My Father’s Daughter by Xochitl Alvizo

Me with my aunt, my dad’s eldest sister.

I was sometimes told I look like my grandmother on my dad’s side, and although it wasn’t meant as a compliment, I always welcomed it as such. I wanted to be like my grandma. She was a tough, no-nonsense woman who was light-hearted and spunky to the very end of her life. She had a serious expression on her face most of the time but would playfully and unexpectedly stick out her tongue at neighbor-friends when they passed by her house. She had well-developed patterns of good-natured banter with most people in her neighborhood. She was well-known and well-liked, and people also knew not to mess with her. So, if I could be thought to be anything like her, I was good with that.

She lived in Mexico and my family in the United States. In Mexico, even as a younger kid, we were allowed to move around town on the bus if my older cousin was with us. We always landed and stayed with my mom’s side of the family and usually only went to visit my dad’s side for an afternoon or two during the course of our time in Guadalajara, where my parents were from. I couldn’t wait to surprise visit my dad’s side of the family – my grandma, aunt, and grandpa who all lived together. We never announced our visit in advance; so it was fun for me to get to walk into the patio of their apartment complex and find my grandma, as usual, standing in the doorway of her front door, smoking. She was a businesswoman, always running a small business, selling basic grocery items from home, so her door was always open. And she was almost always right there, standing just outside her door, a serious expression on her face, and a smoke in hand.

I’d casually walk across the patio as if I was one of her customers on my way to buy a coke. It always took her a second or two to realize it was me, her granddaughter, visiting from afar. I loved that moment when her face broke into joyful surprise and the play-scolding that would follow because I didn’t tell her I was coming, or that we were in Mexico (there were a lot of reasons for that, which I didn’t know about, but they weren’t relevant in that moment). I was there and we were good. We had the usual conversation about how we were, when had we arrived, how long we were staying. The visit revolved around me, because whoever else accompanied me there was there because of me – I was the catalyst for making the visit to my dad’s side of the family a priority.

My grandma was a tough and complicated woman with a history I did not know much about most of my life. She was one of twenty-five children – no joke. And because of that, she was given away to be raised by an aunt. She did not grow up with her parents or her siblings, and her aunt was not the kindest to her. When she married, she and my grandpa (my dad’s birth father who died when my dad was 8 or 9 years old) had the kind of relationship you read about in novels based in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Mexico. He was a hard-working man who was gone 3-4 months at a time to work “up north” and he made a lot of money, but he was also a mujeriego (womanizer) and an alcoholic who when he came home with his big 3-month paycheck, he would disappear for weeks at a time and spent the money partying and drinking at cantinas, and vacationing with other women, leaving his wife and children at home without many resources.

My grandma hustled to make it by. She knew all the trades my grandpa did – she was his helper whenever he worked in town – plumbing, electrical work, mechanics. She also had nursing skills, was a teacher, and was business-minded, selling goods from home almost all her life. But she and her kids were poor and often faced extreme hunger. My dad and aunts remember my grandma sometimes sending them to scavenge, which they did from other people’s gardens – working hard not to get caught. Whatever they brought home was what that day’s meal would be. She was a tough woman in difficult circumstances who worked hard to provide for her children. I knew that my dad loved and respected her deeply, and he gave her all the credit for his work ethic, strength, and survival. But she was hard on them.

My dad’s mom – a portrait at my aunt’s house.

Some of the stories my dad has shared of her “disciplining” him are straight-forward abuse stories that today would have made the evening news. Still, my dad always explained that he was indeed a “son of a gun” that if his mom hadn’t been as tough on him as she was, he probably would have turned out poorly in life, instead of the responsible, hard-working, and dedicated family person he became. It was a different time and my dad always gave my grandma credit for keeping her kids alive through extreme hunger and poverty in a culture that did not serve women well. My grandma raised my dad and his four siblings pretty much on her own. Among them are two PhDs – my uncle a chemist and my aunt an educator – and my dad who was a self-taught electrical engineer. The youngest two, the “surprise” baby she had with her first husband and the son she had with her second husband, did struggle more in their life, but my dad would say that it was because they were raised late in my grandma’s life, and she was more laxed by then. I don’t know. The point was my dad respected her accomplishments to the very end.

My dad’s dad – a portrait at my aunt’s house.

Still, when my dad married my mom, he knew to keep some good distance between his new wife and his mother. I didn’t learn about this until well into my adult life, but my grandma and her eldest daughter, my aunt, were not good to my mom. As just one example of the many crazy stories I would eventually learn, they tried to give my mom birth control under the guise that they were “vitamins” she should take each morning; they did not want her to get pregnant so that, in their logic, when my dad decided to leave her, he could do so more easily! My grandma did not think my mom was good enough for her son—another old and thread-worn story.

My parents were teenagers when they got together, 16 and 18 years old, and they were smitten from the start. My grandma and my aunt’s actions against them did not negatively impact my dad’s feelings for them, he just made sure to protect my mom from them and intentionally kept a wide geographic distance between them so that he and my mom could build their lives in peace. Which they did.

The grandpa I grew up with – my dad’s stepdad.

My parents never kept me or my siblings away from my dad’s family. I got to experience my grandma and my aunt, and the grandpa I grew up with (my dad’s stepdad that he always acknowledged as also his father), as fiercely loving and supportive of me my whole life. I didn’t learn of my grandma and my aunt’s misbehavior toward my mom until late in my adulthood, and even then, when my dad eventually shared these stories with me, he also always acknowledged that his mom was extraordinary and survived as a mother and wife despite the great odds against her. She was a product of her time and circumstances. My dad knew that his father had been a “real piece of work” and truly believed that if my grandma hadn’t been tough with her kids, especially her sons, they would have turned out likewise. I think he saw the potential of that in his very young self.

My dad learned a lot from both of his parents. My grandpa had been a very skilled mechanic and all around handy-man and, whenever he was actually home, he taught my dad those skills starting at a very young age (my dad had his first battery acid burn while working with his dad when he was 5 years old). My dad only ever communicated his deep love and respect for them both, while always clearly crediting his mom for making him into the man he became – one who, in his words, “had a good life, with no regrets.”

It was my dad’s respect for his mother that helped shape him into the feminist man I always knew him to be. My dad would often exclaim that of course he was feminist, how could he not be when it was women that saved his life and made it possible.

And in turn, my dad made my feminist life possible. He was a source of steadiness for me and always made it easy for me to believe in myself. Every phone call I had with him, which was at least two/three times a week, would end with him saying,

"You know I'm behind you, right? 100%. No matter what. Even when I'm dead, you'll still have your dad right next to you, 100%. You know that, right?"

Yes, papa, I know. I know I do. 

"No matter what."

I know, papa, I know. I do. 
No matter what. 
My young papa.

My papa died two months ago on July 10, 2021. A strong and unexpected heart attack killed him very quickly. The doctor said he probably felt a very strong, sharp pain for a little bit – maybe a minute or two – and then he was gone.

He was his mother’s son,
Luis Manuel Alvizo Mora,
son of Consuelo Mora Placencia Arechiga,
and I his daughter.

I like that I look like her.

My grandma, on the left, more like I remember her, but here in a special occasion dress.

Bio

Xochitl Alvizo, loves all things feminist, womanist, and mujerista. She often finds herself on the boundary of different social and cultural contexts, and works hard to develop her voice and to hear and encourage the voice of others. Her work is inspired by the conviction that all people are inextricably connected and what we do, down to the smallest thing, matters; it makes a difference for good or for ill. She teaches in the area of Women and Religion, and the Philosophy of Sex, Gender, and Sexuality, at California State University, Northridge. Her volume, co-edited with Gina Messina-Dysert, Women Religion Revolution, is available through FSR Books. 



Categories: Ancestors, Family, General, Gratitude, Grief, Loss, Men and Feminism, Women's Voices

Tags: , ,

21 replies

  1. Thanks for this awesome story of struggle and love. Very inspiring! Your grandma sounds like a role model for sure. You are lucky/blessed!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Welcome back Xochitl!!!
    I have so missed your posts.
    This is an absolutely amazing story, one so full of grief, strength, and love. Your Papa was indeed an incredibly generous man who was able to see the big picture even from within his own family and to give credit to others…. The powerful enduring thread of family connection moves me deeply, as does the fact that many of the most troubling family issues were kept from you as a child. That you were loved and cherished seems obvious.
    To lose a father like yours who supported you in every way that mattered brings tears, yes, but also renews my belief in the goodness of people who in the toughest situations do the best they can.
    Your father was indeed a “Mother’s Son” and here we see a story that demonstrates our dire need to have males develop into the kind of men who are true nurturers. Herein lies the true power of the Fathers. You are the child of such a man. (I can hear Carol in background speaking to the critical importance of egalitarian matriarchies…)
    I can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like to sustain such a loss – and my heart goes out to you. One day though, your father’s words will become your internal reality – that he lives on guiding and loving you ” no matter what.”
    There’s whole story here about your grandmother that would make this response too long to include, but suffice it to say that you got what you needed…
    Thank you for sharing this saga.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you, friend, for encouraging me to process through writing. When I started, I couldn’t actually write about my dad directly, it felt out of context. But then as I thought about his life, I knew I had to start with his mom, who was so central to his life. I ran it by my mom too, just to make sure she was ok with it, and she agreed with it all. I have been very lucky with my family, I know that.
      You all, here on FAR, have been an important source of comfort. Thank you <3

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m sorry for your loss but what an amazing family you have!

    Like

  4. I’m so sorry for the loss of your dad. Thank you so much for this deeply moving story of how love, resilience, and understanding made generations of feminists in your family. Your tribute shows so well how supportive, caring fathers can contribute to strong and compassionate daughters, a lesson too rarely explored in our world. I so appreciate your sharing your amazing family with us!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Carolyn, your words stuck with me from the email you sent me after I shared that my dad had died that it was important to share these kinds of stories – I agreed with you and took it to heart. You all here on FAR have been such a source of support and comfort – I am grateful. I will write more on this for sure. Thank you, friend.

      Like

  5. Fascinating! Your family stories are complex and touching and very human. Many of us have family stories we’ve never told or written down. Many thanks for writing your stories so truthfully. You’ve grown out of your family of strong women and some caring men. And, yes, women need more good men like your father. What a wonderful history lesson you’ve given us. Brightest blessings! And thanks as always for all the good work you do for FAR.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. it’s worth reiterating that Xochitl’s work for FAR is to be commended.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Thanks, Xochitl, for this moving account of your strong feminist roots. I believe that your father is still with you, and I know that it’s hard to be without his physical presence. When my father died, I became very angry with the Goddess, because even though She was life, death, AND rebirth, he was no longer there in the flesh with me. My heart breaks for you and your loss.

    Like

    • Thank you Nancy. I hear you – I have those moments too – of a steady undercurrent of feeling angry with the world, angry that things don’t feel right. Angry that my papa is gone in the sense in which I have always known him. I do know that now I’m in a process of integrating a new reality – but integrating is hard work. And it hurts. Especially when you liked the way it was.
      Thank you <3

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Such a beautiful and moving narrative honoring your father and grandmother. Sorry for your loss, Xochitl. I hope you are giving yourself space to grieve and mourn. Sending love your way.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Esther. You know, I am able to give myself that time/space. I learned a lot from folks like you, Carol, and others here on FAR who have written about important family members and ancestors – I see how important it is to share the stories, to *know* the her/stories that shape us. It has helped to write these. Thank you for the love.

      Like

  9. Thank you for this wonderful piece, Dr. Xochitl. Your strength is the reflection of your ancestors. What an honor to meet them through your words.

    Like

  10. Xochitl, thank you for sharing your family stories with us. Your grandmother and father were amazing and I’m so sorry for your loss. My grandfather was also a feminist, as is my mother. My grandmother was a beautiful and strong woman who didn’t put up with any garbage from him and he knew it! My heart goes out to you and your family. I do believe your father is with you now and he is looking at you with pride and love.

    Like

  11. Sorry for your loss Xochitl. I celebrate you and your family. I can see the love that shines through a hardscrabble life – generations! We are all so human with so many foibles and yet it is the love and caring that moves through generations when we allow that. Thank you so much for sharing your story and letting us share your family dynamic with all it challenges and joys. Yes you do look like your grandma. I, too, believe that you father is still with you albeit in a different way than previously. Look for him and you will see him.

    And we here at FAR are the beneficiaries of the gifts accrued to you by your family by the wonderful work you do here. How can I thank you enough????

    Like

  12. Oh, Xochitl. What a beautiful and heartbreaking tribute to your Dad. I am so very sorry for your sudden loss. Thank you for sharing all these stories, and his wonderful words to you. My Dad would do that, too – end every conversation in a really loving way, just in case it was our last one. It meant the world to me. Please know that I am holding you in my heart as you say goodbye to him in this holy time of his birth as an ancestor. <3

    Like

Please familiarize yourself with our Comment Policy before posting.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: