Sunday, February 6, 2011

Cuban immigrant fathers

The de la Torre family story bears the markings of the classic immigrant overachiever narrative. The father, Angel de la Torre, was an internist in Cuba who fled his homeland for political reasons in 1960. He arrived in Florida with no money and no English. When he started over his medical training, he chose cardiology. ...

Angel was a demanding dad. When [now-CEO of Caritas Christi] Ralph would proudly present a test grade of 97, his father would ask, “Did anyone in the class score a 100?” ...

Ralph’s father wanted him to return to Jacksonville, Florida, to join a highly respected cardiac surgery group. More than just a successful physician, Angel was an innovative medical organizer, understanding how to line up referral networks to build a powerhouse practice. ... [T]he deal ... would put the 33-year-old surgeon [Ralph] on track to earn an annual salary of more than $1 million within two years...

Late in his time at Mass. General, [Ralph] had begun dating a surgical resident named Wing Cheung. ... Because Wing would be tied to Boston for several years, Ralph worried that if he left he might miss out on the woman of his life. So he began dropping hints to his father about a possible change in plans. Angel was hearing none of it.

When Ralph told him about his feelings for Wing, his father replied: “Fine. You can fly her down every weekend.” ...

Ralph flew to Florida to break the news. “Dad,” he said, “I need to build something of my own.”

His father was furious, or rather a higher order of furious that Ralph calls “Cuban mad.” Ralph didn’t budge. ...

One day several years back, de la Torre’s father came to Massachusetts for a visit. After Angel complained about the lousy coffee maker in Ralph’s kitchen, they went to Starbucks.

Sitting across the table in the coffee shop, the patriarch groused about the price of the espresso – $2.12 for something that cost 50 cents in Little Havana! – but then he leaned in and softened his expression. “I realized over the last couple of years that I never should have worried about you,” Angel told his son. “We could drop you into a tribe of cannibals, and you’d either get eaten within the day or you’d become king of the cannibals.”

Given how sparing with praise his loving but exacting dad had always been, that comment, Ralph says, was one of the most meaningful compliments he’d ever received. Then his father returned to complaining about the ice and cold in Boston.
--Neil Swidy, Boston Globe, on the tiger mother in Cuban fatherly form

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