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By: Eugene K. Chow

Martin Cortijo, 43, never wanted to be a father, but the moment he met his daughter he realized there was nothing more important in his life than her.

“Everything changed for me when I picked her up and held her for the first time,” he remembers. “I cried and told her that I would always be there for her.”

A dedicated family man, Martin has worked hard to ensure that his seven-year-old daughter, Infinity, has everything she needs to succeed in life and that he is the best possible role model.

“Anyone can be a dad, but not everyone can be a father,” he said.

Sadly, that was a lesson he learned first-hand as a young child.

Growing up in the Bronx in a rough neighborhood, Martin had few, if any, positive influences in his life. He never knew his father, his older siblings and mother abused drugs, and his step-father frequently came home drunk.

“It was a bad neighborhood. There was fighting, drugs, stealing, and robbing. I did everything that was there,” he said. “By the age of nine, I was on my own. At 10, I would be out until two or three in the morning.”

His brother was locked away for 23 years, and eventually Martin fell on the wrong side of the law too.

But things changed after he met his future wife at the carwash where he worked. They began talking and found out that they had grown up in the same neighborhood and gone to the same high school. They fell in love and have been married for the last 22 years.

As much as he loved his wife, Martin’s life would be even more dramatically transformed after his daughter was born.

Determined to ensure that his daughter would not repeat the mistakes of his past, he moved to Pelham Bay Park.

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“I moved out of my old neighborhood because I didn’t want my daughter to grow up like I did,” he explained.
Perhaps more importantly, he wanted to give his daughter the absolute best, but realized he needed help figuring out what that meant.

Like every first-time parent, he and his wife were anxious when their daughter was first born. They would visit their pediatrician two to three times a week to discuss matters large and small. Eventually, a social worker recommended they visit the Robin Hood-funded Rose F. Kennedy Children’s Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx. The program would prove pivotal.

At the center, he and his wife joined the intensive Group Attachment Based Intervention (GABI) and worked hard to become the kind of parents they never had and to break the intergenerational patterns they internalized as children. There they found a community of parents with similar concerns and struggles who supported each other.

“They say it takes a village to raise a child and [the program] gave me a whole village,” he said. “Even though we were all different we could relate because we all wanted the same thing — to be the best parents for our kids.”

More than just support, the program gave him the emotional tools and techniques he needed to be an even better father. He learned to understand his infant daughter’s moods, how to interpret cues, what her needs were, and the steps he needed to take to address those needs.

“I thought I was a good father, but [the program] showed me how to be a great father,” he said.
Dr. Anne Murphy, the program’s director, said, “Martin has worked very hard to understand his difficult early years. He’s made significant strides to become the person he is today. We’re all very inspired by him.”

While the program helped him become the father he never had, Martin never lacked motivation or love. Seven years later, he can still rattle off every detail from the day his daughter was born.

“She was born August 20th, 2008 at 8:46 p.m. 20 inches, 7 pounds, 11 ounces,” he proudly recalls. “That was the happiest day of my life.”

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The Rose F. Kennedy Children’s Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center at Montefiore is a Robin Hood-supported program that provides a broad spectrum of clinical services for infants, children, and their parents who are struggling with physical, emotional, and developmental disabilities. RFK is a University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities with a significant professional training and advocacy mission.

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