Latino Fathers in Recovery
Latino Fathers in Recovery
Abstract and Keywords
This chapter describes pioneering work with Latino men in California who batter. The chapter discusses efforts to reconnect these men to positive concepts of parenting and manhood which are indigenous to Latino culture. Latino fathers have indicated that many public-welfare program requirements are at best confusing to them. In many cases, these programs create additional barriers to the fulfillment of Latino men's fatherhood responsibilities. For programs to fully understand essential values of the Latino population, it is imperative to explore the issues of cultural identity, language, the extended family system, immigration, the work ethic, self-sufficiency, and internalized oppression that impact the involvement of Latino fathers in their recovery process and their involvement with their children.
I came to “The Circle” to find my father. As a child, I remember seeing him, dark skinned, black curly hair, mole on the right upper lip, bedroom eyes, and a lean muscular body. He worked the mines as a boy, learned to drink and romance women. He romanced my mother into marrying him. I don’t remember ever having an intimate time with him, an elder’s lesson, a consejo, or a warm memory. My father was fire that was ignited with firewater. He drank, used drugs, and caused pain and havoc to my mother and our household. I remember being in my bed and listening to my father yell and my mother scream as he broke her bones. The sounds were so pervasive that they literally went through my body.
My father was murdered over a drug deal. I listened as he burned to death in our Mission District flat in San Francisco. When he died my mother said, “You’re the man of the house now, mijo [my son].” I proceeded to help raise my brother and sisters, with no training or role modeling. There was no one around that could teach me how to be a father. When I started to have children myself, I was terrified of creating the same havoc on them that had been committed to me. I learned to use narcotics to dull the fear, pain, confusion, and terror that I felt inside.
One day, my son, Naldo, and I were listening to the Stylistics sing “Have You Seen Her.” Naldo said, “Dad, that’s a sad song, huh?” “Yes, it can be,” I responded. “Well,” Naldo said, “Mary is my girlfriend, and we are going to get married.” He was all of six years old. I was shocked and speechless. What moved me was the fact that he and I were having a conversation that I had never had with my own father. Years later, after Naldo’s mother and I divorced, he came to live with me. He had changed. He was moody, sullen, depressed, hostile, and withdrawn. We were not speaking. He was failing all of his classes at school, had very few friends that were also failing at that time. I asked him, after repeated attempts to talk to him, “What happened? What happened to the way we used to be? What did you do with the little boy who used to talk to me, who used to share with me?” Naldo replied, “He left when you did.”
(p.132) I came to the Circulo to learn how to be a father. In turn, I learned how to be a man, a son, a husband, an hombre con palabra [a man of my word]. I brought the cargas [baggage] from my trauma‐filled past and left it in the fire of the altar, the sacred place of order, to become free of them. In my father’s absence, his horrible death, the loneliness of carrying that baggage alone, the fear of never succeeding, the overcompensation by attaining a graduate degree, and never being satisfied. In the Circulo, I learned to have a place, just because I am human. I learned to love and be loved by men who also shared the same cargas and, in that journey, learned that we all have regalos [gifts] to share. I learned that I was someone: I had the medicine. All of the pain and suffering had a purpose. That purpose was to help other men heal. I brought Naldo to the Circulo, and we healed together. We cried, laughed, shared, and asked for permission to love each other openly, truly, and without reservation. We learned that these ways have always been here. We are on a path of rediscovery.
Naldo graduated from high school in 2000, be is an accomplished Mexican folklore dancer, an uncle, and my best friend. Most importantly, he is a balanced and loving young man who does not carry his father’s cargas. I am grateful for that.
We men gathered together in El Circulo (The Circle) to deal with pain, confusion, and our relationships with our children, our spouses, our addictions, our loss of fathers, our loss of country and culture, and to pray for direction. In the tradition of our indigenous culture, we began by praying to the four directions: to honor our ancestors; to honor the women who are the heart, the givers of life, and the first warriors; to honor the children and their laughter and innocence, who are the ones who will carry our baggage if we do not heal; and to honor ourselves. A song is then offered (El Amor de Este Hijo, “The Love of This Son”) in gratitude. With this, El Circulo begins. This ceremony of gathering in circles to heal, strengthen, teach/learn, and refocus is an ancient way of our ancestors which we have reintegrated into our lives to help Latino fathers in recovery.
The coyote spirit, or negative influences and behaviors, remains a constant threat to individuals, families, and communities. The coyote spirit is the trickster element in each one of us that can pull us out of balance and thus harm ourselves and our relationships. It can also include addictive behaviors such as dependence on alcohol, jealousy, or infidelity as defenses against not facing one’s cargas (baggage issues). This is the curative aspect of naming the coyote spirit for what it is, a reflection of unbalance. It was in this Circulo Way that guidance and healing took place and where reprimands were shared, the first priority always being the respect and safety of everyone, but especially the women and children. In the Circulo Way, we passed the palabra (the word), recognizing that everyone has a voice and that everyone has a story.
The essential lessons or rooted principals of childhood are traditionally called La Educacion (the development of the spirit or character of a person). Our ancestors realized the importance of this foundation to the extent that volumes were written on these teachings. These teachings were called the Hue Hues (Teachings of the Elders). At their core are the dual teachings of Itxtl and Yollotl, in Spanish translated as Cara y Corazon (Face and Heart). The Cara carried the dual values of Dignidad y Respeto (Dignity and Respect), and the Corazon carried the values of Cariño y Confianza (Love and Interconnected Compassion or Trust). What is not understood is that in order to be a good father, you must first be a responsible man. We attempt to reroot men in these principles, thus allowing them to discover the true essence of Machismo (Honorable Manhood). With this as a basis, we are then ready to recover the fatherhood skills that we never experienced from our fathers and are now ready to learn to be an honorable father as well.
We employ a four‐stage process for healing and development that seeks to reroot the men in these teachings.
• Conocimiento, Acknowledgment (Dignidad, Dignity)
• Entendimento, Understanding (Respeto, Respect)
• Integracion, Integration (Confianza, Trust)
• Movimento, Movement (Cariño, Love)
In the first phase of recovery, Conocimiento, it is important to acknowledge the men by honoring their spirit, respecting their lessons, and embracing (p.134) both the gifts and baggage that they bring. We begin this process by giving a man his voice to tell his story. He is able to see (or face) himself—maybe for the first time. Telling his story serves as a way to allow other men in El Circulo to see their own reflections as well. More importantly, men are given a lugar (place) as a man and/or father (Dignity). The men who find their positive purpose and dignity are able to treat their children and relations positively and with dignity.
As we enter the second phase, Entendimiento, men’s understanding of the role that multigenerational oppression has played in their lives becomes evident. The understanding that the burdens that they carry are generations old brings much insight and a sense of respect for their issues. It also points to the negative result of not finding a positive way to face life’s cargas, or baggage/challenges. As a result, many times, the men in these groups have a distorted view of men and authority. In their view, fatherhood is perceived as being the authority over decision making and, many times, as using violence and force to discipline or oppress others. Teaching men to separate authority from effective administration of family affairs is a major task of any fatherhood education for this population. This phase also includes having fathers understand their journey in learning the false values of manhood and fatherhood and relearning relationship‐enhancing values of sacred relationships that come from their culture. Pre‐Colombian texts document a different understanding of how fathers and mothers should raise their children and are excellent examples of behavioral administration with clarity about the values of a society (see Leon‐Portillo, 1988). In this phase, men also learn about child and life development, which gives them insight into what they did and did not receive in their own childhood and includes instruction in the role of the father in the child’s development, guidance, direction, discipline, love, and care.
As we move to the third phase of Fathers in Recovery, Integracion, fathers are guided through a process of integrating these teachings into their lives with a sense of Cara y Corazon (Face and Heart). This concept of Face and Heart was the basis for healthy child development in some traditional societies. Parents were expected to participate in their child’s development with an understanding of Cara Noble (Noble Face) and Corazon Firme (Firm Heart). One was an honorable parent if he or she demonstrated the values of Cara y Corazon. Cara reflected respect and dignity for all life and relationships. Corazon was the summary of Cariño (Warmth) and Confianza (Trustworthiness). If children demonstrated these values, they were acknowledged as Bien Educados (Well‐mannered), and the parents congratulated them on their achievements.
The teachings of Cara y Corazon change with each developmental phase, and Jerry Tello and his colleagues use four seasons and four directions to delineate a lifespan framework for parents to use in raising their children. The Destino (Destiny) of fathers is likely to change with each stage of development. As they explore how to reintegrate themselves into their children’s lives, (p.135) fathers can begin to learn to rebuild the spirit of trust within them. They learn, maybe for the first time, to rely on others for guidance and advice, which points to the importance of listening to other men who have been through this journey successfully. Through this process, they may begin to learn how to develop a healthy relationship based on trust between their children and themselves.
The final phase is Movimiento (Movement), and it provides a structure and process for men to establish an ongoing extended kinship network—Circulo de Hombres—with other men who have chosen to rededicate their lives to their children. Men with histories of violence require experiences that allow them to demonstrate Confianza (Trustworthiness), and they also need a support system that helps them to maintain accountability. Men learn to give their word and follow through. For men who have multigenerational wounds, the challenge of maintaining this commitment in the midst of ongoing challenges and tests is difficult. For this reason, Circulo de Hombres becomes a way for men to maintain this commitment. Finally, through these Circulos, men begin to form friendships with other men who are also devoted to their children.
Recovering fathers need programs and service providers to advocate for them. For men who are committed and have demonstrated their motivation to be good fathers, it is imperative that programs be prepared and willing to assist fathers to deal with the societal and systemic barriers that present themselves. For the most part, the policies and programs of the United States have not been developed with the Latino population in mind. For families that rely on government programs, it has created a dilemma as families attempt to maintain their cultural identity while complying with the system’s requirements. The voices of Latino fathers indicate that many public‐welfare program requirements are at best confusing to them. In many cases, these programs create additional barriers to the fulfillment of Latino men’s fatherhood responsibilities. For programs to fully understand essential values of the Latino population, it is imperative to explore the issues of cultural identity, language, the extended family system, immigration, the work ethic, self‐sufficiency, and internalized oppression that impact the involvement of Latino fathers in their recovery process and their involvement with their children. Yet many of the strengths of the Latino family that assist in its survival are found within their primary cultural ties (La Cultura Cura [Culture Cures]). Thus, finding a balance between the dual expectations of culture and society is a major challenge for Latino fathers.
Storytelling in the Circulo Way has proven to a very effective approach to helping men develop a new legacy for themselves. The elders say that what we do today has an impact for seven generations. But we must first see a (p.136) father to be as sacred as other human beings if we are to expect him to treat his relations that way. We must also start where fathers are developmentally. A good example of this is when we had an author sign free books for a group of fathers. As the author finished dedicating a book to one father’s children, the next father stepped up. He was asked to whom he wanted the book dedicated. The father was quiet, and the author asked the names of his children. Then the father leaned over and whispered in the author’s ear, “Dedicate the book to me, Antonio, because I’ve never had a book of my own.” This experience highlights the importance of allowing a father to tell his story and give him a place to hear other men’s stories before we ask him to be a father and read or tell stories to his own children. We are all on this road to healing and recovery, and in the end, we must be thankful for still being a part of the journey.
As men prepare themselves to close the circle, we once again pray to the four directions. To give thanks to the Ancestors; Los Hue Hues, the Elders, we pray in the direction of the North to give us wisdom as we try to maintain the balance, rhythm, and harmony in our lives. In the direction of the West, we give thanks for and to the women who are the heart and the givers of life and to whom we give our Palabra to not bring harm to them again. To the East, we pray for ourselves, the men of the Circulo, to be able to continue to show up and support one another in an open, honest, and humble way so that we may find our true “Song” once again. To the South, we make a promise to the children to work on our baggage so that their laughter, innocence, and learning can continue. And finally, to the above and below and the center, where all relations come together, we offer prayers to all our relations, for people of all roots, so that they too may find balance, rhythm, and harmony in their lives. Aho!