but none of that would have happened without my family. And I want to just share the real important part of who I am, which is my family. My family comes from Mexico. My father comes from a place called Alguascalientes in Mexico. He was the oldest of 15, my father was. My mother came from a smaller family in Mexico as well, in Chihuahua. She was the oldest of 14. It's not that we didn't believe in family planning, we just planned big; just a different kind of planning. And if you're doing parenting with my family, timeout doesn't work because it is not a punishment, it's a reward. Get me away from all of these people, you know?
But my parents [pause], I been thinking about this lately, about my dad. Because my dad got here to the U.S. because there was a war going on in this country, not dissimilar to what's going on today. A lot of men went away to war, but they still needed men to work in the fields, and work in the mines, and to work in the hog farms, and to work in the factories. So they went to Mexico and recruited men and boys like my father. My father was a boy at that time. He was the oldest. And so he came. He came because he was the oldest boy. He had to help support his family at 15; he left his mother, he left his grandmother, he left his father, he left his brothers and sisters to come over here. So my dad started fathering very young. He moved and came to San Antonio and that's where he met my mom. And we get two stories from that because my father has one story that says my mom was attracted to him and married him. He's a very proud Texas man. He says, "your mom married me because, well, look at me, she was deeply in love with me." You know my dad, right? My mom had a different story. She says, "I married your father because he had a good job." A different kind of love, right?
But I work with men and I work with fathers a lot and I tell them a job is love. You love your kids. You go to work. You love your family. You go to work. And even in our Rites of Passage program we'll take little boys, because we get little boys in our program. Little boys that don't have dads and some that do but that are struggling. And we take these little boys sometimes early, early in the morning out to the fields. At six o'clock in the morning, early out to the fields where men are hunched over picking fruit, grabbing their backs and sweating. They got rags all over them, the owners are yelling at them and I take these little boys out and I say, "You want to see a father's love? You want to see a man that loves his kids? Look at these men. Look at them. Their backs are hurt. They don't get very much. They get yelled at. But if you come back tomorrow morning, they're gonna be doing it again. And some of these men don't even get to see their kids everyday. You want to see what a true man is? Look at these men."
And that's how my daddy was. He married my mom and my brother was born in San Antonio. But the work moved to Los Angeles (LA). That's how we got there and my sister was born then, in LA. The work moved again. We went back to San Antonio and that's when my brother was born. The work moved again. We went back to LA. That's when my next brother was born. We moved back to San Antonio. That's when I was born. I guess every time you moved you had to have a kid. Like marking your territory, we were here. [audience laughs] But you remember your stories that way too, you know? But finally the work moved again. My father was invited to work in a cleaners. His compadre owned a cleaners and he needed a presser. And they taught my father how to be a presser in a cleaners and we moved back to Los Angeles. And that's where we, basically I grew up. In South Central LA, Compton, Watts, that area.
And I grew up in a house in which there were a lot of people around. Always a baby crying in my house. [speaker makes sound of baby crying] All the time, no matter what time it was, it was always a baby crying. Usually one of my grandmother's was living with us. You know there are two grandmother's, but you don't put two grandmother's living together. I don't care how holy and religious, you don't put them together. But I had one of my grandmother's living with us all of the time and my dad. You know my dad, I remember him working a lot. And I, you know, thinking about it a lot, we would grab my father's hands, we wanted some money and his hands were always rough and we said, "Dag, Dad your hands are always so hard." And he would say [imitates Dad talking in Spanish] he would say, "You don't understand." We would criticize his hands because they were hard, but they were hard from working.
And I remember him coming in the house making sounds [imitates Dad mumbling in Spanish]. He would walk in the house [imitates Dad mumbling in Spanish]. "Dad take us to the park. You never play with us. The teacher says you are supposed to play with us good dads do that." [imitates Dad mumbling and growling in Spanish] "Be quiet, I have to go back to work." "Good dads are supposed to read and play and do things with their kids. You never do nothing." "Shut up, you know I have to go back to work!" "But if you are a good dad " "Shut up!"
You know I didn't think my dad was a good dad. I didn't think my dad was a real dad because in school they said that good dads, role model dads read to their kids, they play with their kids, they hug their kids. All my dad did was work and especially when I went to college and started taking these classes, ya know? Took that abnormal psych class ya know? I said man they wrote this book about my family, ya know, shoot. And I took that abnormal psych class and I said we were not raised like that. My father was a loud-talking man [imitates Dad talking loudly] "Hey, come here. What's your name? Hey, hey " My friends would say, "Is your dad mad?" And I would say, "No dude, that's the way he always talks." My father talked loud. He was a loud-talking man. And I kind of trip and think about how about if a social worker had of come to my house [imitates a social worker referring to his dad] "We better send him to anger management, ya know?" [audience laughs] "Maybe he's got post traumatic stress. He's not developmentally appropriate for these kids, ya know?" That was my dad.
He was loud-talking and he was a morning person too. And he felt that if he was up, everybody better be, that's right. He didn't believe in being bored. "You don't have nothing to do? I will give you something to do." So you know it was an interesting thing. My father didn't need all of this. We could have saved a lot of money. He didn't need ten sessions of therapy because he had one main technique and it was a look. [He poses a question to the audience] "Did any of you ever have a dad that had a look like that?" Yeah okay, those looks are cross cultural, ya know? I mean seriously, my dad had this look that would just make us shake and just to be fair, if my dad's look was powerful, my mother's look was actually twice as powerful.
Because my mother's look could look through walls. She could tell we were doing wrong in another room. My father's look could make us shake, but he must have went to someone's parenting class because he also knew about consistency and follow-through. Because if the look didn't work [he slaps his hand against the back of his head], he consistently followed through on us. [audience laughs] Ya know he didn't need I-messages or sharing of feelings, ya know? I mean he would grab his belt. The thing is, sometimes my father was set up though because when we would do wrong my mother would say in Spanish, "When your dad gets here, he's going to get you. If you don't start acting right, you wait, he's going to whip your butt."
And so my dad would come home, ya know, tired from work. Come in and we'd hear my dad's car [imitates the sound of the car] and we'd go hide. "Here comes dad. He's gonna whip our butts." [he laughs] Because and I think about it now because I think about it when I go home. The thing that I look forward to is I want to see my kids. I hope that they're happy to see me. I hope they come and greet me and I just think about what it would be like if I went home and my kids hid from me, if they were afraid of me, if they didn't want to see me. And so we would hide from my dad because we knew my mom said that when he gets home he was going to get his belt. And my dad would come home making those sounds [imitates father grumbling in Spanish] and my mom would say, "Hey you know what your kids did today. Hey you better get 'em." And my father would just all of a sudden (clutching at his belt) "God damn it, where are they." [audience laughs] That's what was expected of him and I mean he went right there. But it did something and to be honest with you my father only hit me one time in my life and I'm gonna be real straight because this is the way we learn things. My father only hit me one time in my life, but the one time he hit me he hit me good. I mean he hit me like CPS-calling good, seriously ya know? [audience laughs] Like, your butt hurts for four days. I'm let me tell you what I did and I don't really think I did that much wrong. But I'm gonna tell you anyway because I know you guys are sensitive to these issues and you'll be supportive of me, ya know? [audience laughs]
I was about in second grade and let me just give you a little background because my mother said that in first grade is when I started changing. My mother told me, "You started changing in the first grade. You didn't listen to me the same way. You didn't look at me the same way. You, all of a sudden, became ashamed to speak Spanish. You didn't want to walk with me no more." She said, "I didn't understand why until I went to the school. Because they told you that smart people spoke English. And I only spoke Spanish. They told you that the real successful people had finished high school at least. I barely went to fourth grade. I had to start working. The role models looked a certain way. I didn't see there on the wall any of our pictures or anybody that looked like us at all. No wonder you didn't want to listen to me." She said, " You started changing in the first grade."
So in second grade you told me to do something and I all I did wrong was breathe. That's all I did was breathe. You tell me to do something and all I did was [imitates himself giving a big sigh, shoulders moving up then down], that's all I did. Now how many think something's wrong with that? Raise your hands. How many think something's wrong with that? [audience laughs and raises hands] What's wrong with breathing? You gotta breathe to live. Well in my house you had to know how to breather, where to put your eyes ("don't roll those eyes"). "You want those teeth? You better not suck 'em. [audience laughs] Well, I did something else too, I'm gonna be honest. After I breathed, when my mother was talking to me I turned around like this [imitates himself turning his back on his mother]. What's wrong with that? I could still hear her. My wife does it to me all the time [audience laughs, he snickers] a whole 'nother relationship.
Well, my dad thought it was wrong. He got up out of the chair where I thought he was asleep. There's a point there because often we think fathers are sleeping, that they don't know, they don't feel, they don't care. They know what's going on. And sometimes, like my father, they get into these roles that are expected of them. And my father got up out of that chair and he came over to where I was turning my back on my mother and he got me. And he began to hit me with his hand on the butt saying, "Don't you ever turn your back on your mother again." "But I " "Shut up! [imitates his father] Don't you turn your back on your mother. Don't you know your mother is everything? She's the center of the family, corazon, the heart and everything? When you grow up what's gonna happen to you, huh? You're gonna grow up like that. What's gonna happen when you have a girlfriend or a wife? You're gonna turn your back on her too? You're gonna turn your back on your kids? You are not going to know who the hell you are. I mean she is the one that backs you up. When I want to kick your ass out of the house she won't let me." I mean you know? [audience laughs]
"Don't you turn your back on your mother again. You're not going to know who the hell you are. Now go to your room!" "But I didn't do " "Go to your room!" It's one of those times when your dad hits you and you say, "Wait 'til I get as big as you." You know what I'm talking about. [He laughs and points to the audience] [Woman from the audience nods in agreement and he laughs again] And let me just acknowledge maybe the technique was not the appropriate one. Maybe it could have been something different. But what was my father trying to teach me? What he was trying to teach was, "Son do you know, your mom, she brought you in this world. She gave you breath. She gave you her blood. She sacrificed for you. She loves you, she feeds you, she prays for you. Even when you do wrong, she's going to take you back over and over. If you turn your back on your mother, you're gonna lose your spirit son. You're not gonna know who you are."
Maybe the technique wasn't right, but the lesson was a very, very powerful lesson. And so what I attempt to do from my father and what I attempt to share with other people from their parents and since we talking about fathers from their fathers, is you take what is goodness from that and leave what is not goodness behind. You know, I am my dad. I got loud voices like him and it helps me when I speak. But I also have to be aware that it can hurt too. Sometimes you know I have my own children. To share with you, I have a 17-year-old daughter. I teach anger management, but she brings out some anger. I don't know where it comes from, ya know? [audience laughs] Sometime there have been occasions where she's done something wrong. Now we're teaching kids to use your words, to share your feelings, participatory discussion, and you could have an opinion. I mean shish. I could have never had any of that. And she sometimes she just challenges.
I should have known when she was crawling because that's the way she was when she was crawling. I want her to be an assertive woman and speak out, but not with me. [audience laughs] So sometimes it has happened where she has done or said some things and challenged me and my voice says, "Renee what ?" And my father's voice just comes out. And I've had to apologize. "I'm sorry. Can I do this again? I'm sorry. Or try it again? I didn't mean to yell at you like that." So I have had to sit with my daughter and my kids and say this is who your grandpa is and this is who your grandmother is and this is the gift that they gave us. But you know what? They also had some baggage. But I am not going to blame grandma and grandpa anymore for what I do with you because I am your dad now. It's not grandpa's fault. It's not grandma's fault. But sometimes stuff is gonna come out.
And so the lesson that I learned from my father about honoring and attempting to respect my mother and to respect relationships is the foundation of the work that I do; of making sure that you respect and honor and keep sacred the relationships in your life. You know my mother is 83 years-old now and about three years ago she had open heart surgery. She had quintuple by-pass. We thought we were going to lose my mom. And we were there in the at the hospital and they were going to operate, but the doctor said, "She's too weak. We're gonna give her some medication, feed her." So she was there in the hospital room and they brought her some food to eat. My older sister, now she's not internationally known, she doesn't have credentials, okay? But when we go home she's the boss. [audience giggles] And she was gonna feed my mom, but she got too emotional and she turns to me and says, "Jerry, feed mom." I said, "I thought you were going to " "Feed her!" "Oh, okay," and I'm just like little brother now, right? So I go feed my mother and I pick her up. And I get her up and I say, "Mom, we're gonna go eat." And it kind of triggered so many things 'cause she says, "What do they have? Do they have any beans?"
It just kind of triggered because I remembered that when I was a kid I use to complain about eating beans everyday. "We have to eat beans again today?" "Be quiet!" "Why do we have to eat beans?!" "Be quiet! You ought to be glad to have it." "Bean, beans, beans." "Be quiet!" "Yeah, but why do we have to eat beans?" "You know what? There are starving kids in other countries who don't have nothing. You ought to be glad." "But mom " "Kneel down on your knees and ask for forgiveness." [audience laughs] She made me kneel down and ask for forgiveness for complaining about what we had. So here now, you know, 70 years later or 50 years whatever, my mom is asking for some beans. And I just started laughing, "No mom, they don't have no beans." And then she turned to me and I had seen her face light up. She said, "You know why I like beans so much?" And I said, "No, why?" She said, "You know when I was a little girl we grew up in Mexico and I was the oldest of all the kids and grandpa was a baker. And he had to get up at three o'clock every morning. Since I was the oldest he got me up too."
"But I didn't see my dad much 'cause he had to work. Well there were fourteen of us. He had to work two jobs, sometimes three jobs. So he got me up with him and we went to the kitchen and we'd make a pot of beans together. And he'd get the beans out and he'd tell me, 'Beans are like a family. They feed you, but you have to clean them everyday so they can feed you in a good way.' Then he'd put them in a pot 'and then you have to add some water. Water is like love. You have to give love to your family,' he says, 'and then you put the spices in. The spice is the happiness. You have to give happiness everyday to your family.' 'And then you have to turn the fire on,' he says, 'and the fire,' he would call it llamas, 'las llamas is the energy, the endurance or the spirit. You do that with your family, you're always gonna have a good family.' "And after we made the pot of beans, then my dad would braid my hair. And he'd tell me how beautiful I was and that I was his special one and how I was gonna feed 'em all the time. That was the only time that I had with my dad because he was always working. But he made me feel like I was the most special girl in the whole world. So that's why I like beans and that's why I gotta get out of this damn hospital so I can go and make me a pot of beans." [audience laughs] I mean can you imagine beans being the motivation for recovery? That the only thing that my mom did with her dad. But so many years later in a hospital room, I had to thank my grandfather because my mom's still here.
And right before the 4th of July, my mother-in-law calls me and she asks me if I want to come over for a barbecue. You have to understand what that means. It's not a question [audience laughs] It means come over and cook and bring the meat. That's what it really means. So it's not a question. Communication is real different in different cultures. And my mother doesn't communicate directly either. One day I was in college and out there taking these classes learning communication, I-messages and sharing feelings and I wanted to have a discussion with my mom. I went to my mom and I said, "Mom, I want to ask you something and talk with you, but when you say things will you say "I feel" and "how I?" She says [he imitates he in Spanish], "What's the matter with you? Are you crazy? Why are you talking like that? You're acting weird. Are you going to school? I'm not going to talk to you if you talk like that." And my mom wouldn't talk to me. So we have to understand that communication is real different and what I understood from my mother-in-law is that I had to buy the meat and go over.
So I called my mom to see if she wanted to go and she said yes. Here's the thing. I have a 23 year-old boy and a 17 year-old girl and we go to them and say we are going to grandma's house. And they say, "Do we have to go?" "Yes, you have to go." [imitates kids whining] God, it's boring over there!" "I don't care." "I was going to the beach." "I'm sorry, you have to at least stop by grandma's house." "But man, it's hot." They have no air conditioning. They still live right there in the barrio in South Central L.A. They still live there. They're still in a two-bedroom house. They don't have no cable. It's boring, so my kids don't want to go. "Too bad, you gotta go." "Dad," [imitates son sucking his teeth] "why are you being so ?" "You gotta go." "Can I take my own car so I can ?" "Yes, as long as you stop by." So my kids, my daughter and my son are going in my son's car and me and my wife, we get in the car and my son was ten then. Emilio was ten. He's in the back seat playing his game boy and we go to pick up grandma.
We go pick up my mom and put her in the back seat. And of course you have to kiss and hug and do all of that stuff. So five minutes into the drive to my mother-in-laws house, my mom turns to my son Emilio and says, "Emilio, how old are you now Emilio? [imitates sons voice] "I'm ten grandma." "Oh you're ten already?" "Yeah." So five minutes later my mom says, "So Emilio, how old are you?" "Uh, I'm ten." "Ohhh, you're getting older." "Yeah grandma." We keep driving, five minutes later, "So Emilio, how old are you now?" "Uhh, grandma I'm ten." "You're getting older." "Yeah grandma." "Oh you're going to get as old as me." "No I don't think so grandma." [audience laughs] All the way to my in-laws house my mother kept asking my son how old he was and kept answering. Finally, we get to the barbecue and we get out. We go in and we have a good barbecue. We get ready to leave and we take our plates. That's why you gotta make twice as much food 'cause you never know who's going to show up and you then gotta give some people plates. That's just what you do. Anyway, so we get ready. We get my mom's plate. We get in the car. We get back in the car. My son's in the car and he's playing his game boy. My mom's sitting right there and we start to drive her home. Five minutes into the drive, what does she say? How old are you? I'm ten grandma. We keep going. All the way she keeps asking my son. We get to my sister's. My sister and my mom live together. We take my sister and my mom in the house with her plate. We situate her. She's fine. Give the kisses goodbye and all of that. Get back in the car. My son gets back in the car. Before I take off I turn to my son Emilio and I say, "Emilio, how many times did grandma ask you how old you were?" "Thirty three times." [audience laughs] So I start to pull away and I stop and I turn to my son and I say, "I want to thank you for respecting your grandma and for making her feel special. I want to thank you for keeping her dignity. I want to thank you for answering her every time and not making her feel bad or making her feel like she's crazy or something's wrong with her. 'Cause all she wants is to talk to you. All she wants is to have a relationship with you. And you know what Emilio? You did something that my dad's been asking me to do, that my dad wanted me to do. To respect my mom and you help me do that. I want to thank you. And I wanna tell you something that my mom told me and I told my son, "My mom said that [he states it in Spanish] what goes around comes around. If you do good things it's gonna come back to you in a good way." He says, "Really dad? Can I get another game?" [he laughs and the audience laughs] Ten year-olds are real concrete, ya know?
Ya know, you don't realize sometimes the magnitude of the lessons that we learn. And if we understand that, you know, day doesn't come without night and that night doesn't happen without day, that we realize that our relationships growing up in a home that we may have this darkness about us, but if we can pull the light from that and leave that darkness behind and give the light to our children and to the next generation, then maybe they're gonna be a lot better off. Because the reality is that as much as I got credentials and degrees and everything, I'm just my dad. And you know [he turns to the podium and picks up his hat], that's why I wear a hat. Not because I want to style, look good or cool or look mean or hard. It's 'cause my daddy wore a hat. My father always wore a hat. He never would go out without putting a hat on. He didn't have a good hat like this [audience snickers]. He had nothing but working hats 'cause that's what he did.
But I remember my father and I wanted to be like him because he had this big voice and he was tall, or I thought he was tall, and he had a way of putting on the hat, you know? He had a way. He would put one foot in front of the other, the other foot back like this and he would get the hat and do like this [imitates his father donning the hat]. And I don't know why, but then he would go like this [imitates father licking the tips of his forefingers and his thumbs and gliding them along side the rim of the hat, starting at the front of the hat toward the back side of the hat]. And when my dad put that hat on, it seemed like he got bigger. It seemed like he grew. It seemed his shoulders got broader. It seemed like that big voice got bigger [imitates his father speaking in a deep voice], "Alright, let's go." And I said dang, that's a bad hat dude. You know, it's like [voice trails off and the audience laughs].
But one of my father's rules was don't mess with my hat. So I didn't mess with his hats because I remembered about that consistency and follow-through you know [audience laughs], and I didn't want to get that again. But you know one day, one day it's funny 'cause you know kids always try things even though you set the limits. My mother was cooking and my dad was in the shower and my mom says, "Go call your dad and tell him that breakfast is ready." And my dad was in the shower singing. He liked to sing those Mexican ballads [imitates dad singing]. And I was a little kid with a squeaky voice and I went into the bedroom right next to the one bathroom that we had [imitates himself as a little boy with a high-pitched voice], "Daddy, momma says breakfast is ready." And I had this squeaky voice and I was a little skinny kid and I wanted to be like my dad. I wanted to have this big voice and he said [imitates dad in a deep voice], "Okay, I'll be right there." And I turned around and there was my dad's hat.
I said, " Ahhh dude, I can try it on. He can't catch me." But I was a sharp kid I saw I didn't want to get in trouble, so I saw where it was on this checkered bedspread. It use to be a curtain before. My mother used everything twice. You just prayed that it didn't become your pants [audience laughs]. So I saw where it was there and I got it and I did it exactly the way my dad did. Put one foot in front of the other, the foot back like this, put the hat on; didn't fit. The hat went way down. My ears went out. I tried to get bigger, tried to get taller, tried to see if my [imitates himself in a high-pitched voice], "Daddy, mommy says breakfast is ready." And my voice didn't get any deeper and the shower went off! And I got the hat and I put it right back and I began to walk out and I started to pray. [audience laughs] We always get holy when we get in trouble you know? [audience laughs] And my dad never said anything. [He looks up to the ceiling] Whoever's up there is merciful. I got away with it.
Now let me share a lesson that I share with people, but mostly that I share with fathers. You can get by with a lot of things, but you truly never get away with anything. You may think you got by, but if you got by it, your kids are going to get it. I thought I had gotten away with it and I forgot about trying the hat on until I was 13. At thirteen, my father died. My father died. But I had learned in this society so much about being a boy because we teach boys in this society to disconnect from their feelings. "Don't cry, don't be a sissy, shut up. What's the matter with you? Suck it up." So by thirteen, I was well-insolated. In fact, my friend said, "I'm sorry your dad died. And I said, "Ahh dude, it's okay, that's the way it is." My friend said, "Hey man, I'm sorry " "You know what? It's better probably. He was sick anyway." But inside I was hurting and I went home.
But when I went home, I saw my dad's hat. I said, "Shoot, these are my hats now. He can't tell me nothing, can't scold me, can't hit me. Those are my hats now." And I picked up my father's hat and I started looking at it. And I looked inside and saw something I never knew: all of our names were inside my daddy's hat. See I knew my mom lived for us. Everybody knows moms live for their kids. Everybody knows moms love their kids. But nobody ever told me how my dad lived for us too. That every day when he walked out the house and put that hat on and worked two sometimes three jobs was for us. And at that moment I realized why the hat didn't fit when I tried it on before. Because I knew what it was to be a boy, but I didn't know what it was to be a man. But then it hit me. Who's gonna teach me? My father is gone. So I went on a journey for somebody to teach me.
And I found a lot of men on corners, in the streets teaching the wrong lessons. I found a lot of young guys in relationships with women teaching the wrong lessons. And I found a lot of men who were out there, but they didn't look like my dad. So that's why I wear this hat, in honor of my father, because maybe he wasn't the best dad, but he was my dad. And I wear this to remind me that there's a lot of little boys out there looking for somebody to teach them. And we get mothers bringing us their little boys. "Please help me with this little boy." [He imitates a little boy's mother] "He's mean, he's so angry. He won't listen to me no more." His dad's not around or his dad's drunk or his dad's and we get these little, I mean seven, they're so angry at seven. And I think how can a boy at seven be so angry? One of the elders told me, "That's not his anger. That's his father's anger. That's his great grandfather's anger. And the reason why he shakes so much and moves, always doing stuff like that, is because it's getting too heavy and he can't carry it no more. Don't criticize him. Don't say he's bad."
And I get these little boys that come into our program [He imitates a little boy]. "My name is Tommy and I'm seven and my mom sent me here because I always get in trouble and I'm angry a lot. I don't know why I'm angry, but that's why I gotta come to the program and this is my mom. Thank you." And the next little boy, "My name is Pablo and I got attention defic I got something wrong with my 'tention' and I don't know what and that's why they send me here and that's why I gotta come to the program. Next little boy, "Myyy, myyyy name is Ronnie and I like to fight. I kick everybody's butt. I'm a good fighter. But I got kicked out of two schools. If I don't come here I can't get back into school, so that's why I'm here. But I like to fight." I get eight little boys introducing themselves already with a label. Half of them are on medication. And we wonder why when they become teenagers they want to claim a name or they want to get high. These are the same little boys who become the young men in our teen father program.
If we're gonna stop the darkness, we gotta deal with both sides. We gotta deal with and help the women and the children. But we gotta reach and deal with these men and deal with these boys. So sometimes I make commitments to these little boys. And I had this little boy one time that didn't have a dad. And they learn all this "Well, I don't have a dad and I'm high risk [audience snickers] and I got attention deficit and you know my father's not around and I'm poor and that's why you know." I said, "So what. I'm sorry you don't have a dad, but I didn't have a dad either." "Yeah but you know I don't have a role model." I mean, he had all the terms down. I said, "I'm sorry you don't have a dad but I'll be your uncle." "You're not my uncle." "Well, I'll be your uncle." "No you're not." "I can be your uncle if I want to be your uncle." And see, in my family, my mother would make up relatives. [audience laughs] Anybody with grey hair was considered a grandparent.
I tripped out the teachers in second grade because they told me to draw my family. I drew six grandmothers. [audience laughs] "How do you have six grandmothers?" "I don't know. I just call them all Nana." I didn't know. [audience laughs] Everybody my parents' age were my uncles and aunts and everybody my age were my cousins. And it worked good most of the time, except when I was about 13. I had this fine cousin Monica. Damn man. I just wished she wasn't my cousin. I used to dream about her. [audience laughs] Anyway, years later I talked to my mother and my mom was talking about family and talking about Monica. I said, "Do you remember Monica? Man, she was one of the finest cousins I had." And she says, "No, she wasn't really your cousin. We just told you that because we knew how you were. [He laughs and the audience laughs.]
So my family would make up relatives that's your aunt and that's your uncle. I thought that's a good idea, so "I am going to be your uncle." "Well, if you're my uncle, I gotta play, I'm doing a play at school and I'm a little mushroom in school, so come to my play then." Oh dang, why did I say that? So I changed my schedule on Tuesday night and I showed up for this play. And little boy was on stage doing his mushroom thing and he saw me from the back and you see his head go out like that [he imitates the little boy] and he started really doing the mushroom. [audience laughs] After the play I went up and to him and his little mushroom friends were right there and I said, "Hey, you did pretty good." He said, "I didn't think you were going to show up." And I said, "Well, I'm here." And his friend says, "Who's that?" "That's my counselor, that's my uncle." And it was amazing how the spirit of this little boy wanted so much to have somebody that he looked up to; somebody to be a relative to him.
So the work that you all do is very, very important. You know I was just in Brownsville, Texas with about 80 fathers. These fathers are fathers that some of their kids are in Mexico and some are here. You know with this war, two of the first ten men that died were immigrant men. They weren't even citizens. So when I looked at these fathers and one of 'em a big guy about six feet four, he had a big old ten-gallon hat. And when I began to speak to them he looked kind of hard, like who are you, you know? But after I started talking about my father, he tells me in Spanish, "You know you are right. I work everyday. I don't see my kids. I gotta send them money and when I call home and I talk to my wife, she says it's not enough. And when I get to go home sometimes, you what my kids ask me? What did you bring me? And when are you gonna go back because I get to sleep with mom when you're gone?" He says, "I miss my kids every night and it hurts me, but I don't cry, not in front of these other men, but I cry inside."
And the only message I wanted to give these men is to thank them for showing up; for showing up as a dad; thank them for showing up and for working so hard. And what I wanted to share with them was that the circle comes around; that it pays in the end. And you know, learning to be a father, it didn't come just from my father and my family. I am very blessed. I am very blessed that I have a my greatest teacher that lives with me. She is my companion. She's a girl that when I was in eighth grade, she was in sixth grade and we went around, whatever that means. [audience snickers] What that meant is that I ask my friend to ask her friend if she would go around with me. That's a guy thing. Just in case she said no I could say shoot, I didn't ask her. 'Cause you know we hate rejection. She said yes which meant that I could call her on the phone except when her dad answered. And if a guy would answer, I'd hang up you know? [audience laughs] And she'd say, "Did you hang up on my dad?" "I didn't hang up on your dad. I ain't afraid of your dad."
Anyway, we went out for about six months and then she broke up with me. I'm still mad because of that, but when I was a junior in high school I was going to the prom and she calls me. Anyway, we got back together and we're going to celebrate 30 years this year. [audience claps] And the thing is that she is my greatest teacher. She's given me the greatest gift that any man could have. She blessed us with three children. Without her I could not be a good father. In my home even growing up I thought my dad was the boss. In fact, that's what the literature says, that in the Latino family men are the boss. We're macho right? And I thought I was. I'd ask my mom to go out and she'd say wait 'til your dad gets home. Here comes my dad's car. "Can I ask him now." "No, wait. Let me feed him first." "Oh, okay." And I didn't know my mom was not only feeding him food, she was feeding him information. 'Cause if she wanted me to go, she would say good things about me and if she didn't want me to go, she would say bad things about me. "Okay, go ask your dad now."
My poor dad was set up. So I'd go to my dad, "Can I go?" "What'd your mom say?" "She said ask you." "Well ask her." "What?" "Go ask your mom." I'd go back to my mom, "Can I go out?" She'd go, "What'd your dad say?" What, you guys don't communicate? I didn't say that, right? [audience laughs] Later on we figured out that my mom controlled everything in the house. She was really the boss. So I was learning in this western society let's just get straight to the point and do it. "Mom, why do I have to go ask dad? Come on, we all know you make the " "Shut up!" Everybody we figured out later on that my mom knew that we knew. My dad knew that we knew. My dad knew that my mom knew that we knew. Everybody knew that my mom was really the boss. But you know what, my mom, even though everybody knew that she made the decisions, she would not let us leave without going to my father. She always gave him his place. And in my house as well, my wife has given me a place 'cause I'm just a man. And sometimes I mess up and she teaches me. And she teaches me how to be a better father. So I wear this hat for her too, because I don't want to disrespect her.
And so you women in this room, I want to thank you for the sacrifices that you make as mothers, as sisters, as daughters, as partners and as the heart of all this work. You feel the pain first and I want to thank you for giving us a place. It's like night and day, we need the duality for there to be balance in the world. And the healing of both men and women and elders and children, not until that happens will that circle be complete, will we be able truly to heal and have stronger and healthier families. I want to thank you for the work that you do. Thank you so much for making me feel special. I want to apologize if anything I said today made anybody feel uncomfortable. You know, but I struggle because my mother says don't ever disrespect anybody. But my father says always tell the truth. Things clash, but I really didn't mean to disrespect anybody. If I did, I really didn't mean to disrespect anybody. If I did, I apologize for that.
But I, in ending, would like to thank the elders that are here. Those of you that have the enlightened hair under the Grecian formula and the Clairol and all of that, 'cause even with color your hair still sticks up like that, you know? Grey hair just you know? Those of you that have the long lines of wisdom that you have all over your hands and face from the many journeys that you have traveled, I want to thank you. And those of you that the dark spots are showing up, that I learned are kisses from the creator, for all of the sacrifices that you've made, I want to thank the elders for still being here because what I've learned is that when the elders are present, the medicine is there. The answer is there.
I want to thank you and ask you to pray for me 'cause I'm just trying to fulfill my mother's wishes that when she makes that journey, she will make that journey feeling fulfilled that she surely did the right thing by her children. So pray that I can be a good son, a good father, a good companion, and a good teacher. And that I can return home safely so that I can do the job that I really love doing, is just being a dad. And I was telling people that I don't usually do things on Saturday because I'm the coach on my son's soccer team and we didn't have a game this week and my family gave me permission to come, you know? But I thank you for inviting me and may the creator bless you in everything that you do. And remember that that circle does come around. Thank you very much. [He waves goodbye to the audience and the audience gives him a standing ovation.]