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8 Things I Learned From My Portuguese Dad

Portugal Student Work
by Sandra Guedes Jun 3, 2015

1. Movement heals.

Every time I was upset, dad would get in the car and take me for a drive. We did not drive to go anywhere. Most of the time our only stop would be at the same place we had initially started — but it always worked, because whatever was initially bothering me would disappear. My focus would move from my mind, to the car, to the pothole on a road, to a strange funny name that would make me giggle — who the hell would call a town Ranholas? (Snot…olas?) He never drove me to go somewhere specific, he drove so I could get out of the place where I was mentally.

2. The world is bigger than you.

Just like other foreign Portuguese workers, my father used to work during the week and explore whenever he had free time. While other kids received vacances (“vacation”) souvenirs from France, my dad made the Egyptian pyramids real by climbing them after riding a camel. He brought us colorful wedding pictures from Cairo. From Algeria, he brought pictures of his white Renault, of football games, and of himself lying in a hammock. In Iraq, he picked up the strange habit of walking with a towel wrapped around his head — there were no hair dryers around! And he went through immigration with 6 watches — 3 on each wrist — and colorful fabrics for clothes making. Although we could not meet him in Samarra and go for a walk by the Tigris River, whenever our personal Indiana Jones left us, he left pieces of a bigger world as an imaginary playground.

3. Saudade is not the same as melancholy.

500 years ago, we started going around trying to find our own place in the sun — just ask Delfins, they wrote the song “Um lugar ao sol” — and we still carry on today! Only half of the Portuguese population is in the country, the other half is elsewhere working and dreaming of drinking imperiais and of eating snails in a Portuguese esplanade surrounded by cobblestones. So the odds of having one member or more members of your family abroad is very high.

Nowadays, the immigration is not gender related, but in the 1970s with the war in Africa, and the post-war 1980s and 90s, it was. My dad was just one of many Portuguese fathers going abroad, leaving their wives in charge, to bring back home the “dough.” One of those who left us feeling saudades. A word the non-speaking Portuguese world tries to define as homesickness, melancholy, or missing something, but whenever you feel that fuzzy sad and happy feeling that is to “missing” what “liking” is to “loving,” you will know it is time to matar as saudades — “kill your homesickness!”

4. Come back when the time is right.

You can’t come back just because mum is crying. You can’t come back just because you are missed or you want to matar as saudades. You can’t come back because you feel sad. You can’t come back because you feel thirsty in the middle of a desert. You know your friends and family would be there for you at the airport, but wouldn’t you rather come back home after you had a sip of water from an oasis or got yourself together more? After all, us Portuguese did not stop sailing after the first 1,000 ship wrecks!

5. “It’s only an eye-opener!”

Whenever one of us five monkeys, trapeze artists, astronauts, scientists, warriors, or whatever we were that day fell either from a tree or from the neighbours’ roof, mum’s heart rate would accelerate. She would pull her hair out, shout our middle names at the same time, not remembering the name of the one who got hurt, and look at us not knowing if she should first disinfect the wound or slap us.

But Dad would coolly say “É só um abre olhos!” It was his way of saying “Next time, they will know not to do it again!” Which obviously we heard as “Next time you decide to go wall climbing around the house, open your eyes and do not put your foot there again. Look for an alternative!”

6. He imparted the hard to translate ‘learn-to-get-by’ rule (A lei do desenrasca!)

Your plastic toy is broken? No, it’s not! You heat up both ends of a wire, one at a time, slowly stick it in the broken plastic toy and voilá — brand new again. It works with everything. If you break mum’s favourite cup, glue it. When your stove runs out of gas, just gather all the tea light candles spread around the house. The question is: are you stuck because your car broke down? Or do you just think you’re stuck? Try to unstick yourself with a piece of wire and cello tape. You can be anything’s doctor… most things can be fixed somehow. At the end of the day, your Portuguese dad is your personal MacGyver and magic is real.

7. Don’t worry, be happy.

Mum might worry because there was not enough money to pay the rent in a couple of days, but dad knew we would get by tomorrow. And when counting your euros to pay the supermarket bill, why not tell the cashier a joke? She probably does not want to be there, either, so make the situation as good as possible. You don’t like where you are right now? Well, remember it was probably your decision to be there and that even in the desert there is an oasis! Basically…are you are still alive? So why are you frowning?! Lisbon has been through it all, and look how pretty it looks today.

8. You cannot back down.

Especially when you have already started going for it. Did D. Afonso Henriques back down when he decided to fight his mother to start a kingdom? No, he fought his cousin, too! Did the 18 year-old King D. Sebastião back down when he decided to take the first Portuguese king’s sword to North Africa to fight the Moors? Well, historians are still trying to figure out if he took it or not on his expedition, but he left nonetheless.

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