photo: Johanna Ferreira

My parents have been married for over 30 years now. I’ve always admired their relationship and at a young age recognized how much these two really loved each other. They are literally like two peas in a pod. In fact, it’s practically impossible to separate them. While they do believe in having healthy boundaries and doing things on their own, a lot of the things they enjoy doing like dining out, seeing Broadway shows, watching old movies, hanging on Long Island, or taking nature walks, they would much rather do together.

Marriage and relationships are not like what you see in the movies. While most of us say we understand that, we don’t really understand that until shit gets real. My parents do, though. As beautiful as their marriage has been, it hasn’t always been a walk in the park. It’s hard work. The difference is they've always loved each other enough to put in the work. But I have to agree with my abuelita on one thing: I do believe that Papi's gentle and non-machista nature has played a huge role in the success of their relationship. Life is a lot easier when you don’t have to deal with machismo. It’s for this reason a lot of Dominican men get a bad rep, but because Papi has always been different, it has set the tone for the relationship. It also made me realize the kind of man I would ultimately want to settle down with.

Related From Vivala: My Stay-at-Home Mom Made Me a Feminist 

For starters, Papi doesn’t raise his voice at Mami — like ever! In fact, in the 30 years I've been on this planet I have never seen my dad raise his finger or his voice at my mother. Sure, he’d get upset and they’d have their arguments. But if he ever felt a temper coming on, he knew better to calmly walk away and revisit the conversation later, rather than disrespect my mother.  He set the tone, and as a result she’s never raised her voice or finger at him either.

He’s never put her down, told her what to do, or ever tried to control her. My dad has always loved, embraced and appreciated my mother for exactly who she is. If you were to ask him what he loves most about my mom, he could probably write you a book. And listen, I’m sure my mom has had her flaws as a wife. But those little flaws mean nothing when he looks at the broader scope of things and her feelings for him have always been mutual. 

Related From Vivala: Lessons Learned From Dating a Dominican Man

I remember growing up always hearing my Latina friends talk about their fathers like they were dictators. They'd tell me how their dads expected to be served a huge plate of food by dinner time, but would never help their moms with the dishes. How they had no interest in sharing domestic responsibilities or would stay out late with friends. Not my dad. 

Until this day Papi has no problem splitting chores with mom. The only thing he hasn't been able to master is cooking, but he can make one hell of a sancocho that he practically prepares all winter long. Oh, and did I mention he makes Mami breakfast every single morning? If Mom cooks, Dad cleans the kitchen. If Mom needs to do the groceries, Dad helps her unload and put everything away, and that's just how it's always been with them two.

As a result, my relationship standards have always been high and continue to be. I need a man who loves and respects me for me. Not someone who is going to try to change me or manipulate me into being who he thinks I should be. I need a gentle man who recognizes the importance of constantly working at a relationship, that's going to be there with me through the good times and the bad times. I also need a man who respects and admires my dreams, my aspirations, my independence and feminist attitude.

I am extremely fortunate to have the father that I have. He isn't just a great spouse to my mother, but has always been a kind, gentle, and understanding man that I could go to at any time for advice. I don't know if he realizes it but he has helped lay down the foundation for the kind of relationship I hope to one day have. I will always be eternally grateful for the wonderful example and the amazing lessons he has taught me about life, love, and relationships.