Seeing My Dad for the First Time in 16 Years

Anyone who says they remember things that happened before the age of five has superhero memory powers. I’m not one of the gifted ones, so I’ll admit have absolutely no memory of my mother and father in the same house – even in the same country. That’s because I grew up 4,847 miles away from my father in Brazil.

Fast-forward 16 years and here I am, grocery shopping in a Connecticut Walmart with mom and dad reunited as if none of the time or distance had ever happened. Seriously, can this be any more of a Lifetime movie?

Here’s the story: my mom and dad divorced when I was two, my mom decided to give her three kids the “American Dream,” and moved us to suburban Connecticut in 1998. She packed up all of our belongings, sold her clothing business, and said goodbye to friends and family. You can clearly see where I get my strong independent woman mentality from.

My dad called frequently to check up on us, but the conversations were dryer than burnt chicken. Portuguese became difficult for me after picking up English thanks to Hooked on Phonics in elementary school. As I grew into my teens, my realities were so far from the soccer-playing, beach-going lifestyle that he and the rest of our family lived. Instead of *churasco, *pagode, and *futebol with family on weekends, I grew up with play dates, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and making Build-A-Bear dolls at the local mall. Relating became nearly impossible.

As I grew older, I became okay with the distance. I realized that sometimes you sacrifice things for a bigger picture. The sacrifice for all of our opportunities came with losing touch with our closest of relatives and feeling as though we only had one parent. Because my mom worked late hours as a nanny and housekeeper to pay the bills, my siblings and I would be home alone until 8PM where after-school specials of Full House and The Cosby Show helped raise us.

I know a lot of single-parent stories can get overly sappy, but my brother, sister, and I loved every minute of our childhood and even made it a point to give mom a card on Mother’s and Father’s day. When having one parent is all you’ve ever known, you don’t even think about what it would be like to have both of them around at the same time. I had given up on the thought of building a relationship with him, and I wasn’t upset about the situation.

Although we wanted to go back to Brazil to visit, it wasn’t until my mom married my awesome stepdad in 2012 that we could finally leave the country, due to our…ahem…undocumented status for 12 years. No biggie there.

My dad’s excuses for never visiting over the years varied from a lack of money, to a lack of time off from work, and to the most recent excuse, “I’m afraid of planes.” I guess if I’ve inherited anything from my father besides cankles, it’s that fear of flying, but the fear of flying ain’t neva kept me out of the sky.

So after 16 years of watching us grow up through phone calls, Facebook pictures, and shaky home videos, my dad finally came to the United States to see my sister and I graduate college.

The truth is that seeing my mom and dad and siblings all next to each other puts a huge smile on my face. After spending time with him, I had crucial realizations about myself. For instance, I now know why I’m extremely silly, why I love running long-distance, and why I’m so damn talkative, it’s because I’m my father’s daughter. One thing I wasn’t gifted with was his musical genius gene, so our Sunday was spent having an intense lesson on how to play the tambourine, and *berimbau. I’m gettin’ good too, watch out now.

Later at night we had a heart to heart on how he met my mother on a smelly public bus. We also talked about his thoughts on how different my siblings and I are, and how he watches Damon & Jo regularly despite not understanding a  damn word. If it’s one thing that he made sure I knew, it was that he didn’t want me to stop fighting for my dreams.

To be honest, I never thought I’d see the day, so the fact that the day is here makes me that more appreciative. This whole weekend has just been a big a$$ emotional time-machine.


Now I just need to find the words to explain to my dad why the food portions here are so big, how you can actually flush toilet paper down the toilet, and why we don’t plan our entire days around what soccer teams are playing on TV.

Despite it all, I’m extremely glad that he finally decided “shut up and go.”  I’m already getting excited for the next time we’re all reunited.


*churasco – Brazilian version of a BBQ

*pagode – traditional samba music

*futebol – soccer, duh

*berimbau – single string percussion instrument that’s played during capoeira (known as the soul of capoeira)

*capoeira – Afro-Brazilian martial arts that’s mixed with acrobatic dance moves

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