Tim Z. Hernandez on How He is Honoring His Children Through His Work
Regardless of the path we may take, life can be an incredible gift. Riddled with beautiful highs and difficult lows, the lessons we learn always teach us something fundamental about who we are—that whether we realize it or not, we can be marvelously resilient.
Author Tim Z. Hernandez chose a path, that while sometimes challenging, has been one of the most rewarding of his life. The journey he embarked on? That of single fatherhood. He has documented his twist-filled journey in his poetry book Some of the Light, which releases on March 28.
Hernandez tells People Chica, "I didn't set out to write these poems about single fatherhood because I thought there was a void that needed to be addressed, I wrote these poems as a matter of my own survival. If there's any one thing that being a single parent has taught me it's that my true light is in being a parent."
In an exclusive interview with People Chica, the author and poet details why his latest literary endeavor is an ode to his children and how poetry can be accessible to everyone.
You don't often see books, novels, or poetry diving into a topic such as fatherhood—let alone single fatherhood. Why do you feel society, and the Latinx community, needs more literature like this?
I didn't set out to write these poems about single fatherhood because I thought there was a void that needed to be addressed, I wrote these poems as a matter of my own survival. If there's any one thing that being a single parent has taught me it's that my true light is in being a parent.
I struggled with my situation in the beginning, but thanks to my meditation practice I suddenly [started] seeing that being in service of others (my children) is a calling of the highest order. And I've always turned to poetry as a means of reflecting on my own experiences, of making sense of things, and to not feel so alone.
The act of writing poetry reminds me that I'm connected to a larger body/ spirit. Also, I felt the pandemic invited us all into a deeper sense of contemplation, and I just happened to write mine down. It was helpful to me, and if these poetic contemplations are helpful to others [then] all the better.
In writing Some of the Light, what was the biggest lesson you learned about yourself? What was the biggest lesson you learned as it relates to your two children?
The process of writing these poems was very much a contemplative one. The poems in every way were meditations, and at times, prayers. I learned that the struggle and challenges I was facing as a single father raising two teens [were] actually the very richness of what I call "my life." Being their taxi round the clock, struggling to make ends meet, cooking meals daily, helping my babies keep their grades up, all of it, as difficult and grueling as it often is, when looked through a lens of gratitude, and servitude, was truly the richness of my life.
I also wrote the poems as a way to document for my children what has taken place during this brief hiccup of time that we are together because it won't always be this way. Our connection will always exist but it will evolve into other incarnations. So I wrote the poems as love letters to them in the future. Also, it was a deliberate choice that I've remained a single-parent household for years now, and it isn't without its sacrifices, but for me, there was just no other way.
The autonomy to raise my children in a day-to-day reality that affords them a solid foundation and stability is what allows us as a family to be wholly present with one another. And this is always the goal. The poems become a way of documenting all of this.
Poetry often lends itself to being the perfect vehicle for topics such as social justice, immigration, and the many inequalities many underserved communities experience throughout their lives. Why do you believe that to be true?
I see my poetry as being loyal to the idea of our shared humanity, rather than falling under the loftier label of "social justice." When I consider a subject, it's never with the possibility that I might change anybody's point of view with a poem, but instead, the questions I ask are more to myself.
How am I complicit in this same act? Or where within me and my life choices am I capable of committing that which is so easy to accuse others of? My poems are a process of looking inward, rather than outward. So each subject has to relate to me personally in some way. I have a poem in this collection about children detained in cages, and throughout the poem, I [ask] myself, "Where and in what ways have I caged my own children?" Metaphorically speaking, of course.
But if there's any kind of change that poetry can bring about, it'll only happen within the self. This is where the power of a poem resides. And if we do it honestly, then we reach a place of that "shared humanity" I'm talking about. The things we all as humans have in common.
How do you hope Some of the Light will resonate with readers?
I hope readers will find a bit of joy, even humor, contemplation, and maybe it'll inspire them to sit down and keep their own journal of their lives, and within that find the gratitude within their daily living, as parents, as workers, and as adults seeking to love and be loved.
Poetry can be many things but is often seen as an underrated form of literature as some people equate it with text and themes that may seem difficult to comprehend. Why is that not the case? What is something people don't often understand about poetry?
Everyone spends long periods of time contemplating their own experiences. A poet simply writes them down so that others don't have to. But if we turn to poetry, just as we do to spiritual texts or self-help books, we'll find an even more accessible kind of wisdom happening there.
I think for so long poetry has been thought of as some inaccessible art form, and some of it might be, but there are a large number of great poets in the world, then and now, who've committed themselves to making their poetry accessible to one and all. There is no good or bad poetry, there's only the poem that is or isn't meant for you.
Along with poetry, you've also dabbled in fiction, non-fiction, and screenwriting. Has writing in one genre helped you perfect writing in others?
I don't view my writing according to genres. I don't set out to write a poem, or a novel, etc. I prefer a more organic process. A subject speaks to me and I begin writing. I don't know what it'll look like in the end. It's the process of discovery that I'm after.
Eventually, after working on it for some time, the subject will begin to tell me what shape or form, or genre it wants to take, and so I listen. Of course, having a grasp of the various tools that each genre provides is helpful. But yes, sometimes they do cross-pollinate my writing, and I see it as an exciting discovery when it happens.
If you could give a younger Tim some advice about the way his literary career will turn out? What is something you'd say to a more mature Tim about the choices he's made?
To the younger Tim, I'd probably say, "This is your calling, never doubt yourself, and more than anything else, follow your instincts."
To the older Tim, I'd say, "Your life will not be measured by your books, or career, or financial status, or dreams or goals, but by whether or not your children can say, 'He was a good dad.' This is the only success that matters."