It was my last day of middle school, and for the first time, I was going to live with my father. At the time, my father was living in Geneva, so not only was I going to live with him for the first time, but I was also leaving Rochester.
When I was ten years old, my mother and stepfather decided we were moving to Puerto Rico. This move did not last for long. As I remember it, it seems like we’ve been there for less than a year. I remember us looking for schools but never even starting school. I think that what my mother and stepfather thought it was going to be like didn’t pan out, and so back to Rochester we went.
There I was, graduating from middle school, and my father was in attendance. He took a tone of pictures, and we laughed a ton more. He was in and out of jail, which kept him in and out of my life. But he had cleaned himself up, and it seemed like to right time to explore a relationship. So, after I walked the stage, I said goodbye to my mother and siblings. They were going to go back to Puerto Rico, and I would live with my father.
It started well. We would often go out, my father and I. We would spend time talking and getting to know each other. I even had the chance to start school there and made some friends. But it wasn’t long until his substance abuse showed up.
I don’t know how, but my mother knew something wasn’t right. And her calls were becoming ever-increasing. Therefore, before thanksgiving, I was on a plane heading to Puerto Rico.
It was in Puerto Rico where I felt as though I was given a fresh start. No one there knew me, and this opportunity to reinvent myself excited me. My mother was visiting a church at that time, and it wasn’t long until I found myself also visiting. While I started my spiritual journey there, there came a season when it was time to move on. My mother wanted me to stay with her, but she understood why I wanted to move on; and connected me with a man I’m glad I met.
When I was growing up, I had a good relationship with my stepfather. He was a strong manly man. He was always working with his hands, and it seemed like there was nothing he couldn’t fix. He fixed houses, bikes, cars, and he had the answer whenever our Nintendo gave trouble. Although he would demonstrate his love, he would never say, “I love you.” On the other hand, my father was in and out of my life growing up, but he was so affectionate when present. He would often tell me he loved me and that he was proud of me. I often thought if I could combine the two, I would have a great dad.
The one person I’m glad I met became the father figure I wished for as a child. He was strong, smart, and still displayed a vulnerability. The day I met pastor Miguel Ayala, I told my mother I no longer wanted to attend the same church as her, and instead of trying to force me to stay with her, she introduced me to pastor Miguel Ayala. He quickly became a mentor.
While I would move back to Rochester a couple of years later, his teachings have guided me. He taught me how to pray, how to study the Bible, and how to serve. The standard was Christ, and he constantly forced the question: “Are you living up to Christ’s standard?” His sermons were thought-provoking, and his advice was packed with compassion and wisdom. Although he constantly would point the spotlight to Christ, he was the template of leadership for me.
Paul, writing to Timothy, says, “To Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.” And growing up without a real example of what a strong yet gentleman looked like, meeting pastor Miguel Ayala allowed me to see that the balance was and is possible. It is possible to be vulnerable yet stern and love fearlessly yet be fearless in the face of hate and attacks. He was a mentor and a pastor, and he became my spiritual father, much like Paul to Timothy.
Life’s journey has made it that we are far apart, but I still hear his voice of counsel saying, “Miguel, no one can give what they don’t have.” As a way of saying — a teacher can’t teach if he has not first learned as a student, and a preacher can’t preach if he hasn’t lived the message.