Dear Dad, or the Power of Violent Forgiveness

Aitch Alberto, the writer-director of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, writes a letter to her father.

Dear Dad,

You’re missing out on the best version of me. Everything I dreamt of is happening. I had a movie come out a week or so ago – have you seen it? It’s taken me a long time, but it’s actually happening. You always believed it would, you reassured me it would. I cherish those moments with you. I can’t imagine that you don’t think about me, I still hope the phone will ring on every birthday or holiday, but alas, it hasn’t. It’s OK; luckily I have a lot of love around me. I just feel sad for you, because you really are missing the best version of me. But no matter what, you’re a piece of me and I am of you. I wish we could celebrate together, but I also realize you’re incapable of getting out of your own way. Dad, keeping things inside isn’t the way it has to be.

It’s taken me a lot of reflection to realize that you just don’t know how to be the father I need and want. That you just don’t know how to sit in your own pain. That you just don’t know how to reflect on the pain caused by some of the decisions you made. But what I’ve also grown to understand is that you made those decisions out of necessity, out of survival, out of not having another option. When I put things into perspective, you are a child of immigrants raised in the hood of Miami, 18 years old with a kid on the way at the height of the cocaine “movement” in Miami. Yeah, of course you were going to step into that world. It was real money, especially compared to stealing TVs and washing machines from the Sears’ back alley.

In so many ways, you achieved your goals, on the run from the FBI and the U.S. Marshals. It definitely takes a certain level of intelligence and hustle to evade federal agencies for upward of eight years. But to say, “That’s not traumatic – those are life lessons,” when I tried to mention how much us being on the run with you affected me – I realized you just couldn’t do it. You don’t know what accountability is, or maybe your “goals” were just your biggest achievement. But let me say it here: using aliases for your name, witnessing stakes of money hidden in walls, staring at mounds of cocaine (I knew the smell of cocaine before I knew how to read), spending Christmases in hotel rooms, learning to constantly look over my shoulder because you were doing it, and especially seeing the pain in my mothers eyes – all that is traumatic. Not to mention hiding out in Disney World, Naples and Aspen (where, in a full-circle moment, I screened my movie). Somehow I understand how hard it could be to take true accountability. But Dad, it’s what’s required of you.

I’m taking this opportunity to write to you now because my film is not just about a teen learning to see the love around him, it’s also about a father learning to use his voice. It’s about the realization that it’s absolutely necessary to tell those we love how we feel. It’s often the thing that is able to save someone, because sometimes the war we fight inside is much worse than the one we fear from speaking our truth. Four years ago, I realized it was an impossible ask to have you use your voice. Which is why I had to let you go. I hope you know that when I did, I forgave you. I accepted things for what they were; it wasn’t a decision made from a place of resentment. I had lived in that pain too long and just couldn’t do it anymore. But it was from a place of true surrender and the absolute need to love myself and prioritize myself above everything — even the need to be loved by you (the way I thought I needed). I don’t doubt you love me, and never have. I often reminisce about when you came out of your 13-year stay in federal prison. I remember a few weeks before your release, you sent me a box filled with all of the articles from the Miami Herald‘s Youth Page. Every single one. Along with every single card – birthday card, Christmas card, Thanksgiving card – my sister and I had sent you. I remember feeling emotional and overwhelmed when I opened it, but it’s only as an adult attempting to live a life rooted in love instead of anger that I realize that was your way of showing your love.

I often remember in those 13 years when you’d talk to me about movies, and I now realize you didn’t necessarily care about movies, but it was your way of connecting with me. I remember you asking what to tell the guards to rent, and then we’d talk about it. I reminisce about our fishing trips. I have yet to go again, but those are some of my favorite moments with you. I remember that time when we were hiding out in Naples and I nagged you to take me to see A League of Their Own, and you did. I vividly remember you being so invested in the movie, well, because it was baseball, but in that moment I felt understood by you. Even if we were enjoying the movie for different reasons. I say all this because I have countless memories of you loving me. I want to reassure you that I’m not angry at you, and in order to walk through my truth and to truly love you, I had to let you go.

I realized that in order to gain my happiness and fully embody everything I am, I had to run the risk of letting go of people I loved. It was so many years of thinking I could pretend, of hanging on to relationships that were not true, living a half-ass version of myself because maybe that was enough to not only survive but ultimately be loved by you. But then I realized you had such a long way to go to love yourself, flaws and all. I knew the love that was required of me had to be enough for the both of us.

Just know if you are never able to talk to me again, that I love you and my door is always open to you. Maybe there’s a world where you need me in order to heal, but all good if there isn’t – I’ll see you in the next one.

Your child,

Aitch Alberto is a writer-director born and raised in Miami, Florida, whose debut feature, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, is out now in theaters. The film, based on the award-winning young adult novel of the same name, was produced by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Eugenio Debrez. Aitch has written on Duster, a 1970s-set crime drama series from J.J. Abrams and LaToya Morgan for HBO Max and WBTV, and on AppleTV+’s BAFTA and Film Independent Nominated anthology series Little America from Alan Yang, Kumail Nanjiani, and Emily V. Gordon. Aitch has most recently been featured on Variety’s 10 Directors To Watch for 2022 and Indiewire’s 22 Rising Female Filmmakers to Watch in 2022.