Making Fernando Cry

Making Fernando Cry
David R. Weiss – July 5, 2022

[Aside for those of you who weren’t aware of this: Fernando is a 32-year-old Brazilian man who just arrived in the U.S.—his first time abroad—to start a 3-year post-doc fellowship at the University of Minnesota in cardiac physiology. Connected through a friend of a friend—indeed just hours before he arrived—he will rent a room from us until the end of August when he moves into a place much closer to campus.]

To be fair, Fernando has been with us since 10am last Monday, so I waited an entire week to make him cry. It’s not like I put him in tears in the first few days. Let me tell you about it.

I knew already last week that Fernando’s parents were no longer together. And that he had a younger half-brother on his mother’s side and a younger half-brother and half-sister on his father’s side. No big deal, since our family has half-siblings, step-siblings, and heart-siblings in spades.

Anyway, Monday night we had almost an hour to wait, sitting on plastic chairs in a parking lot (thankfully in comfortably warm air with a gentle breeze) before the fireworks would start. So I asked him, “How old were you when your parents divorced?”

He paused, as if considering how (or how much) to answer, and then he said, “Well, my history is a complicated one. I think it would be a good movie …” And then he explained (edited here for brevity).

“My mother was poor and black. My father was white and wealthy. They did not really have a relationship. When my mother discovered she was pregnant, she talked to my father, but nothing came of their talking. So I was born and my mother raised me alone. Eventually she remarried and got my younger brother, but she would never tell me who my father was.

“I often asked her, because I truly wanted to know my father, but my questions only made her sad. She would tell me to wait until I was older, and because I could see she was sad, I learned to keep my own sadness—which was a lot—inside me. Even though I often wondered about my father, I put the energy of my sadness into my studies to distract me since I knew I could not learn anything until my mother agreed.

“When I was 22, I completed my undergraduate degree to become a physical therapist and then my mother finally told me who my father was. And I was very surprised. You see, we lived in a small town (20,000) and everybody knew everybody else. So when she told me, I learned that my father was someone I already knew. He lived not far from us. A rich white man with a family of his own.

“And I hoped to have a relationship with him. But when I approached him I learned that it is not easy to simply “become” a father and son just because you want to, when you never knew each other for so long. Sometimes I talk to him still. But it is always a little strange, because why could I never know him sooner? I have a closer relationship with his mother and his children, but it is still very different than what I have with my mother’s family.”

Quite a tale to share (and there is more that I have left aside). Margaret and I sat in rapt attention, well aware that this was a “thin moment” in which he was making himself quite vulnerable to us.

After the fireworks we came home. Well, we were mired in a parking lot down in Eagan for 45-50 minutes, and then we came home.

On the way, I shared with him that my relationship to my children was also complicated. In very different ways, of course, but I shared a sketch of my life as a parent on the drive home, so that he would know I had heard his story with real empathy.

By the time we got home it was 11:30, and we all decided to have midnight snacks. Even Percy joined us (of course!). I just had cheese and crackers, so while Fernando made his burger, I gathered a couple things to show him. When we sat down, I first showed him the “Gravity” poem I wrote for Ben on his 30th birthday. He now knew enough to appreciate the sentiments as well as to be amazed at the acrostic.

Then I showed him my two 3-ring binders in which I keep my copies of “Apple: Tree” and “Reading with Dad,” the letters I am writing to my children. I explained that for four years now—ever since they both moved west within months of each other—I have written a letter every month, both to tell the story of my life, but also to make a bridge across the complicated past that we have. Each binder now has 250+ pages of typed letters in them.

He was speechless. Literally. He said, while his eyes glistened with tears, “I do not even have the words in Portuguese to say anything.” And then he found them. Both tears and words.

“All my life I wondered about my father. But until today I have never wondered whether he wondered about me. And you have shown me that maybe my father also wanted to know me, but he did not know how. I will reflect on this for a long long time.

“I said earlier that I would always remember this day because it was my first fireworks in America, but NOW I will always always remember this day for this. Talking about my father is the hardest thing for me to do—and how could I be here just one week and feel safe to say it all to you and Margaret?

“It reminds me, my grandmother—my mother’s mother—sent me a message when I was getting ready to come here. In it she said, ‘Don’t you worry, Fernando. You will find a beautiful family to be your family in America. I have seen them, and they are so good. You will be blessed.’ I do not know how she says these things, but I believed them when she told me. But I did not think I would find my family so soon.”

Well, by now we were all three teary-eyed and over-tired. So we exchanged hugs and went to bed. It was a bit more fireworks than any of us anticipated.

Fernando had mentioned earlier in the evening, at the end of his tale, that despite his suffering through the years about his absent father, that he had learned to use it as a source of empathy for others. So have I. Now, I will not say that all suffering bears a gift. But often it can. If you allow it.

Fernando is here on a fellowship to do research in cardiac physiology. He likes to say a bit cheekily, “I have come here to learn how to mend a broken heart.”

Who would’ve guessed it might be his own.

* * *

David Weiss is a theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, doing “public theology” around climate crisis, sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. Reach him at Read more at where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.” Support him in writing Community SupportedTheology at

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