My Father’s Good Life

Irina Pino

My father in his youth.
My father in his youth.

HAVANA TIMES — When my father died just before the age of 86, a friend said to me: “At least he had a good life. He had children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren who loved him.” What she said left me thinking and made me look back at certain episodes in his life.

An orphan, he came to live in Havana and began working at the age of 14, as an errand boy for INTUR, the current Ministry of Tourism. He moved up the ladder there and became the manager of its printing house. He also worked in publicity, designing billboards and lit-up signs.

During his long life, he was a member of the People’s militia, a sugar-cane worker and a celebrated member of volunteer work brigades. Ultimately, he gave his all for things that were never acknowledged. He never got a car, even though he deserved one. During his youth, they only gave him a trip to socialist countries as an incentive, a trip he would look back on as something very important for him. It was the only positive thing he took away from all of his efforts.

He had two medals: one for his work in the literacy campaign and another for being an outstanding employee. He was to face privation all his life. When he retired (with a pension under 300 Cuban pesos, less than 15 usd) he was quickly forgotten and no one took notice of him anymore. He became entirely devoted to his family, the handy man, and, if he didn’t know how to do something, he’d find out. He would sell cigarettes and clean pressure cookers to make a bit of money.

When I had my son, he moved to my place to help me on a full time basis. He would do the chores around the house without any kind of prejudice. He was my right hand man. We got along very well. We shared a taste in literature, he was a seasoned reader.

In his old age, he suffered a stroke and his living conditions deteriorated. He would only read and watch television. But he kept abreast of things with the news, he was interested in information. Sports was another passion of his.

The home I was born in had a partial collapse in 2011. Luckily, he was in my house at the time. They demolished the place and he was left without a house. My family was never offered a transitory home for him.

It’s ironic that, after asking the Ministry of Tourism for help with a letter explaining my father’s situation, a letter detailing his background as an exemplary employee, we got a simple reply: we do not have homes to give. In one fell swoop, a human being who had devoted himself wholeheartedly to that ministry was forgotten. A life omitted, a name erased because of society’s indifference.

4 thoughts on “My Father’s Good Life

  • Irina,
    it was sad to read your father’s story, but at least he hand one thing in his life that probably mattered to him the most: you. i live in the U.S and I have been to Cuba several times. I was even married to a beautiful Cubana for a short time. Now that i am reaching the age of retirement, and I have a comfortable life, it all seems to meaningless when there is no family of my own to spend time with. So your father had one the greatest assets that all the money in the world cannot buy, a loving daughter and a grandchild. Keep your chin up and I sincerely hope that things improve for all Cubans in the near future. Adios, with a prayer of hope.

  • I enjoy your wonderful writing. I do think I understand your point. You feel your father was quickly forgotten about despite his long years of service and commitment. That needs to improve. Here is the west, we also experience something similar. The corporations take as much as they can from a person, they when business slows down, the people are laid off without any recognition. Also in the US, families are broken down, there is no sense of family community. Hence many men become homeless. Men also have a high suicide rate from the ages of 50 – 54.

  • Irina’s father’s story is very common among that generation of Cubans who were teenagers and young adults in 1959. Against the backdrop of the brutal Batista dictatorship, the Castros made a lot of promises that young and impressionable Cubans believed ‘hook, line and sinker’. Despite the current changes that promise to benefit Cubans of today, this generation of Cubans, well into their 70’s and older, hold out little hope that these changes will benefit them during the remainder of their lives. After 57 years of unfulfilled dreams, can you blame them?

  • Irina, what i got out of this great piece is that your father had a decent life, not a great one but an OK one. The situation regarding the demolished home and government not caring for your father only exacerbates the need for some change that’s needed to at least remedy these situations. My guess is you were a great daughter.

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