Finding Fertile Ground Podcast

Ruben Garcia, Becoming the Father He Never Had

July 29, 2020 Marie Gettel-Gilmartin Season 1 Episode 6
Finding Fertile Ground Podcast
Ruben Garcia, Becoming the Father He Never Had
Chapters
Finding Fertile Ground Podcast
Ruben Garcia, Becoming the Father He Never Had
Jul 29, 2020 Season 1 Episode 6
Marie Gettel-Gilmartin

Ruben was born in Texas into a dysfunctional family with ten children. When he was nine, his family moved to a migrant labor camp in Oregon, where he had to work hard picking produce. 

As a young brown person, he felt great shame. He dropped out of school at 16. But he turned his shame into persistence, fathering four and eventually earning a master’s degree. 

Here is a glimpse of his story:

“The year was 1967. I was six years old...I woke up a few times a week in the middle of the night to the sounds of a screaming mother being thrown up against the wall by a drunk father...my oldest brother would say ‘Hurry, get your shoes on so when Dad passes out we will just have a few seconds to run to the car before he wakes up.’ We parked in old, dirt driveways and waited out Dad’s drunken, violent episodes...

As a 9-year-old living in a migrant camp, I had to watch my back...I knew the kids on the bus were going to ask if we lived in the dirty, run-down camp. ‘Lazy Mexicans that pick berries live at that camp,’ I heard one kid say as we boarded the bus. I turned around and yelled, ‘I work every day from six in the morning until five in the evening...You have no right to call us lazy.’

The school secretary said, ‘The deadline for signing up for free lunch is over so you will have to work the food line to get a free lunch.’ I was starting school late that year, because I had to work until we finished picking the season’s berries. She told me I’d need to bring coffee containers for collecting leftover food. The kids pointed and whispered. ‘Look, he’s taking our leftovers home to feed his beaner siblings." I began to realize that I had two strikes against me: one was being poor. The second was having brown skin.

When I was 16, my hope for a future was fading. I realized school was not for me. I felt alone, desperate, and misrepresented as a young Mexican teen with no family support. I understood that between shame, white hatred, and being poor, I had nothing to win if I stayed in school. I developed anxiety and shame.

As I grew older, I realized I could help others through my work. I was a Latino advocate and a grief counselor, working with communities of color and advocating for kids who grew up like me. I managed to eliminate the first strike against me--growing up poor. But in spite of my accomplishments, people still judge me by my skin color."

You can reach Ruben at Man With a Heart on Facebook.

On the next “Three Men of Color, Redefining Fatherhood” episode I interview Charles Jackson II, a Black man who had a conflicted relationship with his father. We talk about racism and #BlackLivesMatter, his career, marriage, and fathering two young Black sons.

Show Notes Transcript

Ruben was born in Texas into a dysfunctional family with ten children. When he was nine, his family moved to a migrant labor camp in Oregon, where he had to work hard picking produce. 

As a young brown person, he felt great shame. He dropped out of school at 16. But he turned his shame into persistence, fathering four and eventually earning a master’s degree. 

Here is a glimpse of his story:

“The year was 1967. I was six years old...I woke up a few times a week in the middle of the night to the sounds of a screaming mother being thrown up against the wall by a drunk father...my oldest brother would say ‘Hurry, get your shoes on so when Dad passes out we will just have a few seconds to run to the car before he wakes up.’ We parked in old, dirt driveways and waited out Dad’s drunken, violent episodes...

As a 9-year-old living in a migrant camp, I had to watch my back...I knew the kids on the bus were going to ask if we lived in the dirty, run-down camp. ‘Lazy Mexicans that pick berries live at that camp,’ I heard one kid say as we boarded the bus. I turned around and yelled, ‘I work every day from six in the morning until five in the evening...You have no right to call us lazy.’

The school secretary said, ‘The deadline for signing up for free lunch is over so you will have to work the food line to get a free lunch.’ I was starting school late that year, because I had to work until we finished picking the season’s berries. She told me I’d need to bring coffee containers for collecting leftover food. The kids pointed and whispered. ‘Look, he’s taking our leftovers home to feed his beaner siblings." I began to realize that I had two strikes against me: one was being poor. The second was having brown skin.

When I was 16, my hope for a future was fading. I realized school was not for me. I felt alone, desperate, and misrepresented as a young Mexican teen with no family support. I understood that between shame, white hatred, and being poor, I had nothing to win if I stayed in school. I developed anxiety and shame.

As I grew older, I realized I could help others through my work. I was a Latino advocate and a grief counselor, working with communities of color and advocating for kids who grew up like me. I managed to eliminate the first strike against me--growing up poor. But in spite of my accomplishments, people still judge me by my skin color."

You can reach Ruben at Man With a Heart on Facebook.

On the next “Three Men of Color, Redefining Fatherhood” episode I interview Charles Jackson II, a Black man who had a conflicted relationship with his father. We talk about racism and #BlackLivesMatter, his career, marriage, and fathering two young Black sons.

Marie

Welcome to the Fighting Fertile Ground Podcast, where I discover stories of grit, resilience and connection. I'm your host Marie G-G and this podcast is brought to you by Fertile Ground Communications.

We help organizations and people discover what makes them special and help them share that with the world. Look us up on fertilegroundcommunications.com. Today's the first episode of my Three Men of Color Redefining Fatherhood series. My guest today is Ruben Garcia, who was born in Texas to a Mexican family with ten children, an alcoholic abusive father and stepfather, and an inattentive and dysfunctional mother. When he was nine, his family moved to a migrant labor camp in Oregon, where he had to work from sunup to sundown. Picking produce as a young brown person, he felt great shame growing up in poverty. He dropped out of school at the age of 16, but he turned that shame into resilience...fathering four children and eventually earning a master’s degree. As the father of four children and as a mentor to many more, Ruben became the father he never had. Hello Ruben. How are you doing today?

Ruben

Hi Marie. Doing really well.

Marie

So can you tell us how you're quarantining and how is COVID-19 affecting you?

Ruben

I work by myself at the office and then of course I'm quarantining in my place. Of course I wear my mask everywhere I go, take precautions.

Marie

I read that the coronavirus has disproportionately affected the Latino community.

Ruben

It has, my mother was affected by it. She doesn't have it, but my brother got it. He's in Texas and he's in his fourth week now.

He’s getting better; he's using a walker. He had some fluid in his lungs and they had him on that test drug that everybody else is using, but he's doing better...still not back to work. Still, not walking on his own. But knowing that it's affected him and he's a pretty strong man himself. I don't want it.

Marie

It actually kept him from walking.

Ruben

It did. He lost 30 pounds, so he of course lost muscle. A lot of people have said that they've had to teach himself to walk again.

Marie

Well, that's very scary, but your mom has not gotten it.

Ruben

My mom did have pneumonia. 

Marie

Well, I think living in Texas I'd be I'd be worried about it, that's for sure.

Ruben

Oh my goodness, yes.

Marie

So can you share with our listeners about your life? Where were you born? Where did you grow up and where you live?

Ruben

I was born in Texas. I live in Wilsonville now, but I grew up in a family of ten. We had a lot of kids. We had a lot of conflict. We had a lot of missing parts to our life and so two of the main components to survive were missing shelter. And then of course, love. We had a lot of rough times. We had a lot of times when we knew that we were moving because we couldn't afford to live where we were at. There were times when we lived in hotels. I think one time we were living in the back of a rail train car.

I was the middle child. I had some little ones that I had to take care of. We kind of just watched each other. We had a father, but not for long. He was a heavy drinker and a pretty violent man. He just really made it hard for us to survive. His support was there financially, but then he wasn't there for us. Seeing the drunk side of a father is not a beautiful picture. And then of course my mother was responsible for all of us. We would go to school and I went to the elementary school there in Texas. We were there till I was about 8 years old. Kind of just moving a lot, moving because of financial reasons but also towards the end we were running away from my father. His name was Fidel and that's my oldest brother Fidel. He was kind of the voice of the family and he’s the one who came down with COVID.

I wrote to him and I said, hey listen, I know that you know we haven't talked for awhile, but let's not let this stay this way. It's important to stay together and I want to be here and support you through all this.

Marie

And you haven't talked to him for awhile before that.

Ruben

It had been a few years. My father was still in our life, right up until I was about 9, but it became really difficult for my mother to support us and we could just see the pain in her life so much. Seemed like she was always crying and always angry.

We didn't take it personally, but we knew that there was just a lot of fear in her life. But there was a lot of worrying she didn't know what she was gonna do to take care of us and my big brother. 

He did a little bit of work. He was older, so he did a little bit of work and earned a little extra money to help along with the family. We did end up eventually switching schools, moving to a different part of New Mexico from Texas. We lived in New Mexico for a little while and we were going to school there, but it was just as rough. Because my dad followed us there and alcoholic men have a way of manipulating their way back into whoever may be. The person who is dependent on them. So he would always talk his way back in and we would always go, it's going to be better this time. We're not going to have to move and he's promised he's going to work. He's gonna stick to his job and then, you know the whole pattern is kind of this repeated itself. Eventually my mom said we have to get away because one of these days your father is going to end up killing me. Our mom had met some fella who became her brand and later became her husband. My stepdad who took us kind of under his wing. That's when we ended up coming over to Oregon because we had to get away from my dad 'cause he was showing up a lot. Picking fights and then eventually we got a call from some farmers and they said that they had some homes that were really nice. They offered a good living, carpeted homes and we wouldn't have to live in a trailer anymore. And the rent was going to be free and we would work for them. And then of course as long as we worked for them we could get free rent and then you know we get paid as well. So we picked up and left and the farmer met us halfway through 'cause the car we had broke down and we ended up jumping in his car and he ended up taking us back and we got to the camp and we were disappointed but we were so hungry and tired we didn't care, you know. I wasn’t going to sleep in the car anymore. I was staring at the cabin and looking at the walls and the plywood and thinking this is a pretty old cabin. There was a lot of us and there was just kind of like a little kitchen area and then the room where we all stayed. No windows, no insulation, and it just wasn't sanitary. Bathrooms weren't there, they were outside so we had to share the community bathrooms and it was then that I realized that this wasn't the life that I had signed up for.

I knew that I was going to have to work a lot and change my way of thinking, but I didn't know how. I couldn't make that crossover, but I knew that there was something that we had to do, so I just kind of just stuck to the family. We had to work seven days a week. We would work from about 6:30 when the sun came up, work started right around June. And it wasn’t over until late September. That was when the last grape was picked. So we started with strawberries, cucumbers blueberries and then grapes. So we just kind of followed the harvest.

And then of course we got free rent. I enrolled in the elementary school there so we got to go to school. My mom would get food stamps and I wasn't sure what was happening with the money but I know it was being saved. I can pick about 30 flats a day, you know. So for a 9 year old that was a lot of work.

Marie

I can't imagine what that was like for you. You probably didn't work much before you got to Oregon, right, so?

Really, you're working all day long.

Ruben

Yeah, it was really weird. I didn't have a choice. We were told this is what we're gonna do and that we had to work for the farmer. You just kind of just follow the lead. We would all complain and we'd rather play all day, but that wasn't going to be a case as long as we had hands.

We lived in a 2-room wooden cabin, so it was built with plywood, no insulation. Then you had the two by fours in between and then you had the plywood on the outside and so you could see the light in the morning. It got really warm in there. It was very unsanitary, extremely hard to stay clean. They have community showers. Most of the time the water was cold, because everybody used up the hot water, we just wanted to get clean, get the berry stains off our hands and go to sleep. 'Cause we were going to be up pretty early. In a way I resented working so much because it made me think that it wasn't fair and I wanted to play, but we kind of were all in the same boat, all the kids that were out on the playground with us would say we gotta go in at 7:00 o'clock and go to sleep.

So that was the routine for about five years, so we were able to save a lot of money for the house. They get everything you make course. The berries were about the size of a dime by then or the grapes. And I was like, really, we're not going to make any money out of this. We were in a very strict household. We had to absolutely eat all our food or weren't allowed to waste any food because we weren't allowed to eat in between.

Oh my stepfather would put a padlock on the refrigerator so we didn't eat. We were hungry.

Marie

So your stepfather was very strict as well. It sounds like.

Ruben

Yeah, he was horrible. He was very mean.

Marie

Oh my gosh.

Ruben

Yeah, he sexually abused a couple of my sisters.

Marie

Oh my gosh, you went from bad to worse. It sounds like.

Ruben

Yeah, into the fire.

Marie

Yeah, Oh my gosh.

Ruben

And he was extremely strict and extremely verbally abusive. And then you know, as I got a little older, 12 or 13 then I started kind of speaking my mind and he didn't like that either. So we had a couple of run-ins where he was pretty f*cking mean. You know he was physically abusive. He's a big man, so that was hard too and so I kind of made up my mind that you know I was gonna leave as soon as I turned 16, but there was so much shame. I think if you were to ask me what was the one thing that really really bothered me as a child was just the shame not having what we wanted.

Missing love from our mother, having to live with not only a violent alcoholic father, but violent stepdad who didn't respect us and didn't respect our family, so there was so much shame there. We weren't allowed to have friends come over. We had to ration everything if we ran out of toilet tissue we had to use paper or bags if they ran out of plates. We had to do the dishes or we use paper with paper plates and then of course he was just one of those men that just wanted to get his immigration papers. I was around 15. 

Marie

Was your mom aware of what the abuse that was happening or?

Ruben

She did but he denied it, so she believed him. My mother was desperate for attention. She really wanted someone to love her and so we think of childhood patterns. You know what makes us when we become older, the environment having to deal with that shame and having to deal with growing up with the stigma of picking berries. Free lunch, being Mexican American and of course having kids with their stereotype thinking that oh Ruben’s got berry stains on his hand.

Marie

Oh, that's what they said to you in school.

Ruben

Yeah, and they go, “But you know he's a beaner like all the other wetbacks and we know, we've seen him get on the bus at the camp.” So again there is more of that shaming, so you try and fit in. Yeah, but then there comes a point in your life where you just say I don't care if you like me or not.

Marie

Yeah, do you remember when you got to that point where you actually started feeling pride in your heritage as opposed to shame?

Ruben

Well, I met this gal in school. She came up to me and introduced herself. She was the class president and she was wondering if I wanted to volunteer or she asked me if I needed any type of help with my family or my family was gonna have money for the holidays. I know my mom reached out to the churches. She said, well, you know, there's no reason for you to hang your head down. She said everybody that's ever met you has said nice things about you. You kind of have a friend in your corner and he really likes you. That's my cousin Casey. So she kind of brightened up that little spot in my life, and I looked up to her because she was the class president, which is kind of neat, and her locker is right next to mine and she ended up being my girlfriend, which was kind of neat. I just felt like, well, there is things that I can do. There are classes I can take, she said. Sign up for something that helps you take your mind off all that stuff at home, and so you know. I decided to change my whole demeanor and then just fight back a little bit. There was a lot of bullies, a lot of stereotyping guys would call my sisters names because of their clothes. Of course we had holes punched in our tickets to identify that it was a free lunch ticket. And so people knew that.

So the kids would tease my sister because of that and so I didn't get myself in trouble. But you know, I had a few fights with some boys telling them to leave my sisters alone. Stop calling names. We get free lunch, so what?  

I wanted to learn to talk more, be friendlier. I wanted to meet more people. I wanted to be accepted, but not necessarily because of what I own because I had nothing to offer. I didn't have a strong family support.

I didn't have a lot of friends, but I had decided that I was gonna be my own voice and couple of those bullies, I would talk with them in the park and say, Hey, you know what we can get along or we can fight. We could just figure it out or we don't have to be friends. But I'm not gonna be pulling my hair or throwing me into the locker at school or we're gonna take care of it out here.

A couple of 'em beat me up.

I won a couple of battles, at least. You know in my eyes and then, but I got some respect too. On top of that, and then I just started reading more. Started appreciating humans more, knowing that ghost of shame would always be there and come around from time to time, but I would have to just learn to identify with it and press forward. So I started wrestling. I went out for track. I dated Kathy, who went on and became a very famous Chicago surgeon neurosurgeon. I think we dated for a year, and her parents told me that that they didn't want her dating a Mexican and so.

Marie

They told you that.

Ruben

He was running for congressman that year in Oregon. Didn’t want to lose the election. He lost anyway. 

So I then just continued to just press forward and you know, I did end up not doing so well in school. I think around 16 years old, in my freshman year 'cause I was an older student, my real father wrote and said he was on the way up. He didn't come up till that next year. So in between those years I just went out for sports and I just read a lot and I just kind of just stuck to myself but I had trouble with attendance because I still lived in North Plains. I didn't have any accountability with my mother.

Marie

She didn't help you.

Ruben

She didn't help me and that was difficult, but eventually I ended up not doing real well in school. But I also just kept reminding myself that it was not something that was going to work in my favor at that point.

My siblings were all going to be alcoholics. They were all drinking at home. They were all smoking. Whole bunch of drunks and dysfunctional. Nobody worked. The bills weren't paid, the lights got turned off, you know? And by then my stepdad had left already and my mom was just depressed. I got a job as a cook at a restaurant. The owner asked me if I had anybody that I knew that could work tonight. So I brought my sister and my mom.

We all worked at the same place and took the money and used it for you know. And then my brother came in at night. Then the next year my real dad came up and on the way up he was he was run over by a car and so he was killed.

Marie

Oh my gosh.

Ruben

Yeah, the way up here, wow. But we were kind of happy.

Marie

Or relieved.

Ruben

Scared as well.

Says he's gonna come up and kill my mom.

Marie

Oh my gosh.

Ruben

So, so he gets hit and then they ship his body over and we had the funeral and stuff and it was just a whole bunch of mixed feelings. We're going to be responsible for this debt. This man never did nothing to us but he's leaving behind a, you know, an $8000 debt back then. It didn't cost that much to bury someone. And so we were able to get him buried and at the funeral nobody wanted to come near the casket nobody wanted to say a prayer. We didn't feel that he served any purpose.

Marie

So your parents never got divorced. You were no longer working in the in the fields then.

Ruben

No, I was no longer working and attendance was hard because of where I lived. And then of course you know we weren't taught to do homework. We weren't taught accountability. We were just kind of just on our own. It was just like a whole bunch of kids living in a house. Some kids were older, so some of their girlfriends lived there and then there was just a lot of lot of chaos. Eventually my mom ended up moving to Texas and I moved out at 16, almost 17 didn't finish school.

And moved to Beaverton, I had found a job over there and started working at a formal wear shop. I think I was earning $7.35 an hour or something like that. At that point there was another bell that went off in my system thinking, oh my goodness, you know I just keep going from home to, you know from this home.

So now I'm over here, but I don't have a job. I didn't finish school, but I'd love to finish school, so I was able to go back to school and finish my diploma at PCC and then at that point I started working in restaurants 'cause I knew how to cook and I had to wait tables. But I also knew that there wasn’t much choice again because filling out an application, they wanted to know what your skills were and at that point I couldn't use Microsoft Word. So I needed to get back to school and eventually I just decided to just I finished my diploma. I met a gal. You know I was around 21 and that was my first wife. And then at that point I went back to college and finished my four year college. And then I was able to get my master’s degree. But through all that, if somebody was to say, Ruben, what would you do different? You know, I would say there's nothing I can do except for you know I can't change the parents I was born into. I can't change the family. I'm not ashamed of who I am, but I can sure say that the one thing I might have done is gone to school earlier or been more accountable, but I wasn't. Nobody cared so through the shame and everything the only thing that I had to fall back on is the fact that I existed as a family member. I had to exist. I had to live. I had to find a way to pay my bills. And so when I ended up getting married it was better because at least I had a nucleus and I made that promise to my kids. You're going to have a dad. There's some things here that we want to do different. You know my kids all are grown up today and all doing pretty well. They all have lot of strong traits, most of 'em all went to college. I finished my purpose with raising them, so even though I did get a divorce with my first wife, I was able to continue to be their father. Help pay for college, paid, $160,000 in child support which is fine 'cause they weren't living with me. That was my responsibility and then just able to just raise them in the right way.

To be able to for them to say we didn't experience this, they heard one of my podcasts, you know, they knew about it and they said we didn't experience that. We had support. It was just mom for awhile and me for awhile. But then you know, she remarried and I remarried, but we provided support.

I worked as many jobs as I could. You know, we broke the pattern of alcoholism. And I think shame and a little bit of resilience made me the man I am today.

Marie

Such an amazing story and I think about the fact that I grew up just you know, 30 miles from you around the same time 'cause I'm like three or four years younger than you. I grew up in this sheltered Beaverton suburb. I tried to go out picking strawberries one day with my sister, and I only lasted two days.

And the fact that you were out there for all day, I mean, at a much younger age. I was a teenager and I couldn't last two days. So you were out there every day. It's quite a life that you've led and a very resilient story that you have. So let's talk a little bit about how you went on to get your degrees and what kind of jobs have you held in the last 20 years?

Ruben

After I went back to school, that was right around 30 years old and it took me a while to get through school.

I ended up getting my first job after I got my bachelors and masters in social science; was as a youth advocate for Latino students and so that was through a grant. There was a nonprofit called Oregon Council for Hispanic Advantage. I started working at Madison High School. Had a little desk and a counseling office. My responsibility as an advocate was to make sure that I was a voice for Hispanic kids as well as immigrant children. I had a lot of boys that were joining gangs, really just fighting a lot. There was a lot of school violence. It was all new to me because, you know, working in the restaurant business was a lot of what I did before that. So it was a whole new game. I could see myself in a lot of these kids 'cause they had free lunch, a lot of 'em had to sign up for school supplies just like I did.

And a lot of 'em had learning disabilities. So by the time they got to 9th grade they were ready to drop out. Then I went on and worked in another position also through the Schools Uniting Neighborhoods, the SUN program, and I was able to stay there for about five years until that grant ran out. Worked with lots of after school kids. They had that whole gang thing going, so, uh, the SUN program provided after school services. I ended up becoming the after school program manager for Ockley Green and that's cool. Had about 22 after school programs that were hardly functioning. The attendance rate was around 10 to 15%. We kind of just revitalized it. I had this little fella named Jorge that came to me and said, You know, I need a part time job and so we ended up bringing him in as my assistant so we would go to the classes and he would tell the kids about how he used to be in a gang and beat up everyone. 

We had all these engineering companies that were local want to come in and give us computers. We had soccer coaches and basketball coaches. we ended up adding about 350 new programs.

Marie

Oh my gosh.

Ruben

The school really got recognized. The attendance level went up to about 80% and the school population or middle school, so they had about 735 students and we had at least 475 involved in the program, so it was really huge. And then of course we ended up doing a showcase that brought attention from Multnomah County and Northern California. Some people wanted to meet with me and Jorge. And you know, interview us about the school success. 

Marie

Wow, that's an amazing story and what a gift for these young people to be working with you and you have a particular understanding of the challenges that they're going through, so it sounds like throughout your life you've had this nagging doubt. Like, am I good enough to do this?

Ruben

Yes, yeah yes. There's a lot of racial hatred everywhere. One of my brothers was attacked by skinheads right before I moved away. He almost was killed, but he had to defend himself. Ended up hurting someone and ended up dying from self defense. Along the way in my life I had people that would attack me physically and then of course just their words. I remember when I was finishing school I was still waiting tables. I had a family that I was waiting on, the lady came in and she was pretty dressed up and she had her cute little grandkids with her and she looked over at her grandkids. As I was coming over to drop off the breakfast she said, you see this kids, the last thing you wanna do is major in bacon and eggs because you'll be here serving. Oh and I just kind of looked at her and just kind of said to myself, yeah, OK, I'm doing other things in my life and then people just constantly assuming because I was Hispanic that I was to get them chips and salsa because I was in a Mexican restaurant or walking by a gas station. 

And then I got a call from the Dougy Center for grieving children and the lady who ran the program said that she wanted to train me to become a grief and loss counselor and working with Latino families and so I became a grief and loss counselor. I really learned a different chapter in my life about death and dying. Elizabeth Kubler Ross helped pioneer the start of the first one and they have 250 of 'em around the world. So I became officially certified in grief and loss training and stayed there for six years. I ended up leaving there eventually because eventually too much grief and too much death. Too many siblings talking about the death of people. It just kind of just made it hard to just continue over and over 

Marie 

I bet. You have had so much trauma in your life. It must have been overwhelming.

Ruben

Yes, yeah. Sure it's then I ended up becoming a recruiter and I've been very clear for seven years.

Marie

It's amazing what you made of your life, so looking back what mistakes have you made in your life? 

Ruben

Not having a lot of male friends but having a lot of female friends so they got me in trouble with maybe too many girlfriends, a couple of them overlapping. You know it just wasn't the best thing for me and I learned that I wanted to change that part of my life. So there is one mistake. So I ended up having two divorces. And then of course, I invested in a lot of different things that, uh, didn't work out. I bought a lunch truck. I got a second lunch truck, and I had two restaurants that I started so I basically went outta business about four different times and then I guess it navigated pretty well with my kids. I've said a couple of things here and there, but for the most part, I'm pretty proud of my children and the role I play in their life, pretty proud of working for for the school system. I would just say those things right there and just maybe a little more stability.

Marie

Well, you've started your life over so many times, haven't you?

Ruben

Absolutely. Now I’m dating a nice woman who writes herself. She's got this little boy. You know, it's been six months and playing the role in this little boy's life has been pretty fantastic.

Marie

Well, that's a good segue into my next question, which is about fatherhood. And how have you approached parenting differently than how you were parented yourself?

Ruben

Well at first I absolutely despised my father for cheating on my mother. He was lazy, so I told my boys to work, stay in school and if you find a really good woman to treat you well, respect her, love her. Never never, never cheat. If you're not happy, walk away and then my daughters, I was there for them. Both of them had mothers that were there for him but also just being a supportive parent, showing up at all their after school meets and ballet. 

Marie

It sounds like you've done everything you can to become the parent that you didn't have. What is it like to be a Brown person in Portland right now? Do you feel like things have gotten worse since the election or is it kind of the same?

Ruben

Yeah, I live in Wilsonville, so sometimes I hear people say stuff to me under their breaths or I get some looks. I try not to make wrong contact. I hear a lot about the Black Lives Matter movement. I know it's there. I see it. My kids are right there in the movement. 

Marie

Can you tell me about a time recently when you felt great joy?

Ruben

This year has been pretty challenging. The year from hell and it will go down in history as one of the most volatile years. I think the biggest joy that I have is when I'm writing, when I’m podcasting, when my kids are all safe, they're all happy...meeting a wonderful woman in my life. Who has, you know, her own path and so that makes me discover my path. 

I just feel the joy that I've accomplished a lot of wonderful things in my life. And I know a lot of good people. And I continue to stay positive. I'm glad that my brother lived through the coronavirus so far. 

Marie

OK, so where can listeners connect with you online?

Ruben

Listeners can connect with me at Man with a Heart on Facebook or on Instagram. My podcasts can be heard on Apple and if you just search for a Man with a Heart. My podcasts are about life, love and reflections. The last one was on racism, which got 1000 downloads.

Marie

Yeah, let's just think about grit, resilience and connection for a moment. OK, what do you think parents or mentors can do to instill grit or resilience in their children or others? Or how can someone increase their resilience?

Ruben

So with grit you just have to let go of whatever story that makes you feel sorry for yourself, don't blame anyone. The grit is inside of you and if you can't muster up the grit to get things done then look for other sources. But resilience comes from just looking outward. You can look inside a house and you can see a hungry child. And a mother struggling to put food on the table. Looking to the outside knowing there's opportunity out there and as a young child or as a teenager you have to let go of that voice. The shame will come back around from time to time. But remind yourself constantly that there's nothing that can hold you back. If you really, really just take a positive attitude, look for those happy times, like you said look for that joy and take that joy. Create affirmations in your life and make your mind strong and don't let barriers set you back and don't let barriers like blame and guilt and hurt block your path know that there is always like you don't always have to go through the tunnel to see the light, but you have to find people that like what you like, and support what you like? 

Marie

OK, thank you and is there a story of grit resilience of connection that has been an inspiration for you in their life.

Ruben

I think the one person that created a lot of inspiration...for me, it was a man who didn't like me when I first met him. He was my father in law with my first wife and he met me on Christmas and said let's go for a drive and said, Yeah. I just want to just nip it in the bud. There's nothing that you can offer my daughter here. I don't want mixed kids, and you come from the other side of the tracks. You need to stay on your tracks, stay away from us. We're gonna go back to the house. We're gonna pretend like nothing happened, but I want you to disappear after this.

Marie

Oh my gosh.

Ruben

If you don't I'll make sure that you disappear. He was pretty stern about it. My ex wife stood up and said I want to stay with you, I'm gonna move out, my parents can't do that. My dad can't do that, so the next year we ended up getting married and he became angry for about a year and then he came back and when he came back he came back with a whole new attitude and that was incredible because he was raised so different. He wanted to get to know my kids and wanted to get to know me and then he started just coaching me 'cause I was still at the point where I was making my transition. I was pretty young so he told me I really need to think about going back to school and that's when I went back to school at 30 and I really needed to think about future and I needed to just keep moving forward.

I wasn't good at something to become better at something else and not to quit and not give in to fear he said. He was a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Stick to things, go to school, stay at a job, follow through with things that you do, and if you say you're gonna do something, do something. He became an inspiration to me along the way. 

Marie

What do you think changed his mind when he was so hurtful the first time you met?

Ruben

Well, his wife was upset with him because he missed our wedding. He went to Vegas to gamble and the mother said I'm staying here and support my daughter, so she said and I might leave you when you come back. He came back a while. It was when Anthony was born. Just seeing that that little boy that was so loving and so caring and such a wonderful little soul and just seeing the fact that we were trying to make things work, you know, even though it didn't work out and make this work. His name was Dale. He ended up getting pretty sick, and about a week after he got sick they told him that he had a big tumor wrapped around his heart and that it was gonna kill him in about 7 days. So I remember at his dying bed. He said to me, I put you through a lot but you're not done yet. He said your kids are still growing up. I know that you and Cheryl are not gonna stay together, but I want to ask forgiveness of what I put you through. And he died so that was bunch of love that he put out. He wasn't that kind of man.

Marie

The fact that you were able to turn him around, that's something to be proud of, because obviously he saw what was in your heart instead of judging you on your the color of your skin.

Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me.

Ruben

You’re very welcome.

Marie

I am so inspired hearing stories from people who didn't receive love and support as children, but somehow found the inner strength to believe in themselves and create a better life. Ruben is living a true grit and resilient story. On the next three men of color, redefining fatherhood episode, I interview Charles Jackson II, a black man who grew up in Florida. He had a conflicted relationship with his father, choosing not to carry on his father's name when he had his first son. Although he reconciled with his father before he died. Charles served in the US Marine Corps, works as a field security officer for Jacobs Engineering, and has two side gigs as founder of Charles Jackson Relational Leadership and is co-founder of You before Me marriage coaching business with his wife Zonnette. We talked about racism and Black Lives Matter, his marriage, and fathering two young Black sons. Thanks for listening to the Finding Fertile Ground podcast. Our music is by jazz pianist Jonathan Swanson. This podcast is brought to you by Fertile Ground Communications. We help organizations and people discover what makes them special and help them share that with the world. Look us up on fertilegroundcommunications.com and if you enjoyed this podcast, please give us a rating and subscribe to hear our next episode.