by Joey Santos
I cannot imagine my life before I became a dad. Since the day that my wife Laura brought our firstborn, Ethan, into the world, life has forever changed. Ethan will be fifteen years of age this fourth of July, and every day we get to enjoy the gift of a new life (along with his younger brother Winston)—two wonderful gifts God has given to my wife and me.
One month ago, I was reminded of how important the life of a father really is. I had the opportunity to spend a few special days with my dad in Brazil, and what we both experienced together was just remarkable. The reason for my trip was not the ideal circumstance, since I was there to help take care of a few things for him since my mom had passed away just four months ago. Her death was not expected; it took us all by surprise, leaving many future plans on hold. Just days before, she and I had talked about a special trip my dad wanted to take to his hometown called Corinto (translation: Corinthians). I spoke with my dad on the phone the same day my mother passed away, and his first question was, “Are you still coming?” My response was, “Yes, I am, and when I get there, we will get in the car and hit the road and head to your hometown as planned.” My dad was very glad to hear that. He just needed some time to begin the healing process from losing his wife, who had been by his side for 53 years of his life.
Learning from the Past
“I will teach you hidden lessons from our past—stories we have heard and known, stories our ancestors handed down to us. We will not hide these truths from our children; we will tell the next generation about the glorious deeds of the Lord, about his power and his mighty wonders” (Psalm 78:2-4, NLT).
I arrived in Brazil on a Thursday and by 5 am Friday morning we were leaving on a journey to visit a place my dad had not been to for 30 years. He was eagerly looking forward to this trip and wanted to make the most of it. We made many stops, both planned and unplanned, and most of all, many conversations took place during the next six days as we traveled 5,950 miles together!
One conversation that will never leave my mind and heart was about my grandfather and great-grandfather. We met several people who shared many stories about an amazing legacy of fathers who never gave up in providing their families and future generations a better life than what they had. My great-grandfather was a slave, and his primary job was to deliver milk to the house of his owner. Many years later, the youngest son in that house would become the President of Brazil, who built the new capital of the country, Brasilia. The family also was known for helping free many slaves, including my great-grandfather.
Once free, he decided that he would do whatever he needed to provide for his family so that his kids would never have to go through what he had to. Years later, my grandfather, now a young adult, married the love of his life and together they had several kids. However, something unexpected happened during my dad’s birth—my grandmother died. My grandfather, now as a single dad with four small kids, including a newborn, would have to provide for and raise them on his own. Because he had learned from someone who was raised by a dad who was a slave, he knew he could do it. He faced the challenges, and provided everything he could.
Still, compared to today, life was not at all easy. At eight years old, my dad remembers what life was like living in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, a place known for gun violence and drug trafficking. That was all my grandfather could afford at the time. Just so you have an idea, according to BMC Population Health Metric, in 2019, Rio de Janeiro registered 1,572 homicides. My dad recounts many times when he was between the ages of eight- and eleven-years-old that he had to step over one or two dead bodies with multiple shot wounds in order to go to school. These bodies had been lying there all night, right in front of his house.
Passing on the Legacy
My dad remembers that for his dad, the top priority was to keep all kids in school. My grandfather worked two jobs and at times, three jobs, but kids not going to school was not an option, because he wanted them to have a better life for themselves and their families than he could provide at the moment. My father and his three sisters all developed a better life for themselves and their families. They took advantage of their education to create a better future.
I remember how hard my dad worked to provide for us and make sure we had the best education possible. He was committed to excellence in everything he did and wanted us to see it and commit to it as well. He was ordained in the ministry by an American pastor (whom I got to talk with on the phone back in 2001 after I moved to the U.S.), and at the age of twenty-one, my dad worked two jobs and went to Bible college to follow his calling. His routine was basically this: Up by 5 am, work until 5 pm, Bible College at 6 pm, and back home by 11:30 pm. And this schedule was after he had gotten married and already had one kid, my oldest brother, Gilson. My two brothers and I learned from my dad, and this work ethic is still our model to this day.
Today, I have the exact same vision and desire for my boys. I want them to learn that working hard pays off, and it is the only way to build respect, dignity, and a future.
The memorable trip with my dad showed that I want my boys to follow the family legacy that goes back four generations. I want them to see that from my great-grandfather to me, we preserved the strong work ethic and family values that kept our families strong, able to face any challenges, and proud of not only who we are, but where we came from.
This Father’s Day we will celebrate the legacy that brought us here, from a man who one day was a slave, who never gave up on himself and his family, to a man who faced the challenges of being a single dad in a risky city, to a man who gave it all to God. Because of that today I get to be here, living in the land of the free and the home of the brave, a proud father of two of my own sons, looking ahead to what the future holds for my kids and beyond.
“He commanded our ancestors to teach them to their children, so the next generation might know them—even the children not yet born—and they in turn will teach their own children. So each generation should set its hope anew on God” (Psalm 78:5-7, NLT).