While the world celebrates Father’s Day today, for San Fernando Mayor Junia Regrello, it is a stark reminder of how much he has missed not having a father to celebrate.
You see Regrello, revealed, “I never knew my father. I have never seen a picture of my father. I don’t know if he was short or if he was tall.”
All he inherited from his father, an Italian engineer who came to Trinidad to work in the 1950’s at Texaco, was his name. His mother, May Arthur, who died in 1978 from cancer, was his father’s housekeeper. There was never a relationship, no communication, no correspondence. No looking back on the son he fathered.
However, growing up in a single-parent household with five other siblings, did not deter Regrello from dreaming and achieving, although the academic and political achievement came later in his life.
Addressing a Father’s Day celebration at City Hall on Thursday, Regrello asked his audience, “How many of us, on reflection, can say that we do not have a father, or we did not know our father?
“Sometimes, and in most situations, you have runaway fathers. Fathers who renege on their responsibilities, fathers seen on birthdays or Christmas time or occasionally, or when school is about to open, they pass and drop something.
“But could you imagine what it is to grow up without ever seeing your father? Not a picture of him; because I was born in the 1950’s and there was no social media at that time.”
In an interview with Sunday Newsday he recalled, “There was no perfect relationship between my mother and father because my mother was my father’s domestic servant. He was an engineer.” Pregnant and fired from her job because of her situation, the hurt May Arthur experienced remained with her until death in 1978.
“She kept everything to her chest. She rarely spoke about the situation,” Regrello said noting how angry she would get when he sought to question her about his heritage.
As he grew older, Regrello started questioning his personality traits and habits as he witnessed the growth of his five children and the impact of his DNA on them. “I looked at my children and I see so many different aspects of them in me, I ask myself what do I have of my father? I see traits of me in Nicholas, I see traits of me in Joshua and in my other three children, Dionne, Mandisa and Javan. The simple things, like the way my body is shaped, the idiosyncrasies. From that perspective, I am almost in a darkroom where my father is concerned.”
Looking in the mirror as his children started to mature and he had to engage them in conversations about life with a narrative which reflected his own personal experience, Regrello sadly admitted, “I had no one to say this to me when I was growing up.
“I had no one to say, ‘Based on my own experience, I don’t want you to do this or do that.’ It is hard, as I get older and have to interact with my own children based on issues and challenges they have, I realise how much I have missed not having a father.
“I look at myself and say, my mother was dark-skinned and I look at myself and ask, do I look like my father? My love for the arts, where did that come from? Joshua (his last son) is into music, that came from me. Who did I get it from? Was my father an artistic person? Was he a creative person? Did he have an appreciation for politics? I don’t know and that bothers me. It provokes thoughts that bother me,” he said
As an adult he attempted to find his father, but did not pursue it in the end. He recalled on one of his trips to Italy as leader of Skiffle Bunch Steel Orchestra, he went to the Italian consulate to get a visa. There he met consulate Dolores Bartaluzzo who wanted to know where he got his name. “My name has a religious context, it is the name for the Apostle Paul. My mother never liked it because she found it was girlish and used Junior. When I found out the significance of my name I started using Junia.”
He said Bartaluzzo researched his background and found out his father was from a place called Vencenza. He went there in 1994, “But when I got there I asked myself: ‘Why was I doing this?’ I was a big man already. I did not need this.”
In his address, he told members of staff how the experience of not having a father made him determined to be a good dad, always there for his children. He recalled how he surrounded his home with paintings, books on literature and newspapers, the headlines of which were discussed as a family.
Those things, he said, inculcate values and principles in children from an early age and he encouraged the men and women in the audience to spend time with their children. “Take time and spend with your children. Teach them these values because you are investing in the next generation. To the men, do meaningful things with your children because before you wink they will be gone and that nexus will not be there. You cannot reconnect when they are big. They will tell you straight you were not there for me or I don’t know you.
“Father’s Day is much more than just a day of celebration and receiving gifts. It is a day of reflection and understanding your role and function as a father.”