Marlène Rigaud Apollon: To the Memory of My Father
To the memory of my father buried in Petit-Goâve
Of all the poems in my first collection, Cris de colère, Chants d’espoir, Cries of anger, Songs of hope, my father’s favorite was “You did not come to stay.” He identified with that poem, knowing, without having to hear it from me, that I had written it with him and others like him in mind. No, he had not come to stay. He was exiled from Haiti in 1963, and he reached the U.S. with the firm conviction that it was not for long.
Before he left Haiti, just like many fathers of his time, he was rather strict. Respect, Discipline, Obedience, Excellent grades were part of our obligations. In addition, no question of us going out alone with friends. Certainly no question of us befriending young men. No question of us going to a dance without a chaperon. I must say that I resented him a lot for all those restrictions, which I felt were attacks on MY freedom. On the other hand, however, I don’t remember having been beaten much, as was often the custom at the time.
It took me a while to understand that his strictness was his way of protecting us from dangers, he feared, threatened us in the outside world. What man, father of five daughters, and not just in Haiti, would not have acted in a similar fashion?
At the same time, I have fond memories of his sense of family that translated in periodical visits to relatives from both branches of the family, everywhere. As a result, we knew many of them; fond memories of his charm and his sense of humor that made him the darling of our friends who met him and did not understand what we could possibly blame him for; wonderful memories of his spirit of adventure that resulted in exciting trips across the country with stops here and there, trips that left me with a taste for them and an immense desire, so far unfulfilled, to do more and to discover areas of Haiti that I don’t know yet. I am deeply grate-full to him for that. I also greatly admire him for being a hard worker and a pioneer and innovator in the history of cinema in Haiti.
But above all, I have the precious memory of his affection that he did not express very often but that I strongly felt when I had my attack of appendicitis in high school. I had made the diagnosis myself, based on symptoms that I recognized from my readings and at the end of the day, I had told my mother about it with caution, knowing that her younger sister had died at the age of 20, from an appendicitis which had degenerated into peritonitis. Indeed, both she and my father were pretty shaken by the news. They had called the doctor right away and I had my surgery the next morning. When I left the hospital, although I felt that I could have walked, my father had carried me in his arms to the car. I had leaned my head against his chest, in the most natural way, just a dad and his daughter. It was the first time that I had felt so close to him, without any reserve. This image and that of my marriage when he proudly gave me his arm to accompany me to the altar and “give me away” to my future husband are, for me, the most striking of our relationship as father and daughter.
No, like everyone, in varying degrees, my father was not perfect. But when you get older, when you become parents yourself and you make mistakes yourself, you learn to rid yourself of the baggage from your child-hood and adolescence, which then seemed so heavy, and to soften your judgments.
I therefore salute my father with love for everything he gave us, for the dreams he had made for us and that exile prevented him from realizing; for his generosity of which some of those who enjoyed it spoke about with admiration and gratitude and for his love that he might perhaps have failed to express as per our own personal concept, but that was real and that manifested itself in other ways.
He had not come to stay and, as he had wished, he was able to return home. Having come back to Florida for health reasons, he wanted to be buried in Petit-Goave where he was born but had not spent much time in his youth but where he had retired for a few years before his health declined. I am glad that my sisters and I were able to fulfill his vow. He now rests at home. May he rest in peace.
Honor, Respect to my father and to all the fathers who have done and are still doing their best to be good fathers.
Florida, June 26, 2011
Text of the audio submitted to Radyo Solidarite and published as part of the electronic newsletter of The National Center of the Haitian Apostolate
Marlène Rigaud-Apollon is a writer of Haitian descent who lives in South Florida.