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A hand holds a photo of Sansón Andrade and filmmaker Rodrigo Reyes
Sansón Andrade and filmmaker Rodrigo Reyes (Photo credit: Alejandro Mejía, AMC)

Editor’s note: Parts of the following essay have been translated from Spanish to English.

Andrew’s birth was complicated. His mother had to be very strong while doctors used a vacuum to extract him. When my son was finally born, he weighed 11 pounds, 7 ounces.

It was a beautiful day. I looked at him; he looked back. Andrew shared my face, and he was gorgeous. I remember crying and promising him that I would be a good dad, that I would be present no matter what.

A life sentence soured those promises. I have only seen my now-14-year-old son three times. Locked up in a California prison six hours away from my son, I still resolve to be a good dad in spite of the challenges.

But what does it mean to be a good father?

It has been difficult being a father from prison. When I first came here, I didn't have access to the technology I have now. I was only given one call a month, and building a relationship with my son using the little tools I had was hard. I used to write my son many letters, offering up advice. But this doesn’t replicate being there in person.

Earlier this year, I got more access to placing calls and sending messages through a state-provided tablet. I'm trying to overcome new challenges because my son is now a teenager and always busy with school. The new tablets have helped a little. For a while, we had constant communication, but then life circumstances separated us again. Despite the obstacles, my son, who splits his time between his grandparents and mother, is doing well, and for that I am grateful.

When my son was born, I felt I was the best dad I could be. I worked and took care of my family. I would tickle him and tell him, “You are my son.” I held him and carried him gently in the air, and at night, when he cried, I would wake up to hold him and give him his bottle. When he felt sick, I was the first to take him to the doctor. I wanted him to be happy.

Being a good dad is about being present during good and bad times. It means helping with homework, listening and treating my son with respect. Children should not lack. Fathers are key to children becoming good and productive members of society.

Being a good father also means improving myself so my child can someday feel proud of me.

I don’t have many memories of my own father, Simón. He was a tall, handsome man with curly hair; he was full of life. He was a fisherman, a hard worker, good at business, and a kind person. The fishing trips he took me on when I was little were the happiest days I spent with him.

Yet I also have a few memories of his severe punishments and excessive discipline. Even after all these years, I am not ready to talk about these memories openly.

When I was 7, my father drove away one afternoon and died in a car crash after drinking. He paid the price for his constant partying.

Today, I still feel resentment towards my father. His death caused a severe crisis for my mother and sisters, and I had to grow up fast while still a child. My family suffered through poverty and other hardships; my mother died from complications with tuberculosis.

I see the lingering effects that my dad’s sudden death brought upon my family. We lost the care and guidance of a father. Who knows what would have happened for me had he stayed alive?

In a tragic twist of irony, I followed in my father’s footsteps, suddenly disappearing from my son’s life when I got locked up behind bars.

In 2010, I was indirectly involved in a crime where one person was killed and another person was injured. I was found guilty of this crime and sentenced to life without parole. For this I am remorseful and I have paid the price of not being part of my son’s life.

I wanted to be that loving father that I did not have. I planned to be strict with my son, but also reasonable, unlike my father. I wanted to be with my son in his triumphs and when he needed my help.

I would love to visit my son one day, and I imagine by then that he will have his own family. I would like the opportunity to get to know them and recover some of our lost time. I hope we can eat together at a restaurant, and I can talk to him about the circumstances that twisted my path.

Or, if I am still in prison, I hope he will continue to visit me. The visits I’ve had with my son have not been as regular as I would like. But I understand the reality of things. It is very difficult for those who care for my son to bring him to see me. It’s six hours on the road to get here, and six hours back.

I imagine that it must be very hard for him to understand this whole process, and that’s why I give him his space. I think that the day he is ready, he will know that I tried as best I could considering my circumstances, without giving up. There’s not much you can do when you are trapped.

If I ever get out of prison, I hope I can earn a place in his life. And I hope that together we will break the generational curse that I was unable to break on my own.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Global Forum Online has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Sansón Andrade is a writer incarcerated in California.