June 22, 2016 by poverty2professional
If home is where the heart is, then I lived at my father’s side.
With Father’s Day being just this past weekend, this seems like a very appropriate topic. Being homeless never felt hopeless as long as my dad was there. In a lot of ways, I was incredibly, stupendously, go-cash-that-lottery-ticket lucky. Not only was my dad always there for me, he was a damn good father in general.
Los Angeles-born and raised my father’s upbringing was not an easy one. His parents were alcoholics, he lost the big brother he idolized by 15, and he nearly dropped out of school all together. But there wasn’t anything my dad couldn’t think his way out of. He found outlets in multiple hobbies: magic, drumming, baseball, art. His profession was in architecture, so you can imagine what a Type A personality that is. He always said it was easy to be a good parent because “I just have to do everything for you that my parents never did for me.”
As I went through school, my dad nurtured in me the love of books. Mostly by refusing to update us into the twenty-first century. Our home would never have internet access until I bought it myself at twenty-two. He attended my volunteer activities for school, kept track of which classes I was taking, and kept on me that college was a very real possibility no matter our economic situation. My father never received a bachelor’s degree, but he knew how important education was and gave everything — his health, time, and energy — to make sure I had a fighting chance.
However tumultuous our situation, my dad made me feel safe, assured that someone in my corner was rooting for me. When I was ten and my mother left, my dad shielded me from the brunt of the change. He managed our home, gave me a routine, and always, always let me know that he was there. Later, when we faced eviction, it was because of my father’s courage that I was able to accept the loss and move forward with whatever came next. “The world don’t stop turning just because you’re homeless,” he’d say. “Move on.”
The following Thanksgiving 2008, one year after we had lost our home, we spent the day shuffling around our favorite park, kicking up leaves, and trying for all the world not to look homeless on the holiday. Of course, who else but my dad could look at me with a wry smile and say, “Can you believe we survived a whole year? Ain’t so bad being homeless, is it?”
He was joking, but it was always his brand of sardonic optimism that kept our perspectives in check. Because while homelessness was an everyday struggle – all its limitations, its sleeplessness, its unfairness, and its stigma – he wasn’t going to let it get to us. While many shelters do not offer spaces for single-fathers (no matter how many children), my dad was determined to keep our little family unit together. If there was a curfew (which there was), he wasn’t going to let it interfere with my schoolwork. If I lost my ID just an hour before sitting for the SAT (which requires photo ID), my dad would run to and dig through our storage unit to find a back up in time. And when it was time for me to cross the stage at high school graduation and plan my next steps toward college, you can bet the next viral video that he was there. With my dad around, I knew I was never alone. That’s also why this post is pretty tough to write.
About two months ago, my father passed away after a four-year struggle with cancer on his thymus gland (it’s a gland right above your heart that – like other vestigial structures – serves no other purpose than to be infected). These past few weeks have been very difficult. It’s not quite like being homeless – my economic circumstances are vastly improved – but my sense of belonging has been indelibly altered. At my time of writing this, I’m grappling with how to accept that my father weathered all these impossible challenges and is somehow no longer alive.
“The world don’t stop turning.”
I know he would have wanted me to keep moving forward and I have every intention of using everything he’s given me.