Last night I re-watched actor John Leguizamo’s 1998 Broadway show Freak, a semi-autobiographical summary of Leguizamo’s early years growing up in New York City. A prominent figure in the story is his father, described as violent and generally absent much of the time. The show ends with Leguizamo’s poignant reenactment of a reconciliatory moment between him and his father. His last words are “This is for you, dad.”
Too many Latino men can relate to Leguizamo’s story of growing up fatherless. In fact, many of us were raised with even less of a father than Leguizamo had. The abundance of fatherless children within the Latino community is something that undercuts our efforts to uplift ourselves and produce healthy, happy, and fully-functioning members of society.
While there are plenty of scholarly articles detailing the effects that fatherlessness has on children in terms of educational achievement, crime rates and future financial stability, this article deals with the impact on the soul of the individual and the community.
My father abandoned my family when I was young, and I was forced to maneuver the labyrinth from boyhood to manhood virtually on my own. A boy first reacts to the perceived injustice of it all: Why did this happen to me? Of course, the world doesn’t operate on fairness, and we are bound to learn that lesson at some point in our lives. But the way in which a fatherless child learns, it leaves deep mental and emotional scars, which, for some, become debilitating. (You know how it feels when you have your heart broken? Multiply that by 100 and extend it over a couple decades.)
As the boy grows up and begins to understand that it’s not strictly society’s fault – that his father had a significant hand in his fatherless upbringing – he then has to contend with feeling rejected, which is exponentially worse than the initial feeling of unfairness. It’s a harsh realization for any teenager to face during their phase of self-discovery: my father, who saw me come into this world and helped raise me during my first few years, decided I wasn’t worth the effort and that he didn’t want to be my dad anymore. This tends to lead someone toward a single conclusion: I’m not worth it.
All of this is detrimental to the success of the Latino community, because these fatherless boys-turned-men are expected to be good lovers, good fathers and good citizens. It’s nearly impossible for a person to be something he has never known. Their sole guiding example exists only in their mind, like an ancient sailor searching for the North Star on a cloudy night.
As a community, Latinos must promote efforts like Planned Parenthood to ensure that children are brought up in a healthy, supportive environment. We must repudiate any man who abandons his role as a father, instead of giving them the usual pass of “boys will be boys.”
Men must be men.