The photo of Salvadorian refugees Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his 23-month-old daughter Valeria floating face down in the Rio Grande haunts us with the stark reality of unintended consequences. As sad as it is, this photo also inspires some of us. Óscar’s sacrificial love for his daughter Valeria is emblematic of exemplary fatherhood.
Putting aside, for their sake, all politics for a while, Óscar’s last desperate moments of his earthly life remind us of what Jesus said in John 15:13: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (KJV). Most fathers would sacrifice themselves while attempting to save their children. It’s God-given instinct. In this newspaper we’ve read about a few tragic accounts occurring at area lakes or inside burning houses or vehicle wrecks. But most of us are untested. Óscar aced his ultimate dad test.
And what if Óscar and Valeria had survived, passed the interviewing process, been granted asylum status and a sponsor and then applied for permanent residency after a one-year waiting period? Based on that photograph, we could presume that heroic, determined Óscar would have culturally assimilated and eventually become a naturalized U.S. citizen after five years as a permanent resident. He would have contributed to our U.S. economy through his honest labor.
We pray God will comfort the families of Óscar and Valeria and protect other migrants and refugees from harm. As conservative evangelicals, my immediate family believes Valeria’s eternal soul is now asleep in the presence of Jesus awaiting the Second Coming and the resurrection. Valeria drowned before she reached the age of moral accountability and we believe all young children go to heaven when they die. Some churches which baptize infants aren’t so sure about that. We pray that Óscar was a Christian. If he was, then we can hope with some certainty his soul is with Valeria’s now.
But what if Óscar and Valeria weren’t Christians but survived the Rio Grande? Let’s hope that Valeria would have made a friend at her library reading program who invited her to church. After a while attending church, Valeria would want her dad to attend church with her. The pastor or Sunday School teacher at the church, would recognize Óscar was a truth-seeker. In the tradition of Christian evangelist R.A.Torrey (1856-1928), he would suggest to Óscar that he start reading the book of John in the Holy Bible. Before each reading Óscar should pray to God a simple prayer such as, “God, if you exist, convince me as I read these scriptures, so that I may become your child, mature in my faith through your Holy Spirit, and receive salvation through grace.”
As a Christian, Óscar would learn that Christian fathers are to lead their families to live out their faith with obedience to God and perform good works in His name. These fathers encourage and assist with their children’s Christian education and, with God’s help, model Christian behavior (Proverbs 22:6; Ephesians 6:4). And when these fathers sin, they seek forgiveness and repent. It would encourage Valeria if she occasionally saw Óscar on his knees humbly praying to God. Óscar would be affectionate to both Valeria and her mom, Tania Vanessa, demonstrating how a man should treat women and girls with gentleness and respect (Ephesians 5:25). Our children, when properly raised as God instructed (Proverbs 22:6; Ephesians 6:4), are blessings to their parents. We should praise God for our children in their presence at family gatherings such as Thanksgiving meals or birthday parties. Óscar would have frequently thanked God for Valeria. He would have engaged Valeria in daily substantive conversations providing “active listening” that included responsive body language with plenty of eye contact, paying close attention to her stories, responding appropriately. He would have helped her learn to ride her bike after taking off the training wheels. He would have warned her about pedophiles and dangers on the Internet and protected her from school bullies. He would have been attentive to her moments of depression, attempts to self-harm, suicidal thoughts or plans to harm others. He would have given her a few weekly chores to complete so that she would become responsibly competent in her duties, learn to honor her commitments and develop a healthy self-concept and pride in her work.
Óscar might have shown her some soccer skills he recalled from his Salvadorian boyhood but he would have turned off televised sports while she did her homework so as not to distract her. He would have attended her school’s meet-the-teacher nights at school, chauffeured her to ballet classes and attended her choir concerts. He would have become acquainted with her friends’ parents and learned about their values and habits. He would have asserted his parental right to search Valeria’s room for contraband. Óscar would have worked extra hours to pay for that traditional Mesoamerican quinceanera dress Valeria wanted for her 15th birthday. He would have taught her how to drive safely after purchasing a reliable used car for her from a friend or dealership. And he might have jokingly leaned his shotgun against the living room wall when she was old enough to date so that her young man, upon arrival, would see it and perceive a not-so-subtle fatherly message.
Óscar would have also encouraged Valeria to remain chaste so as to present her future husband with her purity on their wedding night. And he would have beamed with pride while dancing with Valeria at her wedding.
As daughter Valeria progressed in school, she would have helped Óscar hone his English language skills to study for his citizenship examination. He would then learn about the U.S. history and acquire respect for the U.S. Constitution and love for the freedoms it secures. And after years of working hard he might have become a prosperous naturalized U.S. citizen. He would have cherished his new life in the United States.
That photo should cause us fathers to pause and reflect on our mortality and our family’s. Research shows most children of fathers who attend church regularly are likely to attend church also in their adult lives. Fathers have more influence on their children’s faith lives than even do the mothers. This remains true even among divorced families. If fathers possess this special gift, they also have a special responsibility to use it. Some day all of us will end up like Óscar and Valeria. We hope our lives won’t end as tragically as theirs. But contemplate the possibility of an early death.
Search YouTube for “Pastor Mike Toby, First Woodway Baptist Church-Sunday, November 11, 2012” to hear this courageous Christian say farewell to his congregation. Christian men should commit, with God’s help, to be good fathers. Christians will rejoice at the Second Coming reunion with our earthly family believers and others who encouraged us in our Christian faith. How joyous it will be for fathers to hear then, “Thanks, Dad, for helping me become a child of God!”