Single dad buys a Christmas tree for his kids

On lunch break from his job as a teacher’s aide at the Salvation Army‘s preschool program in San Francisco, Alvin Bautista flashed a big smile. He had bought his own kids a Christmas tree for the first time in eight years.

With the purchase of the tree, though, came sacrifices. Bautista, who makes around $1,300 a month and is the primary caregiver for his family, was left with just enough money for the week to cover bus and BART fare for himself and his kids. His parents help out by bringing food and his kids get free breakfast and lunch at school.“It’s a good feeling, as a father, as a man,” said Bautista, 46, who was raised in San Francisco and lives with his teenage son and daughter in subsidized housing in the Excelsior district.

“I spoke to the kids about Christmas,” Bautista said, folding his hands, “and asked them if they can wait for presents until I get my tax (refund) in February. They said yes. We all love each other and support each other.”

Bautista, whose parents came to San Francisco from the Philippines in 1973 and found work as housekeepers at a Holiday Inn, had his life of stability turned upside down in late 2004, when his wife of nine years said she wanted a divorce.

A month later, he lost his job at St. Luke’s Hospital, where he had worked for four years in administration. He moved out, started drinking, and lived for four months in his Toyota Corolla.


“I went into a path of self-destruction,” said Bautista, who has a gentle manner but the watchful gaze of someone who has weathered life’s ups and downs. In early 2005, Bautista went to live with his brother in Seattle. He worked at Mervyn’s, scrimping and saving so his son, Cyris, and daughter, Julie, could visit him on school holidays and breaks.

“The turning point came when I got a call from my son’s second-grade teacher,” Bautista recalled. “She said she was concerned that my son had changed, and that he seemed depressed and wasn’t getting involved like he used to. I knew then that I needed to be with my kids.”

Back in the city

He and his brother got into his 1996 Oldsmobile and said a prayer that the car would make it to San Francisco. It did, but died just as they reached the city. Bautista spent most of 2007 living with another brother in Vallejo, where his son joined him full time and his daughter spent weekends there. (Bautista only had a couch in the basement, so space was limited.)

Sober for a number of years, his focus is on his children – and teaching other kids. In 2009, Bautista landed a job he loved, at his kids’ school, St. Anthony’s in San Francisco. He was a teacher’s aide, and also served as athletic director and coached the school’s basketball and volleyball teams. By now, his ex-wife was remarried, and his kids were living with him full time.

“We had a little apartment in Daly City and life was good,” Bautista said. “I had my kids. The job was good. I got to see them at school and be with them.”

Laid off again

In 2011, though, he got laid off again. The bills started piling up. He was late on his rent. His car broke down and he couldn’t pay to have it repaired. He lived on unemployment for a year, before going to the Veterans Affairs medical clinic and finding help. (Bautista served in the U.S. Army for three years starting in 1986.)

He got a job, and qualified for Section 8 housing for veterans. He and the kids – Julie is a 17-year-old senior at Lowell High and Cyris is 15 and at Lincoln High – now live in a quiet and safe three-bedroom home. Forty percent of his income goes to pay rent.

Deposit on a home

He says he could not have moved into the beautiful home had it not been for the Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund. The fund covered the security deposit on the three-bedroom unit, and also paid for three new mattresses – something he could not have afforded on his own.

“This is the first time my kids have had their own rooms,” he said. “This is truly a blessing.”

Also for the first time in years, he hosted Thanksgiving at his house.

“We didn’t think we were going to be able to have Thanksgiving because we couldn’t afford it, but my parents brought the food,” he said. “It was beautiful. And we are going to host Christmas.”

Bautista is still living paycheck to paycheck. He hasn’t had a car in two years, and dreams of owning one so he can drive his kids to school and then drive himself to work. He still volunteers as a basketball coach at two Catholic schools, including St. Anthony’s, but has to rely on public transportation.

1 computer, old TV

They have one computer in their home and one 17-year-old television. He has learned to cook, though his creations often prompt wisecracks from his kids. He is actively searching for a higher paying job, something he talks about with his supervisors at the Salvation Army.

Despite the ongoing challenges, he says he is in a good place.

His eyes welled with emotion as he recalled hosting Thanksgiving, and looked forward to Christmas.

“At Thanksgiving, I just stood there and looked around and smiled,” Bautista said.


Julian Guthrie is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: Twitter: @JulianGuthrie

The original article can be found here.