After more than four decades, Rob still feels a knot in his stomach when he thinks about his father. He didn’t see him much after he was 5 years old.

Although his dad rarely called, Rob remembers his tearful, sobbing voice. “He would tell me how much he loved me and that he would come and see me sometime.” He promised they’d go to ballgames together … spend some time camping … just the two of them.

But every promise proved empty.

His mother, Lucille Hernandez Smith, worked two or three jobs and spoke little about Rob’s dad. He had to learn from his uncles that his father was an alcoholic who “drank away the paycheck.”

Missing pieces

Rob missed having a dad “to take me camping, to teach me to drive, to come to my games, to teach me life.”  But his mother did her best to fill the roles of both mom and dad. She taught her children right from wrong and how to care for those who had less. “There weren’t that many who had less than us,” Rob says.

Rob didn’t make it easy for her. He recalls the day he and his mom dropped his high school girlfriend off at her house.  After watching the girl walk alone across the street and up about 20 flights of stairs, Lucille asked, “Do you always drop her off like that?”

“Like what?”

Lucille told Rob that he should not only pick up his girlfriend at the front door, but also bring her back there … no matter how many steps he’d have to walk up.

Rob was annoyed. “This is why I need a father. Where is he? I should know these things and don’t, so get off my back.”

Lucille began to cry. “She also felt the missing pieces to our family,” Rob says.

No place to call home

Life took a turn for the worse after Rob’s senior year of high school. His mother just couldn’t shake a bad summer cold, and when she finally went to the doctor she was diagnosed with cancer. A few months later, it got so bad that she couldn’t work.

As Lucille lay on her deathbed at home, she begged Rob to read the Bible to her. Sometimes, after reading passage after passage, he would try to slip out of her room, thinking that she had drifted off to sleep. That’s when he’d hear her say: “Keep reading—it’s the words of God.”

“It was in those moments of reading truth while she lay there dying,” Rob says. “… [that] I found real life in Jesus.”

Rob Smith was just 19 years old when his mother slipped into eternity.  But because of his personal relationship with Jesus Christ, he wasn’t alone.

A dream fulfilled

Now, after more than three decades, Rob continues to reflect on the positive impact of his mother’s life. He’s done his best to follow her example—to to point his children to faith in Christ.

He’s also tried to give his children the things that he lacked growing up. “I strived to be the best dad,” he said, “To give them academics, athletics, and confidence in Christ.”

Despite this, he’s continued to be haunted by the same questions: Why couldn’t his legacy carry the name of the woman who pointed him to Christ and sacrificed so much for her children?

Why couldn’t his family have a name that reflected their Hispanic heritage?

Then in the summer of 2013, his grown sons, Nate and Jake, had an answer: “Why couldn’t the entire family change their last name—together?”

Rob mulled over their suggestion. Could his wife, Teresa, and their sons really change their last name from Smith to Hernandez?

He had long ago forgiven his father for deserting the family, so his purpose in doing this wouldn’t be to dishonor him. And after all, his father had been dead for more than 20 years.

Then he began to wonder, Why not follow through and become a Hernandez? Why not honor my Hispanic heritage and the mother I loved?

The process wasn’t easy. But after months of legal counsel and hard work, Rob and his wife, Teresa, and their two sons became the Hernandez family.

The old name Smith, with its reminder of Rob’s broken past, is gone. And the new has come.

With the change of name, Rob threw down the gauntlet for Nate and Jake. It is now up to them to carry on the legacy that their grandmother once began: Hope in Christ. Commitment to family. Care for others.

Lucille’s time on this earth is over. But the journey through life for the Rob Hernandez family has just begun.

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