Across a Game of Dominoes, I’m Still My Father’s Daughter

My dad and I were once invincible dominoes partners, I was his frente, and he was mycompiche, my wingman. When the domino table materialized at thattime of the night at our family parties, he scanned the room looking for me until we locked eyes. I am not competitive, but I was driven to win, if only to see the fire in his eyes. The thrill of the domino smack on the table, as my soft-spoken papi yelled “Capicuá!” — he just knew he killed it.

We are not close in the way some families are. We don’t tell each other secrets. When he was still physically able, my dad did not show his affection by way of hugs or saying “I love you.” Ours is a tacit, unspoken understanding that we’ve got each other’s backs.

When I was younger, he’d show his care and complicity by bringing me toasted peanuts or fixing my toys. Later, he’d slip out at the crack of dawn to clean my filthy car and fill up the tank before every trip back to Boston. My favorite moments were Papi and me in the kitchen, eating roasted batata with warm café con leche, talking politics and history before the rest of the household stirred. The mornings were always ours.

But when I was a teenager growing up in New Jersey, his unspoken love made me feel even more lonely in a family that always felt a little foreign to me. I come from a loud Pentecostal Dominican family that is quick to dispense advice and gossip, often while shouting over one another, but that rarely says things like “I love you” or “I am gay.” The important stuff goes unsaid.

I longed for the kind of dialogue I read in novels or saw in films, in which people shared their deepest fears and secrets and came out on the other side of the conversation feeling complete and warm. I envied my family’s faith, especially my dad’s unwavering belief that all that happens in the world — whether good or bad — was predetermined, part of God’s plan.

I did not believe in God the way he did. I felt abandoned, estranged, missing out on the complicity that gave him solace. I did not put my trust in an invisible man in the sky, but I did crave putting that trust in the people around me. I wanted them, not God, to be my plan. I longed to move away, to become independent and spread my wings away from my parents’ watchful eyes.

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