It would be lovely if the family we’re born into is brimming with nothing but love and light, and a continuous feast of honey and roses.
However, and for many of us, this is not the case.
For many years, I have been the storyteller of the dark and hurt side of my family. I have come to love who I am culturally and ancestrally, but it has taken some real effort and unlearning,
In my journey of ancestral healing, and as I lean more into the joy of my childhood, I seek to heal and reclaim all that was good in my father and, by extension, in his descendants, too. The time has come to tell the other side of the story of my father who was, like most of us, full of contradictions.
My father’s full name was Victor Valentin Figuera Córdoba. In spoken Spanish, we drop the last name, which is the mother’s maiden name, so he was called “Figuera.” Others have called him “El Negro” because of his race; I called him “Papá,” and my mother called him “Mi Amor.” She loved him—they both loved each other. There was clearly confusion about how love was expressed, but my people loved deeply.
I have worked hard in the last 30 years to clean up and shift through this area of love because there’s great value in the courage to love. This is the area that has brought the most pain in my life; however, I believe there’s still much worth saving here.
He wore a hat—a felt-like hat—which was fashionable in those days. He was always well-dressed, clean, shaven, impeccably groomed, with polished shoes. He also wore perfume. I think it was “Old Spice.” His car was always clean. He wouldn’t leave the house in a dirty car. But most importantly, he shaped me into who I am. To this day, I take great effort in my personal grooming—my clothes, my hair, and the cleanliness of my environment. I believe I developed my love for beauty and order because of my father.
My father also loved to sing; he loved to play the cuatro, domino, chess, and bolas criollas, a game like bowling that’s played on an open field, perhaps like cricket or baseball, but on a smaller scale. He loved to play these games with his children. These were the times when my father was at his best and we all enjoyed playing, laughing, riding on his back, and doing whatever we felt moved to do. He was a child at heart. He never lost his joy for life.
In the afternoon, when we returned from school and got together as a family to play games, we would laugh and spend time being with each other, feel each other’s mood, and just be there. Our world was small. We didn’t have people or things around us, so our own company was valuable and precious. I believe these were the times when I learned to connect with feelings and nuances in silence.
He was a songwriter and composed aguinaldos for all his children to sing during Christmas time as we went from house to house, visiting neighbors and sharing food, music, and Christmas joy. In the absence of money for a gift exchange, that was our gift to our neighbors. Here, I also learned about the importance of giving of yourself, your energy, your creativity, and all the things that money cannot buy.
My father was a teacher who taught joinery at a technical school. He was great at what he did, he was a master furniture maker and woodcarver, and he learned these trades on his own. I believe this was because he didn’t have much formal schooling, and yet, he was teaching secondary school. He was smart and talented, but the lack of opportunities frustrated his life and, in the end, he turned destructive.
I’d say some of the gifts from his lineage are natural talents: joy for life, love, a good relationship with the earth, good health, and physical strength.
My father was also hardworking and a man of many talents. He drove a truck and sold water, he drove a different truck and sold sand and gravel, and he opened a grocery store and put my mother in business. He also taught her how to read and write. They would often read the Bible together. But religion among poor and black people is plagued with confusion and abuse from the colonizers and racism of those times. It was a way to justify all wrong behaviors that were associated with some biblical quotes. This left me with a legacy of anti-religion, which I can see that I passed onto my children. I consider myself a spiritual person, but having grown up with a disturbing religious framework, I struggle with following this path.
He always owned the houses we lived in. He was hard working and proud, but, unfortunately, I never met his people, so I’m not sure how he developed his progressive and ambitious drive.
My father was a farmer. He planted cassava, sweet potatoes, yams, red beans, watermelon, cashews, cucumbers, peanuts, pumpkin, and so much more. There was always an abundance of fruits and provisions around us. We had no formal table or dining hours, but food was always available, thanks to my father. As a child, I recall myself planting the fields while walking and dropping the seeds everywhere. I learned to love nature, the outdoors, and the rain. We never ran or shielded away from the rain. I always felt at home out in nature, so recently, I found myself asking:
When did you stop singing?
When did you stop dancing?
When did you stop being enchanted by stories?
When did you stop listening to the sweet sound of silence?
In the midst of turmoil and scarcity, there was joy—simple joy that had nothing to do with money, expensive clothes, trips to foreign lands, or all of the things that later in life took the center stage.
On Sundays, Papá would take us to the zoo, sometimes to the river, to different parks, for walks, or for hikes. He rewarded us with trips to other states during school vacations whenever we excelled in school, where we would stop and have meals in roadside restaurants during road trips. He admired academic excellence and hard work. He was a storyteller, so on evenings, he would tell us stories of Aladdin and the forty thieves, Florentino and the Devil, duendes, and soucouyant. He knew all the stories of those times.
He was a responsible, reliable, respectful, and honest man whose life was focused on hard work. Papá was this and a lot more…
One of the greatest pieces of counseling I have received is about the danger of a single story as it tends to define a multifaceted person through the lens of that one story only. I made the mistake of reducing my father to only his mistakes, and that hurt me because I saw myself as flawed and unworthy of being his daughter.
As I look at my life today and take notice of the wonderful, smart, and loving children I have raised, the successful business I have built and run for 41 years, and the nurturing and loving community of friends I have cultivated, I realize there was a lot more in childhood than I ever gave credit for in my youth.
So, as I make repairs to my personal psyche and family history, I hope to embody what was so beautiful and helpful from the past. I took on the challenge of being the healer in my family lineage, and I look forward to helping him make the necessary repairs to release the thread of intergenerational pain that will allow him to join his old, kind, wise, and loving ancestors and find eternal rest.
Happy Father’s Day, Papá!