by Massiel Alfonso
Real men weren't raised to be pariguayos. They don't settle down and dedicate their lives to building a family, como dice mi tío, eso e' pa pajaro.
In this Dominican family, men are not raised to be palomos—encouraged to love multiple women, even if they are half their age. My uncles would say, "en mi familia todos somos machos," as their beers kissed each other. Growing up, I saw them bringing so many girls over that I got to a point where I didn't even greet them because I knew I would never see them again.
Una aquí y la otra allá. La de allá soñando en el día que le llegue su visa, mientras se la llevan a disfrutar a un cabaré para llenarle el trago de mentiras—siempre y cuando el dólar se lo permita. While the one here throws away the last of her remaining strength, blinded by the responsibilities the male leaves when he flies temporarily from the nest.
Papi wasn't like that; I don't think that's how he ever wanted to be. He has never said it, but I sense deep down in his orgullo that papi is genuinely sorry he became the depiction of an unfaithful man. There are days when I see the embarrassment in his eyes, maybe even an apology floating between his tongue.
I long for papi and mami to share their love once more; we would be the family we were back in '06 when we were happy, but nah, that's just me being a pendeja. That would never happen. At least not in this lifetime, because he made a family con una de por allá. I don't like saying her name. I don't hate her, but she's not Mom.
Mami hasn't been the same since papi left. I think she's scared to give her heart out to another man again. He made sure he stomped on those multiple times. Multiple puncture wounds to the heart would do that to a girl, and she was just that when they met. Mami says que ya no lo quiere and that she's done con ese cuernú, but that's not what her eyes say. I've gotten pretty good at reading them and knowing cuando ella está fingiendo—dad taught me—and she does that a lot nowadays.
Men are men, and a good wife must be complacent. I grew up believing que el hombre que abandona a su familia no sirve— pero que culpa tiene el hombre, cuando la sociedad normaliza que el hombre puede hacer y deshacer, que la mujer es la que se que tiene que dar a respetar y cuidar su hogar. Real men are supposed to be unfaithful. The woman who wants to keep her home, must forgive time after time, no matter what.
After a few beers, these men discuss their first time with a woman. The youngest of my uncles, Rafael, recalled how at only 15 years old his friend took him to a cabaret in the Dominican Republic. He whispered to a lady that he'd pay 1,000 pesos if she took Rafael's virginity. She did it, sin cuestionar, like a pro.
He fell in love with her, and their relationship evolved into something more for years. Because of this, Rafael was bullied by his brothers and seen as too soft when it came to women—un palomo, for falling in love with a puta. Real men don’t fall in love with putas; they just have a taste here and there, sip their Brugal Añejos, call their kids, pa que no se quejen, y le dan 500 pesos a la de allá, pa’ que haga una comprita y ellos entretanto andan rulin en su pasolita, y la de aquí trabajando dos turnos.
Sometimes I reminisce about the version of my dad that I knew as a little girl. The one that sang to Anthony Santos, Raulin Rodriguez, and José José. The one held me as I sat on his lap and listened to his heartbeat. The man that I thought would forever have my back. I would like to go back in time and relive those moments, but that version of him no longer exists. That man I knew became un rastreo, un cobarde, un caso perdido.
The relationship with my dad is as dead as the cementerio we leave Papá flowers. I don't blame him for being so in love with his country that he picked up all its bad habits and now spends six months here and six months there, living his best life—or maybe running away from it. If papá were still alive, maybe, just maybe, he would be a different person. Papá would never have allowed any of it. My grandfather—the best man I ever knew—played a dad's role better than papi himself. He gave me a taste of daddy 's love, y aunque fuera ajeno, se sentía verdadero.
“La rubia, del cabaré… que lindo fue caramba, que lindo fue…”
Papi drinks the way tío Ramón does, con los ojos cerrados imagining their rubia and their time in el cabaré. One hand on the radio's volume, and the other, a glass of Brugal. He drinks to the music that holds our memories. I wonder if he thinks of me. I bet he's somewhere en la Salomé Ureña, sitting on his front steps, enjoying the breeze, listening to the motores, viviendo su vida de un dólar por 56, while he drinks to escape his reality. I envy him.
A pesar de todo, parte de mi, all of me, desires things didn't end up the way they are now. Si él nos pidiera perdón, la culpa y el rencor no viviría en mí, sino que flotaría en un vaso de Brugal, wondering what it's like to live in my heart, y así no me tuviera que desahogar escribiendo poemas. That way, I wouldn't have to write stories based on this failing perception of my father. That way, I could hold onto the memory I had of him, back in 06' when he was my favorite person.
Olvidarme del dolor y el amor que me hizo falta y responderle ción papí cuando él me pida que le bese la mano. Tal vez la culpa no es de él ni de abuelo, ni de mami, ni de la sociedad, ni mía, ni tuya. La culpa la tiene el que acepte tan poco de un hombre y le diga que pase lo que pase, eso es ser hombre, eso es amar.
I wish I could utter the words I write on paper, tell him how I feel, and have him hold me as we cry together, singing to José José once more. I wish he wasn't a stranger and would come to my doorstep to take me on the dates he promised before he met his rubia.
But this isn't a story about me; this is about papi and how my culture accepts men just like him. About how Dominican men, pueden hacer y deshacer, sin la necesidad de pedir perdón.
He's still your father, and you must love him no matter what he does, they insist. No matter how much he hurts you by being a real man, he is still yours.
Regardless of if he wishes to die in DR, repeatedly cheats, only checks up on you on random occasions, forgets your birthday, spends his dólares on mujeres del barrio, leaving your mom with three children in the States. While he enjoys a Presidente en la galería de Moca City on a Wednesday, your mom works two jobs, and his daughter writes poems that he will never read. Even if he never showed you how to ride a bike, left you craving the feeling of being loved in your teens, thinks a two-minute conversation makes up for a lost time, and never fucking apologizes.
Even if he was the first man to break your hearts, Mami's and yours. He is still your papi even if it hurts you, even if, even if…He is still yours.
Massiel Alfonso is a Dominican writer, spoken word poet, and author of Handful of Poems. Her more recent work has appeared in La Libreta (Sucia), Spanglish Voces (Querido padre), The Acentos Review (Memorias de mi niñez), The Abuela Story Project, and in She Rose Magazine (My Body Tells Me). Massiel is also a Dominican Writers Association Writers Salon member and can be found at massielalfonso.com.