I remember my daughter and son playing with a group of kids in the park when one of the kids started chasing my son with a palm tree leaf. My daughter stepped in front of the kid and said, “Stop!” The kid moved back and eyed her, unsure of what to do. Finally, he responded, “you can’t tell me what to do!”
My daughter stepped up, looked him up and down, and said, “oh yes, I can. Do you know why?”
“Why?” the kid asked.
“Because I’m the Queen of Miami.”
The kid shifted side to side, “no, no you’re not,” he said seemingly doubting his own existence.
“Yes. I. Am.”
The kid took off like he’d just missed being struck by lightning. My son hugged my daughter, and said, “thanks, Tata,” calling her by her nickname. She turned to me, winked, and proceeded to swing on the monkey bars like she was indeed, queen of her domain.
Recently, my son and I were walking in one of the commercial districts in our Miami neighborhood when a guy walking ahead of us finished off a bag of chips and attempted to toss it in the garbage. He missed. The bag bounced off the rim and fell lazily to the sidewalk. My son stopped walking and waited to see if the guy was going to pick up the empty bag. When the dude didn’t, my son marched over, picked up the bag, and called out, “Excuse me?”
The guy didn’t turn around, so my son persisted. “Excuse me,” he said a little louder. The guy turned around to see my son holding the empty bag of chips. “You missed.”
The guy looked at me as if I was going to save him from my son’s trash shaming. I shrugged.
“I’ll throw it away for you this time,” my son said turning back towards the garbage. He approached the green can and slammed the empty bag inside. Then he strutted back over to my side like he’d just made the game winning dunk.
“Thanks,” the guy said.
“You’re welcome,” my son replied. “It’s not nice to litter.”
The guy nodded.
We just welcomed the newest addition to our little crew, and she’s already asserting her personality and will. Doing things the only way a four-month-old can. Sometimes she doesn’t stop crying. It can be frustrating. I have work to do! But then she stares straight at me as if saying, “is it really that bad, Papi?” then breaks into a full-faced smile, and I’m undone. She does this time and time again, reminding me that, no, it’s really not that bad at all.
I don’t know if I’m doing right by my kids at every moment. Probably not. But I love having a front row seat in their lives and seeing how they navigate the world. And I realize, no matter what I do in this life, antes te todo, soy papá.
I am a father first, and that means being a witness, a fan, and an advocate in my children’s lives. Doing it fully and with every ounce of my heart. Whatever father, or fatherhood means to you, les mando un feliz día de los padres.
Pablo Cartaya is an award-winning author of books focused on the stories of Latinx youth in the United States and the communities, families, and cultures they inhabit. His forthcoming middle grade novel, Each Tiny Spark is out August 6 through Kokila Publishers, an division imprint of Penguin Young Readers. @phcartaya