Lessons Learned From My Haitian Father
I’ve never been to Haiti. I don’t speak Creole (outside of Sak Pase). I have yet to cook a traditional Haitian dish, but Haitian blood runs through my veins.
I am the offspring of an African American woman and a Haitian immigrant father. You’d never know it, given the fact that there are no outward signs of my heritage. Most people are oblivious to this truth about me.
While I was still in diapers, my parents divorced and I subsequently learned little to nothing of my father’s rich culture (though I longed to). The only obvious link to his country of origin was my maiden name; I exchanged that for another more than 14 years ago. As a result, the reality that I am half Haitian has become a little-known fact: rarely if ever discussed.
But every time Haiti is mentioned it resonates deep within me. As a pebble creates ripples when tossed into a pond, so it is with me upon hearing the word. Immediately, I am reminded that this country and its people will forever be a part of who I am because of my father.
This was the case a few weeks ago when Haiti was suddenly thrust to the forefront of our nation’s current events. This time, however, I didn’t just have a longing to know that other side of me. This time the feelings were enmeshed with sadness and anger.
I felt sad because I did not want to see Haitian people, my people, marginalized. I thought of times where I questioned if my own father was mistreated because of his thick Creole accent and brown skin. I thought about times when he was misunderstood or when he himself did not understand. I thought about the extreme loneliness and isolation you feel as a minority. I thought about how difficult it is to come to a foreign country a build a new life.
I felt angry. I wanted to stand up and defend an entire population of people who I felt apart of though I have never really known. It was a complicated mix of emotions that I wasn’t truly able to sort through until I got on my knees.
As my tears began to soak the pages of my prayer journal I found myself “mourning with those who mourn,” as the apostle Paul says in Romans 12: 15. While deeply grieved I realized a father, no matter how involved he is in his daughter’s life, is still a part of her. The two are forever interwoven by an intense bond that supersedes the circumstances of our birth. Which seeks to explain why people who have never met their biological fathers search for them in adulthood.
There is something innate within us that longs to know where we come from. What we are made of. Who we are connected to.
This is why even though my father did not raise me, I have spent most of my adult life attempting to know him. And though it requires me to overcome hurdles of distance, age, language, gender and cultural barriers, I am compelled by a longing to know my father. Consequently, I attempt to absorb all I can about him through periodic and short phone calls and annual visits home. These few and far between occasions have enabled me to garner some lessons about my father and the fabric of the Haitian people.
#1 Be Resilient
I can’t imagine leaving everything that is familiar to me: food, people, language, culture and moving to another country. I am not sure if I could handle the alienation or even want to. And even if I was able to muster enough courage to take the initial leap into the unknown, at the first sign of adversity I would hop back on a plane and race toward the comfort and security of familiarity.
This, however, has not been the case for my father. He has lived in the states my entire life and though the odds have piled high, on more than one occasion I have seen him begin again. I have watched him rebound from setbacks and failures with commendable determination. I have marveled at his fight to overcome even in the face of a society that is not designed for him to succeed. In watching him I have resolved to be resilient.
“though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with his hand.” Psalms 37: 24 (NIV)
#2 Be Quick To Listen and Slow to Speak
My father and I are polar opposites. I am loud and he is quiet. It is a characteristic I have observed and admired.
What I have discovered is the art of silence is a great equalizer. Although my father’s undeniable accent sometimes poses limitations in conversation, his natural knack for listening enables him to communicate with most anyone. While others talk without thinking he studies them: their mannerisms, facial expressions, and tone. Although, he is always judged by the fact that he is from another country, he forms opinions about people based on who they reveal themselves to be. In watching him I have learned the need to be quiet and listen.
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, James 1: 19 (NIV)
# 3 Depend on God
The greatest lesson I’ve learned from my father is to lean and depend on God at all times. Through every defeat and unexpected heartache turn to God in prayer. Not only has he consistently communicated this principle, I’ve seen him live it out. In watching him I’ve learned that faith does not mean perfect living, but rather desperate dependence on God.
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73: 27