Message from a Dad about Life

Father’s Day is like any ordinary holiday when one acknowledges their parent and throws gifts at them for dealing with all our crap over the years. While each Father’s Day I contemplated what to give my father as a gift, I was unaware of the gift he would give me on this Father’s Day. It was an ordinary Sunday; the weather was beautiful outside. I decided to take my father to the pier in the city, where we walked the entire boardwalk and talked about random topics like landscapes and dogs. We then ventured off to grab our favorite Palestinian dessert, Kenafa. My father was happy. He showed me off to everyone in sight, as if I was this celebrity. We then watched the game and talked about our favorite players, like Messi and Ronaldo. It was the average day for me and my father; taking on some of our most favorite activities. But it wasn’t this part of the day that stuck with me. It was our conversation after. 

I had my Corona. My dad had a Guinness. We drank and talked about everything. Life. Love. Happiness. 

My dad proceeded with this speech:

“I don’t think I ever told you this or if you knew. Just a year and a half ago, I remember when I was at my lowest in life. It was around July, the hottest month of the summer. Business was flowing quickly (My dad works with AC Contracting) and life was good. In the middle of July, I received notice that your grandmother was very sick in Palestine. My mother. I needed to go. I hadn’t gone back home in over 25 years. And here I was taking whatever cash I had in the bank and leaving all my current jobs to head overseas. 

My mother looked so sick. While I stayed up with her in the hospital, all my siblings could care less about what she was going through. I took overseas with me a lot of money; money given to me from a job that I hadn’t finished. I don’t know where all the money went. I would spend it here and there on my mother’s medication or to help out my siblings with their medical bills. All i know is that when I left overseas back to the US after two & a half weeks, all I had was $200 in my pocket. That’s all I had. 

The day I arrived back to the U.S; it was 9 am. I received a call on my phone from overseas. My mother had died that morning. 

Life came crashing down on me. I got to see my mother one last time. And now I was incomplete. Then life got worse. 

I lost every employer, and the majority of the businesses I had worked with, withdrew their contracts and hired other contractors. I lost all the money for the summer and my business went down. I had to completely close it down. Even when jobs did call me, I refused to answer the phone. Instead I stuck to drinking heavily at night and staying in my bedroom. I had no money to even pay the landlord. I was 52-years-old and I had no wife, no family, and no work. All I had was my daughter in college, but I didn’t want to put this burden on her. 

It was then that I reached a drastic part of my life. My car was taken away and I had no money to pay the landlord. I began to ask those friends I had for all these years for some help. No one answered their phones. One man, Carlos, agreed to help me with a few thousand. But when the day came and my rent was due, he informed me that he was out of town. I had no one. My life was in shambles and I even thought what was the point. Thoughts came in my head. After all the money I had thrown at people over the years, I had no one to even speak to me or give me a shoulder to lean on. 

I realized that I needed to snap out of it. This was no life to live. While looking for a new job, I came upon an old friend Sam who I had known in the 90s. He was surprised to see me and talked about how I was the “man” back in the day, holding down an entire business from the start to finish. He didn’t even know. He then said “Mike, I want you to be my partner. I need you to be my partner. You have the skills that I can never have.” It was here that an old friend gave me a life changing opportunity. I quickly saved up money, paid the landlord, bought a car and began to get my life together. 

Soon after, that same friend, Carlos, who I had asked for help once, called me up asking for some money. I told him I could help him and when he called me the day of, I told him the same thing he told me “I’m out of town.” He said he deserved that. He had no idea how much I needed help that day, how much I needed a friend. I called him up the next morning and gave him some money and a hug. 

What this means to you Cassandra, is that you need to enjoy your life how it is. Make valuable friends who will come into your life for moments or stand with you for much time to come. You are 21, and this is not your time to struggle finding a job and jumping into a relationship. 

This is your time to enjoy what life has to offer and live. So go out anytime of the day, eat whatever want, drink with your friends, and just live. 

Life is a funny thing you see. We can be at our highest or our lowest within any given moment. So take this time to truly enjoy and get to know yourself. You want to look back and know that you got to spend your youth well and that you were able to see and spend time with the people you love the most. Life will come into place. That new job, that boyfriend, those friends, etc. It’ll all come into place and you’ll end up saying, wow why did I worry so much. Just live and even when you think you’re at your lowest point, someone reaches out a helping hand to guide you as you have guided others. Just live.” 

My father said this to me that day. It was Father’s Day, however, in the end I received the best gift. To hear those words and to drink with my father and chat about how funny life can be. Priceless. 

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College: What they didn’t tell you would happen in those 4 years

May 31, 2014: I woke up like every other morning in Albany. My window overlooked the pond and the weather was warm. It was the usual. For me, this was a daily occurrence that had become a routine from the moment I stepped foot on my college campus at 17-years-old. 

It was a normal day in Albany. 

And it was also the beginning of reality. 

I walked down the hall of my apartment to find suitcases packed. Decorations were taken off the wall. No one was in the apartment but me. 

I sat on the couch and contemplated how to feel, how to breathe, what to do now. 

It was May 18th when myself alongside hundreds of fellow peers, completed our journey of undergraduate studies. For most of us, Albany was more than just a college. It was where we grew up. 

It was an escape from all that we had left behind momentarily. It was our world. And we ran it.

I looked out the window to the home I knew so well. It was the place I had spent 4 years uncovering. From the hipster food places, to the trendy bars, from the local hiking parks, to the unusual gems that took all those years to finally understand. 

Universities and colleges all over the world see some of the most beautiful and most disastrous moments of our lives. They witness heartbreak to depression, happiness to down-right intoxication. 

But the beautiful part of what they witness is: change. 

Change of heart, as we uncover the difference between pleasing other people versus pleasing ourselves. Change of thought, as we uncover our true likes, when we realize that much of what we had thought would be a promising career would limit our happiness. Change of soul, as we become the people that we never sought out to be. 

We stood here, years ago, with no understanding or prediction of how we would end up. As if we were dropped into this world of college, no idea what the outcome would be. We waited patiently. 

And within an instance, we woke up. And we finished. 

We left our home. We left this reality. 

June 2014: Home. I unpack my belongings. Place dresses and shirts on hangers; gently placing them into the closet. I sit down on the couch and glance around. 

I was home. My home for my entire life where my parents raised me, where I lost my first tooth, and where I was picked up by my prom date. This was home for me. It had always been. 

But this home lacked to witness the biggest change of my life. These walls didn’t witness those endless random nights where friends would kidnap me at 2 am to grab food and chat about how crazy last night was. Those walls didn’t acknowledge all those nights of tears, of uncertainty, of delusion. These walls did not witness influential heartbreaks, or broken friendships. They couldn’t possibly understand all those days of complete madness or simply sitting with some friends to catch the next episode of our favorite show. 

So what do you do now? 

You’ve changed. You didn’t realize it. All those years where life seemed to just flow and you looked at the same person each day in the mirror. You had no idea what was coming. 

And then you go back home. And life comes into perspective. You understand that the person you once was is long gone and that you’ve inherited this new being that you had no idea you had. 

Then reality hits. And all those issues you had left behind when you left away for college begin to return. Emotions and feelings that you thought were long gone, return in a flash and you are left there wondering, what now?

We face the uncertainty of unattainable jobs and lack of funds. We face the constant pressure of taking care of our families. We face the distance of relationships, those people we swore we would never lose and have been limited to texting or Instagram updates; we face the transition of having the world in our hands to feeling like the world is now on our shoulders.

We face everything we swore we wouldn’t feel in those years of escape.

The only difference from the person you are now and the person you were, is that those 4 years strengthened you to take on this life. Those walls, that home, those friends, those not-so friends, those boys, those girls, those professors, those bosses, those random strangers at parties, those football games, those lack of sleep nights, those sunny days, those snowy days, those depressing days, those “I’m too drunk to remember what happened that night” days, and those last moments you had at your home. 

You were meant to experience this momentarily and now it’s time to fly. 

So as the world comes crashing down, remember that you are this new being that has transformed into the peak of your vision. You have made this person, this 20 something-year-old who is eager to experience more that life has to offer. 

And you’ll look back years from now and remember in the vastly distance what that home meant to you. What college gave you. How those 4 years in a complete different world with strangers, would eventually make you the person walking in those shoes today. Image

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Venice Waters

Venice Waters

Places I would rather be than this cold Northeast…Mhmm.

Venice you had me at Caio!

And I have to say my photo skills have gotten a lot better. May the next country I place my feet on, be as amazing as the ones I’ve already been blessed to see.

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March 24, 2014 · 2:52 am

La Isla Bonita

Your rhythm and curves of sea breeze never fail to leave my ears as the sounds of drums and cuartros play in the background. I have been blinded by the sounds of New York City car horns in the pathway to finding my Isla Bonita. The sand of my ancestors are not found in these city sidewalks. So I will not attend your version of Puerto Rican pride parades or wave my flag in this US land of forgotten identities. Isla Bonita, please do not call the United States your mainland. Please keep your flag waving high in the distance as the American language rips your tongue. Isla Bonita, with your waves of sea breeze delight, the rain in the El Yunque forest, and the sound of parandas during the Christmas time. Please let me see you Isla Bonita and all that’s been removed from your soul. Let me rid you of the Western mask placed upon your face to hide the veins that once flowed of Puerto Rican blood.The memories of farms men left behind to pursue the other red, white and blue,shoveling past El Barrio but no ocean here. Isla Bonita, I do not know of who you are but of what you appear to be. An emblem of US takeover, a mini vacation spot for the moment. But what I do know is that your spirit lingers strong in those who see you for what you are. Isla Bonita: from the tales of the Carribean elders to the sounds of the coqui frogs at night. The taste of pastelon, guava juice and tamarindo I pick off the trees on the road. La Isla Bonita, shine your light and always remember to be yourself. Be yourself for the countless of children who have been masked of the beauty you hold and forced to watch on the sidelines of American history. Isla Bonita shine bright for all to see your worth. Keep my Puerto Rican roots alive, please.

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Invisible abuse disguised in a maid uniform

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There is an invisible lining of gender-based sexual violence that is under the rim of our hands. It is hidden in the homes of rich families, in the walls of factories, and in horrid conditions in far off places, where a woman’s voice is nowhere to be heard. Coming from an immigrant background, I have heard the stories of my grandmother who slaved in factories for days at a time with little pay and wrongful working conditions. However, one thinks of these conditions as a past problem which causes many to wonder why domestic workers have strayed far from the spotlight. Why stories have rarely hit the mainstream news about conditions in South America, Asia, the Middle East, and even right here in the United States. The streak may have changed.

For the past three months, news headlines have rocketed with stories surrounding domestic workers. “Domestic workers abused in Indonesia”, “Death of a maid in Malaysia”, and “protests in Hong Kong over abuse of female workers” are just a few to name. And before that we heard headlines surrounding the abuse of Somalian migrant girls being abused in Dubai and over 200, 000 foreign domestic workers, mostly women, in countries like Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. Now the question that comes up to mind, is whether this is a struggle of a certain ethnic group or class level? The news headlines have given us all the same image of the foreign, domestic worker. She is poor, coming from a family who can barely take care of her, and sometimes she is even sold across borders. Many of these women and young girls, unable to return or leave their work environments, face everything from sexual abuse, rape, starvation, sex trafficking, and violence. When it comes to an ethnic majority, it seems most of the women come from an Asian or African background, but it predominately comes from the background of the country. For instance, Somalia and Malaysia are developing countries that fall far in the spectrum from areas like Dubai or Lebanon. It’s a matter of power over the lesser people.

The past news stories that hit the mainstream wave about domestic worker abuse was that of the death of a maid in Malaysia. According to Irene Fernandez, the director of Malaysian NGO Tenaganita, a non-profit organization focusing on migrant advocacy, 45 Indonesian workers have died in Malaysia just this year from several causes including torture by abusive employers. And the NGO organization has recorded over 1,050 human rights violations from rape to physical abuse in the last two years. The death of the 24-year-old maid named Kunarsih is just one of many Indonesian women who have been silenced victims of gender and sexual violence. Her body was found in the home of her employer. Many of these women have only two options. And both are bad news. The women can stay in their situation and continue with the physical, sexual, emotional abuse or attempt to flee. However, the majority of foreign workers who attempt to flee from their abusive employers are often prosecuted under the Malaysian immigration laws and jailed. Most employers keep their workers passports which allow a power over the victim. A domestic foreign worker cannot legitimately prove that they’re in the country legally. Other cases, like a 23-year old Ethiopian girl, have the same predicament. Upon arriving to Dubai as a domestic worker, her passport was taken immediately from her. You are a slave to your work. And what starts as an escape from poverty to aid families back home, eventually leads to a jail cell within a factory or home walls.

Countries like Malaysia and Dubai have been urged to stand up and protect their domestic workers within the country. Just this December, Malaysian immigration officers rescued over 105 Indonesian women who were forced to work without pay or food. A step up from the silence that lingered behind countless of women who wonder if this movement is a reality. As news media, continues to expand on this issue, there are still thousands of women across the globe that are silenced by the shackles of their domestic work. And there’s even some here in our backyard of the United States. 

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The Invisible War | Documentary about Rape in the U.S. Military

The Invisible War | Documentary about Rape in the U.S. Military | Independent Lens | PBS.

The moment I heard the topic, I knew it would hit home. A daughter of a Marine. A Marine woman. And a victim of sexual harassment in the military. I grew up with the PTSD, yes. I grew up with the anger, yes. I didn’t grow up with the underlying secret that my mother held for so long. She was a victim. And no one ever knew.

Watching this film had goosebumps down my spine. I couldn’t take hearing these stories of average women who served our country. But the moment they were raped or sexually assaulted, the country turned their back on them. The military turned their backs on them. Where is the justice in that? I couldn’t imagine how they feel. Ripped apart like a piece of meat, losing all your dignity, all your being. Having something affect you for the rest of your life, but when you scream no one can hear you. Instead they ignore.

My mother was one of these women. She was ignored. Probably too scared to tell a living soul what she went through. She was a lucky one because she was able to move on in her life. Some aren’t as fortunate.

This is an amazing documentary that really diminishes the idea that the military is all about honor and respect. If you can’t respect the women who are serving this country, then you can’t be honorable in my book.

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Beauty in simplicity

Beauty in simplicity

Sitting among history. Temple of Apollo in Delphi, Greece

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January 26, 2014 · 5:27 pm