When I was about four years old, my mother and father were getting ready for divorce. The biggest argument was who was going to keep little Ray, you know, me.
My father’s ego was the reason he wanted to keep me. My mother would not have it. A physical fight broke out and after he beat her, he kidnapped me to Cuba, where he was born and had family. My father was in the Air Force, on leave and he was ready to spend the rest of his life with me in Cuba if my mom was going to press charges on him. However, when we got to Cuba, his mother told him that my mom was not going to press charges.
Instead of taking me back to New York, he left me in Cuba with family and reported back to his Air Force base in Ohio. It took my mom almost six months to raise the money for two airline tickets from Cuba to New York. I believe this was 1959, just before Castro took power. My mom put her life at risk to make sure her little boy got out of Cuba.
Years later, she would tell me about the ordeal and I asked her why she did it. She would say that number one, I was the love of her life and number two, I deserved to be an American citizen.
Had I stayed in Cuba, I would have lost my last true freedom as a man.
That period of my life has always helped me become a better parent to my four children, who are multicultural. They are Latino, Italian and African-American and, may I add, very proud of it. As a father, it makes me honored to see their pride in their backgrounds.
One of the most important things that happened to me was I once saw an interview with Desi Arnaz, probably one of the most influential entertainers to come out of Cuba. Most of you know him as Ricky Ricardo from the show I Love Lucy.
Ed Sullivan was interviewing Desi and Lucille Ball. Desi said that none of the great things in his life would be possible if he was in another country and then he started to cry. As I watched this interview, I started crying too, because I truly understood what he meant and at that point, more than ever, I was proud to be an American citizen.
Desi Arnaz would forever be one of my heroes.
When I heard about Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers and his refusal to stand up for the National Anthem, I got very sad for the message that he was sending to kids everywhere, the mixed message he was sending to both black and white and the message he was giving himself.
I say this because ten years from now, he will ask himself why he did that and frankly, you can’t get it back.
My brother, what other country can you have the kind of life you are living? You are lucky you don’t have The Boss that I had, because you would not be employed any longer. The Forefathers of this country don’t deserve that blatant disrespect.
You are being a follower and not a leader. It’s not too late to do the right thing. As a dad, I beg of you, for the kids of this country that love football – and maybe love you – the next time you hear the National Anthem get your rear-end up.
That will send a wonderful message.