What it’s like when the dad you dream of is not the dad you have.
Cornillot, now an Emmy-winning TV producer, shared a bedroom with her mother—who worked two jobs to support her four children—until she was a teenager. She didn’t meet her father, Hector—a Cuban revolutionary later turned against Castro who had been sentenced to 30 years in a Miami prison for a series of political bombings when the author was two years old—until she was six, when she was sent from the Irish-American enclave of her mother’s Philadelphia family to pass the summer in Miami with her Spanish-speaking Cuban relatives. En route to the prison to visit him for the first time, Cornillot’s cousin Lola—whose father had also spent some time in prison—instructed her on the etiquette of the yard, “like a miniature guard.” The moat is filled with hungry alligators, she told young Jeanine, and they will eat you. The fence surrounding the prison is electrified and can kill you. Finally, do not tell the guards about any secret notes you plan to sneak in. The first meeting—and most subsequent meetings—with Hector turned out to be grave disappointments, and the story is ostensibly structured around Cornillot’s attempts to understand and engage with a complicated, sometimes selfish, often self-righteous man who confessed at one point that he’d asked her mother to abort each of their children. But the most engaging sections focus on the author’s droll, self-possessed mother and her world-weary young bilingual cousins in Miami. Cornillot’s obvious delight with the family she came to know compensates for the frustrated narrative surrounding her father.
A charming, often sorrowful study of learning to let go of a myth and love a person.