Life Lessons My Puerto Rican Dad Taught Me Without Even Realizing It

Sophia Melissa Caraballo
Sophia Melissa Caraballo

The earliest memories I have of my father are the times we would spend together after he'd picked me up from head-start and take me back to his office while we waited for my mom to leave work for the day. I remember an office with white walls, high ceilings, wooden shutters on the windows, and what seemed like a giant's wooden desk and a leather chair.

When I was a four-year-old in Puerto Rico, my parents worked in neighboring buildings, and because my dad was the boss, we would leave the office early. He would take me to the Bahía of San Juan, buy me a piragua (shaved ice), and we would watch the boats and cruise ships go by before my mom joined us.

Two years later, my father retired from his government job and became a stay-at-home dad. He would pick me up after school, get me something to eat — whether he'd cook it or buy it — and help me with my math homework. Not only that, but he'd pick my mom up from work while I was napping in the backseat.

Looking back, it was during those few hours every afternoon that he and I spent together where I learned the most valuable life lessons he could teach me.

My dad taught me to be the person that I am today through the day-to-day things that we did together. By already being in the parking lot by the time I got out of school, he instilled punctuality in me — something that Latinx are not known for. There were very few days when my dad wouldn't be there by the time I got out of school, and I'd always have a text from him with updates.

He also taught me that my word and compromise were my presentation card. If I couldn't come through with a promise, people wouldn't have a good image of me as a person.

Sophia Melissa Caraballo

My dad didn't have an easy life growing up. But rather than becoming a cold and distant shell of a man, he is loving and will lend a helping hand to anyone who needs it. Although he's been bitten a couple of times due to his compassionate nature, he continues to help others and expects nothing in return. His compassion towards others was the perfect example for me to be the same way and trust other people openly. He doesn't expect the worst from others and neither do I. He taught me that I can't be too guarded around others because I could miss meeting some really amazing people.

My dad also taught me that I should fend for myself instead of waiting for someone to come through for me. Why wait for someone to run an errand for me when I can do it myself? Why call the super to fix a clogged toilet when I can do it myself? I learned to make moves and to make them today instead of tomorrow.

I learned how to drive at 14 years old. My dad taught me what to do when my car wouldn't start or would smoke in the middle of a traffic jam. He gave me my first cookbook and encouraged me to make my bed every morning. My dad taught me to clean thoroughly and how to hang a picture frame. He taught me how to balance a checkbook and manage my finances. He also taught me to trust my instincts and my decisions, because only I know what's best for me.

Thank you, pa. Even 1,606 miles apart, you are teaching me to live life to the fullest and to do what makes me happy — because if I'm not happy, you're not happy.