About 15 years ago a dramatic children’s series called “Papa at Night” was broadcast on Cuban TV. It was a Colombian production but directed by a Cuban, Charlie Medina. I remember that it was shown during the summer break, and me —a tireless television viewer— began watching it eagerly.
My summer vacations were invariably spent in Manatí, a small town in Las Tunas province, where I lived during the first eight years of my life. There I would return to be with my grandparents, my friends on the block and those from school, along with the family that took care of me while my mom and grandparents worked.
With the houses at the beach in Manatí there was a range of freedoms that would have been impossible to imagine in my native city of Santiago, to where my mother later took me. But there was always time to devote to TV.
In Manatí, despite the strict disciplinary regimen imposed at my house (inflexible schedules for meals, the bathroom, sleep…), I was allowed to eat in the front room while watching television. That was a concession I had won for my generally good behavior.
However during that summer of “Papa at Night”—though my behavior remained spotless— I was no longer allowed to eat in front of the TV. Plus, the dinner schedule coincided precisely with that program. I got nowhere asking politely, or by later protesting, as a kid of my age trying to guard that privilege intact. My grandfather, the only person who demanded the fulfillment of the home regimen, remained hard as a rock.
It took only a few days for me to discover that I could go to the house of the family that took care of me. There —thanks to the excellent relations that still remained between us— I could eat in front of their television. But this couldn’t be every day, and I couldn’t accept just seeing isolated chapters. So, I quit going.
Soon after, my mom gave me a book: Papa at Night. However, I lost the book (I still don’t know how or where).
I never realized —until today— that the whole thing was a plot cooked up by my grandfather. It was all far from my understanding as a young, innocent and basically good kid that this was a war against the story of “Papa at night.” Those incidents were soon forgotten by me, and as far as I know the series was never re-broadcast, so I was never able to identify with the episodes of what today has been revealed to me as a macabre puzzle.
As part of the 2010 summer TV schedule, in the evenings they’re re-broadcasting “Papa at night.” I had a chance to watch the first episode, and I couldn’t avoid feeling something crumbling inside me.
Julia, the young main character of the series, is growing up without the presence of a father. She suffers from this at home, together with her single mother (who also works outside the home), and with her friends at school. She would wonder time and time again how her father must have looked and how her life would have been with him. This went on until Pedro came to their house; he was her mother’s friend, a writer, who was going to watch Julia so that her mother could work night shifts.
As for me, now I know that I was in the same situation, like thousands of kids in my country (and I imagine millions around the world). Like Julia, I also grew up without a father. So now I wonder: to what point should the truth be hidden from a child?