A Letter to My Dad
What I wished I had told you the last time I saw you
by Josué E. Hernández


The last time I saw you I said to you, ‘I love you’. But, I wish I had the bravery to talk to you about something else too. The last time I saw you was on a Saturday nine years ago and I don’t know if you noticed but I was trying to delay my departure. I took my time to say my goodbyes, since I knew that was going to be the last time I would see you alive.

Photo courtesy J. Hernández

History was repeating itself again. Eighteen years before that Saturday when I last saw you, mom had died of cancer, too. And the pain of seeing you deteriorate reminded me of how I had already gone through this in saying my goodbyes to Mom, too. In that moment, when I had to say goodbye to you, I wanted to make the best of the situation and appear cheerful to you. I remember smiling at you while I ran my hand through your hair and hugging you while telling you how much I love you.

In the last moments we had together, my intention was to ensure you were comfortable despite all the pain you were feeling physically and emotionally. But, I was anxious to tell you more about me. I wanted to tell you that I am HIV-positive. But, the shame and stigma I felt prevented me from speaking up. There was too little time left that day before my departure. So, I didn’t know how I was going to share with you more about my life. For example, I wanted to tell you more about why I felt the need to flee home for San Francisco as a gay man. Or, how devastated I was to learn that I had just lost my cousin to the AIDS epidemic two years prior. Or, even, that I had just started dating a smart and loving guy and I was starting to feel deeper feelings for him. This was all too much to go into detail in only a few minutes. And my insecurity, shame, and self-doubt prevailed. Instead, I told you all of this by hugging you, kissing you, and telling you how much I love you.

If I had taken the chance in having this conversation, I can only imagine how hard it would have been for you. After all, our level of openness between us was narrow and infrequent. That is how I remember our relationship being very early on. And the sporadic interactions we had revolved primarily around the ‘truth’ you were living and the need to evangelize those religious views, according to the Jehovah’s Witness teachings. I knew how important religion was to you, since you were an elder in the oldest congregation in town. And I also was aware of your goal to be resurrected in the future next to mom in the new promised paradise on earth, by strictly following the Jehovah’s Witness religion. And the “lifestyle” I am living, is not in line with these religious guidelines to deserve God’s approval. I, on the other hand, was still healing from the difficult decision between building my life as an openly gay man or continuing to stay in the religion to be closer to you.

Moreover, I want to take this opportunity to share with you what I wish I had the last time I saw you. I am a long-term HIV survivor. I am proud to tell you that I have managed to stay in treatment for nearly eleven years and I have maintained a suppressed viral load to the point of being undetectable. This means, I am healthy and it is virtually impossible for me to infect someone else. Also, my cousin’s death motivated me to be open about my status because I am the living example that anyone who is HIV-positive can live a long and healthy life while being on treatment. It also encouraged me to work toward breaking the stigma around this chronic illness, as that was the same stigma that prevented me from sharing my status with you when I had the chance.

Oscar and Josué. Photo by Doug Tejeda

Soon, I will be celebrating my tenth anniversary with that smart and loving guy I had started dating back then. I wish you could meet him. He is an amazing person. Also, he and I moved to Southern California and bought a home together three years ago. And we even found an open and affirming church where I can live, both, openly as a gay man and be part of a religious congregation where I can love my partner and, even, hold his hand in public. Lastly, I am very excited to tell you that we recently started the adoption process.

Despite our differences and erratic communication, I am confident that you would be very proud of me and of my accomplishments. And I am certain that you would love meeting Oscar and, even, be excited about the plans we have set for ourselves to adopt soon.

In conclusion, I am glad I am writing this letter to you because I now realize I have more to share with you in this letter about, not only what I have been through, but also what I have accomplished and the plans I have for the future. Our relationship may not have been easy. But, in the end, I know you loved me as much as I love you to this day.

Josué E. Hernández currently lives in Orange County, California, with his long-term partner. He is invested in raising awareness and breaking the stigma around HIV/AIDS because his community is disproportionately being infected and affected; the Latino/Hispanic MSM (men who have sex with men) community have the highest infection rates in the county. Connect with Josué via his website: www.josuehernandez.us.)