On the Dreams of Our Parents

On the Dreams of Our Parents

Daphenie Joseph
Media Staff

Who were our parents as children? What were their hopes, dreams and desires? What did they have to give up in order to become adults? What parts of them slowly faded into distant memory, slipping away with each new second, minute, month, or milestone? 

The desire to know oneself also brings the desire to know more about who we came from. Have you ever wondered about what dreams your parents had as a child, what their favorite television shows were, or what they cried over? What were the sacrifices your immigrant parents made to come to the United States? My childhood is filled with memories of my father proclaiming his dreams of alternative realities, detailing his aspirations of being a professional soccer player or doctor. His stories, although intended to connect us, always left me with a lingering feeling of guilt and curiosity, his sentiments of sacrifice inspiring a desire to learn more. 

I wanted to be a soccer player, like professional. I had a chance when I was little, but for some reason it was not meant to be. I think there was a moment in my life where someone noticed me and wanted me to play in a private school… something happened, somebody said something about me, that didn’t happen.

Regret. A dream lost at the hands of others is a tragedy, one filled with feelings of angst, sadness, regret, and despair. Soccer was my father’s youthful escape and one true love. I remember sitting in his office when I was seven years old, admiring the gleaming trophies he displayed on the top of his shelf. They all had some male figurine on them with his left foot placed on top of a soccer ball, ready to kick at any moment. 

He proudly showed them off to me and my sisters, telling us stories about how quickly he ran, showing us how to do tricks with the ball, and reminiscing on his time playing in Peru. He would spend hours playing pickup games with friends growing up, the thrill of dribbling, passing, then scoring, fueling his energy until the gold, pink, and orange streaks of the sunset faded away. He wanted to play soccer in high school and receive a college scholarship, but he was disqualified because the coach said he was too old, not considering the fact that his immigration status placed him a year behind in school. His love for soccer never died, and he played until his knee got bad, but he will always reminisce on that opportunity to play professionally—a lost dream. 

I was getting older. I was eighteen, so my mom and my dad couldn’t help me financially. I was on my own. Even though I had siblings older than me, I couldn’t rely on them to buy me food, buy me clothes. I had to be on my own. I had to become educated, learn the language. That’s why I was in school.

Independence. A dream created by the pressure of necessity is still a dream. 

I was the first one to graduate college in this country, in my family. I was the first one to go to [the] armed forces. My father was one of the youngest in his family to immigrate to the United States, along with his younger sister. He uprooted his life in the midst of encountering adulthood and his own sense of self, disrupting the freedom of self-exploration most teenagers are granted. His desire for education was born of necessity; he felt he had to support himself to succeed. At the age of seventeen, he was handed such a big responsibility—learning a new language, adjusting to a new environment, and building up a new life. At seventeen years old, I was barely building up the courage to drive myself fifteen minutes to my local minimum-wage job. When I reflect on who I was then, no matter how grown I thought I was, I was still a child. I cannot imagine that version of myself holding the weight of my future on my shoulders. 

When I came to this country, I started going to school and taking my own time, taking classes, studying in my free time. I worked so many jobs when I was here. I did everything. But I was not happy with my life and my dream was to be a professional.

Hard work. 'Everything,' in this instance, is an understatement. My father was a pizza delivery driver, newspaper delivery man, valet driver, auto detailer, overnight security guard, and an army mechanic. To dream of being a professional is a dream of security—a nine-to-five, clock in and out, and a constant stream of money. To dream of security is to dream of a life free from fear and financial anxiety. 

For someone who was forced to be independent at the age of eighteen, stability was the ideal dream. The dream, but intimidating all the same. Being a professional for him meant working with native-born Americans who did not understand his accent, assumed he was just the building janitor, or plotted to undermine his intelligence. Being a professional meant the pressure to assimilate weighed heavier and heavier, pressing down on him more each day like the laying of bricks. 

I want to grow older without pain. I want to grow older but be happy. Some people grow older, but with health issues. They can’t move, they can’t run. I don’t want to be that. I want to grow older and be healthy.

Grief. A dream that stems from generational trauma is a painful dream.

My brother had cancer, David died, Maria died of cancer, my brother Luis has cancer, Angela looks like she has cancer. My father seeks to heal, seizing control of his own health and the health of others through education, aspiring to battle utterly destructive and devastating diseases through herbal healing. The pure and raw pain of losing others around you, and not feeling open to talk about your grief, takes a toll. His way of taking control of his situation, with fear of becoming sick, grief, and pain, is through what he believes is best: learning about nontraditional medicine to find a cure outside of conventional medication, distrusting the systems that have failed his loved ones before. One of his dreams is to attend the University of Maryland and do a master’s in herbal medicine, to learn about herbs and how to find a cure. 

Like my father, I am also someone who seeks control over the situations around me. I aim to plant my roots, sticking them firmly into the earth underneath me, hoping that nothing can move them. Everything I do is carefully planned and detailed, leaving little room for the 'what if.' But when a wind storm or hurricane comes in, destructively uprooting or loosening the dirt underneath my feet, I spiral, grabbing at the little bits I can control, mold, and shape into a better situation. 

His dreams reflect his worst nightmare becoming reality: feeling powerless at the hands of an impending, parasitic force that has taken his loved ones, that may also be heading his way. In this dream, his desire to grow old and be healthy stems from his underlying fear of becoming sick, the control of his own health slipping out of his hands. The impending cloud of doom that is genetic predisposition looms over him.

In 10 years I want to retire, live overseas somewhere. Live close to the cities, grow my own food, live happy until I die.

Sacrifice. A dream free of work is a dream at peace. Visine eye drops were a regular Christmas gift from my sisters and me to my father. He regularly worked two jobs to support us—one during the day and one during the night. He did this to provide for us, to provide us opportunities he did not have as a child. 

I remember seeing him napping on the couch during the day, resting before his next shift. Both of my parents have been working their entire lives. They are driven people who never give themselves time to rest, always thinking about what is to come. I share the dream he has for himself, because both of my parents deserve rest in their retirement, so they can dream beyond work. They deserve to dream bigger, be creative, express themselves, become healthier, and live a little bit more. 

In contrast with his previous dreams of education, stability and health, his dream of happiness, peace and retirement reflects one’s true desires—being set free from the capitalistic pressures of constant work at the sacrifice of his sleep, time spent with family, and aspirations of life beyond stability, such as playing professional sports. 

We all have different dreams. Some of us, most of us, want to be somewhere in one point of our life and accomplish something. To be better at something or to be in a better place, that’s what a dream is.

In attempting to understand myself and where I come from, my dream lies in understanding better who my father is— utilizing his dreams to further break down walls and build bridges between us. I have come to know my father as someone that has flaws and imperfections, who has become intertwined in many generational cycles and has had to break down a lot of barriers because of these cycles. Understanding his dreams allows me to place him as an escapist and visionary—someone trying their best to break free, do better, and incite the next generation with a life full of the freedom to dream.