Finding Family, Part One: The Man Who Wasn’t There

The clues to my father’s identity didn’t mean a thing — until I knew to look.

David Valdes

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The story of my family doesn’t begin with four Cuban men standing on a beach in Miami comparing feet, but some part of it is anchored there forever. It was one of a few moments in my childhood that could have revealed the truth, the existence of parallel life narratives starring two different fathers. It was a moment that at once said too much and too little, a blip in time that became key to the narrative a decade later.

I was ten, fishing with my dad, my older brother Ignacio, and my dad’s buddy, a man I didn’t know, like so many of the people who cycled through the summers of my kid-of-divorce childhood.

During the school year, Ignacio and I lived in Maine with our mom, a Scotch-Irish farm girl who had briefly become a city girl in her early 20’s, a few brief years long enough to marry our dad, a recent Cuban exile living in Boston. They met working in a factory full of his countrymen, a place where she was the exception. When most of the crew moved to Miami, they moved too, and she felt even more like a fish out of water.

My dad (far left) and his crew of Cuban expats in Boston.

They divorced when I was four, so spending time with dad meant my brother Ignacio and I flying unaccompanied on Eastern Airlines from Maine to Miami after school let out for the year. Our summer and winter lives bore little resemblance to each other.

Our Miami apartment was in a yellow stucco building, with a courtyard out back where girls put their friends through dance practice for their quinces. Tiny lizards snuck into the apartment and sometimes little tarantulas that rode in on a bag from the fruit market. My dad was an alcoholic, the black sheep of his family, the rest of whom were model Cuban exiles of the get-ahead and get-into-college-at-15 variety. He was as difficult as they were easy, but I loved him because he was my dad.

That summer afternoon, with light reflecting so brightly on the water that any memory of boats or other swimmers is lost to me, my dad’s buddy pointed out how…

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David Valdes

David Valdes is a Cuban-American author who writes about family, race, and LGBTQ issues. His book Brighter than the Moon releases in January 2023.