It’s crazy how a certain smell, sound, or even an image can take you back to a moment in time.
For me, that image is a black 1999 Ford Ranger glistening in the Miami sun. It’s what I looked for every day as I peeked through the window in the back of Ms. Suarez’s fourth grade classroom and waited for the afternoon bell to ring.
“Would he pick me up,” I wondered. “Would he even show up at all?” At this time he hadn’t been in my life for very long – only enough to be comfortable with him, but not enough to say I trusted him.
Being as young as I was, I didn’t know everything that was going on in my household. However, I did know that my mom worked long hours and childcare became a second home.
I was always the first one at school, sometimes early-care, and most times I was the last one leaving an after-care program.
Day after day I watched each parent pick up their child hours before me, and I remember looking at the clock knowing it wasn’t my time yet.
I watched my friends live a life I wish I had.
My mother needed help, we both did. She needed someone to count on, and I needed someone to teach me how to trust. There weren’t many people I relied on. People would say one thing and do the opposite.
For a while it was just my mother and I, but suddenly, things changed.
He came from nowhere, that’s what it felt like. He just showed up in our lives and made everything easier. I think it was because of who he was, his demeanor, and his reliability.
Every day he would park his black Ford Ranger in the first parking spot. Looking back, I think he parked there deliberately. It was like he knew I would look for him and I was scared he wouldn’t be there, like most people in my life at that time.
Each day he did the same thing, he greeted me with a smile, asked me for my book bag and opened the door. He would talk to me, ask me how my day was, and wanted nothing more than to get to know me.
I was hesitant to trust him, but every time I saw him there, the wall I had created inside crumbled piece by piece.
Every day we talked about something new, something I did, something he was doing at work, and we became friends. He was earning a place in my life but little did I know that picking me up from school was a bigger sacrifice than I had realized.
I just remember noticing how hungry he was. His stomach made the loudest roar and then it hit me – he wasn’t eating lunch. He didn’t have time.
There wasn’t enough time to pick me up, drive me to my after-care program and stop to eat.
He had to choose, and every day he chose me.
As an adult working a full day’s worth of work, lunch is vital. If I don’t eat by 1 p.m., my pens start to look more and more appetizing.
So how did he do it? How did he wake up at 5 a.m., eat breakfast, which mind you wasn’t much, and wait until about 8 p.m. to finally eat?
I summed it up to one thing, and one thing only: he loves me.
He loves me enough to rush from work to my school, to my after-care program and back to work within 60 minutes on an empty stomach.
He did what fathers should be willing to do every day; sacrifice for their child. He may not be my biological father, our DNA does not match, and I don’t have his eyes or his hair, but make no mistake, he is and will always be my father.
I no longer watched my friends live a life I wish I had, because he made that life a reality for me. My mother was no longer alone and she finally had someone to count on.
So, Happy Father’s Day to every man — father or not– that chooses to make a difference in a child’s life.