I am from Argentina and in my 40s, and I have a beautiful family—a husband and two boys, 12 and 8 years old. We live in a nice northern suburb of Chicago, and life has been wonderful with all of us.
I am an only child, and I left my sweet home in Argentina back in 2002, when my husband (at that time my boyfriend) had an opportunity for a new job in the United States. My parents managed very well without having me and my family close by. They were a very loving couple. My dad was always a very loving husband and father; he spoiled my kids every time he could and was a very funny and positive person. My parents loved to travel, and they enjoyed life together.
In June 2018, my parents came from Argentina to visit us for a month (like they did each year) to enjoy the kids during summer. I was shocked to see my dad when I picked him up from the airport because he was looking very pale and skinny. However, he wasn’t complaining of any major health problems. On the phone, my mom told me that he’d been losing more weight than normal, but they decided to consult with a doctor after their trip to Chicago.
The first week he was here, I noticed he was feeling uncomfortable while eating, and after meals, he had some stomachaches and mouth sores. I asked him how long he’d been feeling all these symptoms, and he said, “Three months.” I was furious with him for not letting us know earlier and not going to a doctor. I decided to take him to my physician to find out what the problem could be.
After a regular checkup, the doctor suggested they get back to Argentina and perform more screening tests in case of a possible tumor.
It was a very sad but necessary return home for them. In the meantime, I was devastated and waiting for the worst possible diagnosis: cancer.
Two weeks after they returned to Argentina, I received a phone call from my mom. “Dad is in the hospital, with a lot of fever and feeling very weak,” she said. I packed a suitcase and went to the airport immediately to help my mom and dad through this moment.
I was the first one to get the bad and shocking news: “Your dad does not have any type of cancer; he is HIV positive.” I will never forget that moment in front of the doctor as my mom waited inside the room holding my dad’s hand not only not knowing what he had but also not knowing the disillusion and betrayal she was going to go through.
I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, thinking that maybe he got HIV from some medical procedure or even drugs, but after talking to my mom that night, I knew that he contracted HIV through sex. My mom was devastated. She was silent for hours and couldn’t even cry about it.
The worst part came when I had to ask her to get tested for HIV. She confessed that they hadn’t had sex for a few years and the probability of her being infected was very low. I persisted because I did not know exactly when he got HIV, and I had to ensure she was HIV negative.
That first night, after we got the news, my mom confined herself in her bedroom, and I started to investigate my dad’s iPad, his email and his phone. I found a whole new world of my dad’s that I would never have imagined.
He was having a relationship with a transgender woman and had other previous sexual relationships with women. My father was now a complete stranger to me.
I hid my terrible discovery from my mom; I couldn’t give her more upsetting news. She had enough on her plate to deal with. We had to go back to the hospital and face him knowing the truth. He hadn’t yet heard the official diagnosis from the doctor, and he was going to get the news that next morning.
Two days later, I picked up the lab test from my mom—she was HIV negative. The result was a relief in an ocean of sadness and drama.
From that moment, all I remember was anger and disappointment. I asked him every single question I had; I blamed him for all we were going through.
Knowing that I had to return home to Chicago and leave my mom behind in that situation was a huge burden.
When I got back to my family in Chicago, my boys were worried about their grandpa, and they had a bunch of questions. I lied and told them it was cancer. I couldn’t explain what was happening with my dad. I hate myself for having said that because for a lot of people cancer is their reality and how they lose their love ones. Yet I used it to hide the HIV that my dad got for having a double life.
The prognosis in the following weeks was not good. Even when they started to give him HIV treatment, the virus was too far advanced.
I’d only told the truth to a few people: some very close friends and family members. Even when I told the truth about his condition, I still hid the information I found about his various sexual partners. I was ashamed and didn’t want my mom to find out that terrible part of him. She believed the version that he had sex with another woman, and he did not use sexual protection. If she ever suspected something else, I didn’t know and I didn’t ask.
A month later, I flew back to Argentina. My dad’s condition was stable, and he was going to be released from the hospital. But his life expectancy was no more than a few months.
I helped my mom find a place for my dad to be taken care of and also took care of her finances. At 74 years old, she was very unstable and needed to start taking care of her own health.
I followed the advice of a good friend and my husband and decided I needed to talk with my dad and make peace with him and myself before it was too late. It was hard because I was not emotionally or mentally prepared, but I understood we were running out of time, and I wouldn’t have many more chances. I looked him in his eyes, and I said, “Dad, it’s very hard for me to say I forgive you because I don’t even know if that is my place. I am not your wife, but I feel sorry for Mom, and I hate the fact that your mistake put both of us in this situation. You do not need to answer my questions. It will take me a lot of years to process what you had faced all these years. I do not want to say goodbye without saying that I won’t give up on you, and this end will never erase the fact that you’ve been a great father to me.”
I returned to Chicago, and two days later, my mom was hospitalized because she had very high blood sugar and lab tests showed she was diabetic. My cousins and aunts helped until she was released from the hospital. For one week, I had both parents in two different places with very serious conditions. The distance apart did not help at all.
On Friday, October 19, 2018, my dad passed away. I hate to say these words, but, though I was heartbroken, I also felt relief for him and my mom. I never thought that I would feel that his death was a good thing.
That is my story. Months passed, and now after more than a year of his death, I dedicate my days to keeping my mom strong, helping her and supporting her through her new life alone. I helped her go through the angry times and continue to help her through the sad and lost times when she still looks at the sky and asks “Why, why me and why us?”
I am still processing this loss and the ways to cope with the pain and double feelings for my dad. I’m looking for some kind of support by sharing my story and listening to other stories as well. I would like to start opening up those taboos about my dad’s lifestyle and this disease that unfortunately still takes hundreds of lives every single day.
What adjectives best describe you?
What is your greatest achievement?
I organized my mom’s life after my dad passed away.
What is your greatest regret?
Not realizing that my dad was in need or was hiding his problems.
What keeps you up at night?
The memories of my dad in the hospital and my anger and disappointment.
If you could change one thing about living with HIV, what would it be?
People who know or feel they have HIV should be honest with their families. Please do not hide this condition or anything else about your life with your loved ones.
What is the best advice you ever received?
Remember the best moments of my dad and do not forget that despite his weakness or mistakes, he was a very good father to me.
What person in the HIV/AIDS community do you most admire?
What drives you to do what you do?
My family and my friends.
What is your motto?
“Live life every day as if it were the last day.”
If you had to evacuate your house immediately, what is the one thing you would grab on the way out?
My cell phone.
If you could be any animal, what would you be? And why?
A bird. I would love to fly and not have limits where I can go.