My Father Was A Doctor


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Currently residing in Philadelphia, Juan is part of the Puerto Rican diaspora. He spends a lot of his time exploring the concept of identity within the diaspora. He works as a bilingual copyeditor fo  [+]

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My father was a doctor. We never got the doctoring bug. He never spoke to us about medicine. Instead, he took us on road trips and taught us to play catch, even me. When we were little, he would read us bedtime stories. He used to recite poetry from Julia de Burgos or go off about Gabriel García Marquez's fictional town of Macondo. He brought us candy and told us jokes.

My mother gushed every time she reminded us our father was a doctor. She gushed more when she told a stranger. She never had to work. Her focus was aggrandizing her husband. She held parties for him. Hosted galas. Paraded me and my brothers as their pride and joy. When it came to schoolwork, we were on our own. She was too busy making everything look perfect for her husband. Making us look perfect.

We never spoke about science. We never got a chemistry kit for Christmas or a copy of Gray's Anatomy for our bookshelf. I got dresses and my brothers got suits. We were told jokes and anecdotes. We never met his patients or visited his office. We saw him only late at night and some weekends.

One night, when I was feeling restless, I snooped around his home office. We were not allowed in there. If Mother had seen me, I would have gotten a beating. The door creaked as I opened it, and a gust of wind smacked my face. I thought I saw his shadow, but it was just his doctor's coat, hanging on a mannequin stand. There was a cross above where his name was. The visage was holy. Holier than the man himself.

That coat was my father, who was never there. The coat was my mother, lying in wait for her man to come home. The coat was me and my brothers at the dinner table, eating alone, our mother watching us eat, reserving the head of the table for the man of the house. The coat was the family dog that died that my brother had to bury.

I didn't know what doctoring was. I heard people mention he saved lives. I saw him receive prizes and awards for feats we would never see. I watched handshakes, heard applause, and saw smiles of gratitude.

"Daddy, what do you do," I would ask. "I'm a doctor," he would say.

I never got the doctoring bug. Neither did my brothers. I became a teacher. "Make way for the doctor," Mother would say to us when our father arrived at anyone's house.

Our father died when I was twenty. Mother cried for years afterward, yearning for purpose. She whittled in wait, with nothing to do.

She didn't have children to dress anymore. There were no parties to plan, no accolades to give out. She never spoke about anything other than her time with the doctor.

Now dementia takes her. "She sounds alright," I tell the doctor. "She's been telling the same story for forty-five years."

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