Sixty four years ago today, my dad was born. And four years ago today, he passed away.
I’ve been thinking lately about how my own recent experiences have taught me more about him. (I suppose this is true for a lot of people when they think about their parents over the passage of time.) But in this case I’m talking about being able to relate to the challenges faced by immigrants, and more specifically to the challenges faced by adult immigrants, which my dad was when we moved to the U.S.
Kids can adapt to new environments quickly, as I did, but the experience is different for adults. My dad was 34 when he moved to the U.S.; I happened to be around the same age when I moved back to Brazil a couple of years ago.
You need to master a different language and relearn all the mundane things of day-to-day life, like where to shop and where not to, how the banking system works, taxes, cell phone plans, which brands are good and which aren’t, and dozens of other little things necessary just to get through your day and keep life running smoothly, all of which function a little differently than what you’ve been accustomed to, and none of which you anticipate.
And then there are the slightly more important things, like reconstructing your personal life, making new friends and reestablishing your professional career.
Everything changes. Moving to a new country is generally fun and challenging in a good way, but it’s not easy. It can be exhausting at times, and on the rare occasion it can suck.
Four years after his passing, I’m starting to appreciate the challenges my dad must have faced. I don’t feel guilty about this, but I do feel sad. If he were still around, it would have been interesting to compare and contrast our opposing experiences. The discussion would have been fascinating; U.S. vs. Brazil, culture, economy and technology of his day vs. mine. I bet he would have had lots of useful advice.
More than anything though, I would have told him how much I admired him. Whether through nature or nurture, I got my sense of curiosity and the tolerance to push my own boundaries of comfort from my dad. But none of these things matter much without the courage to go out and chart one’s own path. Without my ever realizing, I learned this by watching my dad repeatedly demonstrate it himself. I’ve always been proud of being my father’s son, but this newfound perspective makes me more so.