by Lisa Gil- Ventura
“Los domplínes dominicanos son pequeños trozos de masa hervida servidos en una salsa. Para hacer domplínes dominicanos, se hace una masa con la harina, se deja reposar, se le da forma y se hierve y sirve en salsa.” (https://www.cocinadominicana.com/10569/receta-domplines-dominicanos#historia)
For the majority of my life, I expected my father to show his love by being affectionate, doting, and a proactive figure. I longed for his presence—yearned for the dedication and attention of mi papi. I ached for him to love me like the fathers of 1990s family sitcoms; silently pleading for a dad that would drop whatever he was doing to be by my side, to attend birthday celebrations, or even to waive mylar balloons and flowers from the bleachers at my graduations, but finally accepting that it would never be the case.
My father, Francisco or Fran’ for short, was born in Santo Domingo, República Dominicana, in the late 1950s. The second youngest of twelve children, and as the family's baby boy, he was “pega’o de la falda de mi mama.” His mother taught him to cook, wash, iron, and clean at an early age. Papi left home as a teenager and fathered two children before making his way to the United States and meeting my mother.
They married in 1985 and divorced shortly after I turned five. My mother, brother, and I relocated from Boston, Massachusetts, to my great-grandmother’s one-bedroom apartment in Washington Heights. After the divorce, my father would visit us sporadically. When I’d invite him, there was usually an excuse or, worse yet, no response. Sometimes he kept his word, but most times, he’d just leave my brother and me hanging. The older we got, the more he started showing up; however, it was senseless trying to make up for the lost time. By then, it was far too late to show his daughter the devotion necessary to keep her from searching for love in all the wrong places.
For years, he remained inconsistent, coming by at random times but never the moments that mattered most. I stopped believing him when he’d say, “Ali’tense que lo’ voy a pasar a recoger.” After many disheartening deceptions, I learned to smile, nod, and agree politely. I stopped being hopeful because it would only set me up for further heartbreak. At one point, when others asked about him, I went as far as saying I didn’t have a father. He’d been missing out on most of my life, and so I became accustomed to his nonexistence.
Although stern and severe, he was also funny and charming. A dash of temperamental—one of the many reasons my mother walked away—he carries with him rage that could easily intimidate. As a result of said anger and fearing the inevitable mood swing, I avoided disappointing him. I admittedly held a grudge, but whenever he showed up, I’d forget his shortcomings and succumb to playing the role of his happy little girl.
My father was under the impression that making up for lost times with currency was the best way to show his love, but that was never enough for my brother and me; all we ever wanted was his presence. When he started preparing my favorite dish, domplínes with salami guisa’o, I took it as a sign of his love for me—the little girl he abandoned felt seen and perhaps even spoiled.
Domplínes are boiled dough made with flour, salted water, eggs, and butter. My father introduced me to this cuisine during one of his visits. I love domplínes so much that I once asked him to teach me how to prepare them (apart from my older sister in DR, he’s the only one in the family that knows how to make them). To knead dough is an art. Mixing the flour, salted water, butter, and eggs seems simple enough but massaging that dough to perfection takes expertise. My various attempts at making domplínes were in vain as they would never be as savory as his. I eventually ceased my efforts because the process was messy and frustrating.
Freshman year of college, tragedy struck. Losing a son, he reevaluated how he showed up in my life. Since then, we’ve spoken on the phone regularly. Papi and I still don’t have the father-daughter relationship I fantasized about; still, I’m grateful for his efforts, making me feel cared for and loved.
Before the birth of my firstborn, Devan, I craved domplínes with salami guisao. I hadn’t yet learned to make them, and my father wasn't around every time I craved them, meaning I was deprived of the one meal I hungered for. When my son was born, I noticed a perfectly round, indigo birthmark on his right arm. It was un antojo; when a pregnant mother touches any part of her body while craving something specific, a birthmark will appear on that child’s body. I love my domplínes round and thick—-and I am not saying that my son’s birthmark is a domplín— but perhaps, if the myths are true, that cerulean circle is proof that I craved my father’s love and attention so deeply that my son now bears the evidence.
My current relationship with my father is passive at best. Conversations between us remain at the surface level because neither of us feels comfortable demonstrating vulnerability. But as awkward as our relationship is, I crave domplínes when he’s around.
I could have held a grudge indefinitely, but as I evolve, mature, and navigate parenthood, I realize that not everyone’s love language is alike. He doesn’t demonstrate affection; in my heart, I’m certain that he loves me in his uniquely subtle ways. Aware that I’m a flawed daughter and parent, I accept that I can’t continue punishing him for his failings. I would only hope for the same grace and forgiveness should I fail to love my sons or others in ways they deem nurturing enough. Imperfect as he may be, I forgive my father. Refusing to carry a burden of deep regret, I offer him a second chance at fatherhood instead.
Lisa “Rubi G.” Ventura (she/her) is a Washington Heights-bred Black Dominican poet and creative nonfiction writer. She is a first-generation daughter of immigrants, wife, and mother to two-and-a-half enchanting boys. Her work has been published by Dominican Writers, Raising Mothers, La Libreta, and Inkwell Black Press. Lisa also served as an empowerment panelist for The New York City Council. She is a Voices of our Nations Arts Foundation/VONA 2022 alumnae. You can find her at www.lapoetarubi.com or @poeta_rubi_g.