My Father’s Worth Isn’t Measured By His Medals

My father together with his family.

By Fabiana del Valle

HAVANA TIMES – His body was in a slumber from which he’d never awake. I could no longer hear his voice, the unwavering smile in his closed eyes.

He had been fishing with my brother and sister-in-law just a few hours before. A sharp pain, hospital, doctors with sad faces telling us there was no hope. A brain aneurysm.

Our angel escaped from us, our guide, the light that brought us hope because he never let Life’s trials and tribulations get him down. This inventive, solidary man, the pillar of a family he built with every inch of his being, has left us. He left us the task of surviving every day with just his memory.

An avid reader, builder, carpenter, electrician, innovator, vet, amateur fisherman, a selfless father, the perfect husband, friend, good neighbor and so much more. Everyone who knew him can attest to this. Is there a medal for that?

In 1978, when he was in the fifth year of his Veterinary Medicine degree, he was drafted to fight in the Ethiopia Civil War. He left with the promise he could pick up his studies where he left off.

Upon his return in July 1980, he discovered that his years of studying were in vain. He would have to start all over again in year 1, even though he was just a few months away from graduating before he left for Ethiopia.

They lied to him, but he was compensated with a political act, beautiful words, and a medal for his bravery. Lacking the energy to start his studies all over again, he gave up on his dream of becoming a veterinarian.

With two children and a wife, he had to admit that a technician’s measly salary wasn’t enough. I remember him next to my mother, making ornaments out of sugar cane and seeds, fabric flowers to decorate your hair, sneakers/slippers with soles made out of tyres, homemade cigarettes, fabric bags and distilled alcohol. He lifted every cement block of this house with his own hands.

They were tough times, and I would see meat on our plates and a lot of the times just rice and beans on his, but the medals kept on coming.

Inflation, hardship, restrictions, and the limitations if you grow up on this island, shaped his way of seeing Life. A man like him couldn’t live and turn a blind eye to the lies, a deaf ear when reality was being echoed on the streets, when families shrink, and children cry because they’re hungry.

After so many discussions where he confirmed to me the deception he hid from others, the pain of years wasted fighting for a meaningless cause, I was brave enough to make a decision in his name.

The flag yes, but not his medals,” I said when they asked me before the motionless body.

Everything is a matter of symbols, and it was impossible to think clearly at that moment. With the automatic engine on, I could only think that the greatest man in the world had left me.

At that instant, and I don’t regret it at all, I decided that these pieces of metal given to him – which he had never given any importance -, wouldn’t be put on display at his funeral.

That’s why the Cuban flag was his shroud until he was lowered into the ground, and wherever he is now, he has taken his love for his land, the family he built, and his friends who will never forget him.

Read more from the diary of Fabiana del Valle here.