I did not expect, prior to coming to Haiti, that I would spend so much time thinking and reflecting on what it means to be a father. Yet, I have done exactly that. After almost four months in Pignon, Sigi and I have become parents to the children here and they have become our children. It’s difficult to say when exactly I started feeling like a father here, but I definitely feel like one and this has caused a great amount of reflection. In particular, I have found myself fondly reminiscing about my own dad after an interaction with a child here jogged my memory. So I’d like to share a few stories, memories, and lessons from my time in Haiti that have to do with fatherhood.
In March, as we worked to backfill the patio in order to make it level for concrete, some of the older and younger boys came out to help haul dirt and rocks. It was wonderful to see them contribute to the building of the patio and take ownership of it. However, two of the oldest boys, both of whom are somewhat lazy and carefree, remained in their room, sleeping. Instead of leaving them be while we worked I walked upstairs and dragged them out of bed. I gave them a short lecture that this was their patio and that if they helped they could always look at the patio and say with pride that they had a hand in helping to build it. They both came down and I watched them like a hawk to ensure that they actually worked. I didn’t think the simple act of going and getting them would transform them into hardest and most diligent of workers overnight. However, I was pleasantly surprised by one of them. He seemed to change overnight. In the subsequent projects I have seen him help a carpenter install several doors and the plumber install the orphanage bathrooms. He has also built a stone oven to bake bread. I told him I was so proud of him. Thinking about him I realized he had never had a father (his died years ago) who believed in him and pushed him because he knew his son was capable of more. Nor did he have a father to tell him how proud he was of the work he did. It reminded me of the many moments my own father has encouraged me and pushed me, knowing that I am capable of achieving great things. In particular it reminded me of a moment before I started my first varsity football game as a sophomore in high school. As I nervously sat in the locker room, my dad came over after giving his pregame speech, looked me in the eye and told me, “No matter what happens out there I want you to know I am proud of you and that I love you.” Even in the midst of his work and job as a football coach, he took time, in that moment, to be my dad.
One of the biggest highlights for a few of the kids here has been when we have taken them with us to run errands around town in the car. The experience of riding in a car brings them so much joy and, in complete honesty, a joy I simply cannot understand. For me, driving a car is a mundane experience and a part of everyday life. Thus, I cannot fathom being amazed at riding in a car. Yet, today, seeing the glee in one of the boy’s eyes as we got in the car to go to the airport, you would have thought he had just received the best gift, best news, best whatever, in his life. It saddens me that I no longer have such childlike awe or appreciate many of the “luxuries” that most of the children here will never enjoy. His joy reminded me of my own joy as a boy when my dad let me drive the sit-down lawn mower and mow our back pasture. What a feeling when my dad let me drive and take control of the wheel.
The other experiences are everyday ones: giving horseback rides on my knee; piggy back rides; spinning around; jumping rope; playing soccer; getting food; showing a movie; buying treats; hugs; kisses; tickling; disciplining; comforting; etc.
I did not expect to be leaving Haiti feeling as though I was the father of 36 children, but that is how I will be leaving and knowing that I will be leaving them breaks my heart.