“I Knew You Loved Me Then”: The Story of My Father

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In time for Father’s Day this Sunday, University of Baltimore MFA student Elisa Estrella recounts her heartbreaking–but meaningful–relationship with her dad.

I remember once you were washing black car grease off your forearms at the kitchen sink and you smiled at me; once you bought me a doll that could walk if I pulled her arm—you laughed that the doll was bigger than me; I loved you most then; you always dressed in leather wingtip shoes, wool pants, cotton shirts, and a leather jacket when it was cold; you had thin black hair you combed to one side; you were hairy but clean-shaven; I remember you wore Old Spice; you smoked Parliaments; you drank Miller when you watched the New York Mets play; you quit smoking when you developed a cough; you drank Chivas Regal on special occasions; you tried to quit drinking, but no one liked you sober so you went back to drinking; you jogged when you gained weight—and you lost it.

You always said, “I’m 19 years old, man”—you didn’t say much else; it was hard to love you; you drove a light blue car; your trade was electrical but you preferred to work for yourself so you were a milkman and a bread-delivery man; you always had money but you didn’t have any money for us; you vacationed in the Dominican Republic during New York winters to swim at the beach and watch the women parade around in their swimsuits; you started a transportation business there; you spoke Spanish but knew English.

You always carried a lot of keys but I don’t remember you ever carrying me; you bought a hot sausage pizza on one of your visits; I yelled, “Papi’s home!” and hugged you so hard I nearly knocked you down, but you didn’t return the hug; you taught me how to play poker and I won 100 pennies; you bought me a new pair of green and white flannel pajamas; you signed one report card and said I was smart; you didn’t go to my Communion, Act of Contrition, Confirmation or eighth grade graduation; you took me to a bar, ordered a drink, and flirted with the bartender while I had a Coca Cola; you said you would teach me how to make a sancocho one day but you never did.

You arrived at Aunt Dora’s house with your new woman, but we couldn’t be in the same space, and I had to leave; you had another daughter after me with your new woman; you loved her better than you loved me; you didn’t come to my wedding because the Mets were in the World Series.

You and I drank Chivas Regal while I made you laugh after your mother’s funeral and you said I was beautiful; I was finally getting through; you danced the merengue with me; you retired to the Dominican Republic and your health started to decline; you were lying sick in the Dominican Republic, and I got on a plane to say goodbye—but you died just before I landed.

You appeared in a dream afterward and your hair was still combed to one side; you were wearing your leather jacket, and although you didn’t say anything, you hugged me goodbye, and all at once I knew you had loved me.


Elisa Estrella is a memoir writer and essayist completing her MFA in Creative Writing and Publishing Arts at the University of Baltimore. She is the mother of one fabulous daughter, Alicia, and grandmother to Massimo.


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