by Yaddy Valerio
Papi was a financial provider, never an emotional giver. The stereotypical Dominican—callejero y mujeriego—I’d hear my dad in the living room telling his friends dique, “si la mujer e hijas quieren casa, van a tener que fajarse porque yo lo mío me lo trago.” At eight years old, I never fully grasped that statement, but later in life, I'd learn to work my ass off so as not to depend on anyone—especially men.
Our relationship is a complex one, papi and me. I don’t have pictures of him after age 12—memories are a blur. My parents separated when I was 16. Papi went to live with la otra—the one with whom he cheated on mami. He remained a part of my life out of obligation rather than a sense of honor de compartir with his daughters. On my worst days, when I needed support from papi—the kind that only a father can give to his daughter, simple advice on a current relationship or a life change, for example—he was too busy living his life, and my sister and I were not on his radar.
Resentful at the betrayal of my primary male figure, I sought out an affection that my dad could not provide me. Only to find myself attracting men igualito a el, emotionally unavailable, suffering through relationships with toxic men that were destructive to my well-being.
In my 20s, I navigated life with mental health illness while blaming myself for not yet having a family. As I ventured through my healing journey, I recognized that I hadn’t recovered from specific childhood traumas I endured—unspeakable experiences that could only ever be revealed in therapy sessions and journals. I understood that we don’t know our parents all that well or the bullshit they have overcome, their own unspeakable traumas.
Now in my 30s, I’m becoming more understanding and less judgemental. How did I get here?
Unlike my parents, I have resources and time; I can take a break and go to therapy—my dad didn’t. This realization leads me to question why my father has difficulties communicating and drowns himself in a bottle of alcohol rather than expressing his emotions. It’s clear papi has trauma that he will never fully cope with, which explains why he doesn’t talk about his childhood. El pasado es el pasado.
Early this year, my siblings and I made an emergency trip to the Dominican Republic because my father was unwell. I booked a one-way flight, still in shock, not because I was in a country I hadn’t visited in 10 years, but because I was there to care for my father. In such a compromising position, I thought about those days in my youth when I needed him, the tumultuous relationships I sought out because of him, the heartbreaks and anger, only to have him sickly, frail, and need us. My first impulse was to question, “but why should I help you” followed by “forgive him; he is human.”
To be honest, I have yet to digest the trip. Papi and my relationship is a work in progress, but I choose to believe we are moving towards healing.
Yaddy Valerio is a Dominican American writer, storyteller, host of the "Cafecito Time Con Yaddy" podcast, and educator based in Uptown, NYC. As a first-generation American and a child of Immigrants, Yaddy is passionate about dismantling intergenerational trauma and breaking the stigma on mental health in the Dominican community. Yaddy’s writing has been published in the Manhattan Times, Galleria Magazine, and Dominican Writers Association. Currently, Yaddy facilitates a monthly writing workshop, “Sip, Write & Share.” You can find more of Yaddy’s work at www.inyaddyswords.com