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The Deepest Love – A Stepfather’s Perspective

News for 06.16.17
06.16.17
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By Dr. Alan Carlos Hernandez, Gatepath Program Committee Member and Father of Manuel

A Night I’ll Never Forget

One night in the summer of 1989, a police officer came to our home to inform us that Manuel (“Manny”), my wife’s 19-year-old son and my stepson, had been hurt and that we needed to go immediately to San Francisco General Hospital (SF General) to approve an operation. Growing up as I did in San Francisco’s housing projects, I knew that when a police officer visits you like this they’re basically saying that the person in the hospital is close to dying if not already dead. As we left for SF General, I hoped for the best, but expected the worst.

We learned at the hospital that Manny had been attacked and hit over the head with a baseball bat. His situation was grave.

After five hours of surgery, Manny remained comatose for 10 days. When he awoke from the coma, Manny was 100% disabled, his left side completely non-functional. He was also blind in his left eye. Faced with decisions about what to do next, whether it was to put Manny in a facility or find a way to care for him ourselves, we chose to bring Manny home. Soon afterwards, I quit my job to become Manny’s caretaker.


Going to Gatepath Since the Early 90s

As we learned about how to best care for Manny, we sought out different programs that could help him become as functional as possible given his severe disabilities. Early on, in the early 1990s, we found the adaptive physical education program at the College of San Mateo, which made a huge difference in getting Manny to walk again with supervision and with a quad cane. Around the same time, we also started bringing him to Gatepath.

Gatepath has been wonderful. It’s a comfortable and safe environment. It’s also a place where the program participants are truly happy. And it has provided Manny, who’s 48-years-old now, with many opportunities for social interaction and friendship. When Manny comes home from Gatepath, he tells us all sorts of stories about his friends and what they do together during the day. He is part of a community there.

Another important aspect of Gatepath for me is that the staff always treats Manny with respect and maintains his dignity at all times.


What I Learned from My Father

With Father's Day being celebrated on June18, I think about how many of the basic lessons I learned from my father have helped me to care for Manny. My father taught me to love family above all else, which means doing whatever it takes even when faced with hardship.

In difficult times, a father must say, "Okay. This is what's happened. Now I must be strong for my family, at whatever the cost, because I'm not going to let my child fall through the cracks. And if they're afflicted with a disability, that's part of life, and I will do whatever it takes to care for them.”

When it comes to taking care of a family member who becomes disabled, regardless of how old they are, the rest of the family becomes disabled too. In my family’s case, our whole life is built around not just what we need as individuals, but also around what Manny needs. This is something that never stops, and this is something that I must always keep in mind and plan for as a father.

Ultimately, I see my parental responsibility in terms of the Christian concept of Agape Love, which is a selfless and unconditional love. This is the deepest love there is and the ideal love any father can give his child.

 

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Dr. Alan Carlos Hernandez has had a diverse range of experiences in his career and in his life. He worked as a university professor and in media. He owned a motorcycle dealership. And he’s an author whose credits include working with Los Lobos on a Grammy Award nominated children’s album. Dr. Hernandez recently joined Gatepath’s Program Committee to provide authentic parental input and contribute his knowledge and experience to our organization.