Sunday, January 21, 2018

Of Nice and Men

I’ve always taken pride in being empathic. I reward and develop friendships with service people who exceed my expectations. I always try to put myself in others’ shoes- the jeepney driver who cut me off, the pedestrian taking his sweet time to cross the street, household help who sometimes don’t get instructions clearly. Most of all, I try to understand difficult people as much as I can. 

Yesterday, a very important person, someone I care about deeply, someone I’ve always tried to understand and make excuses for, hurt me again. There’s something about this man that has always left me vulnerable. I’ve wanted nothing but to please him, make him proud of me. I’ve received a few praises over the years but what I remember the most are comments about my appearance and weight. He once said I looked like a whale. He said my husband (now ex-husband) would leave me because I was unattractive (he did, but because of another woman). He said I was too emotional, too nice, too friendly.

I greeted him with a kiss on the cheek as he entered the restaurant. A few minutes later,

Him (out of the blue): Your next project is to lose weight!
Me (trying to defend myself): Pagbigyan mo na ako (cut me some slack), I’ve been sick for three weeks! I’m also training for a half marathon and I run every day. 
Him (snickering): Alibi accepted!

I forced a smile and looked away in disbelief. I watched the woman beside him and waited for her to defend me but she was silent. 

"Fat" me (1 day before
the comment)

I cried as soon as I got home. Not a lot, but the pain was overwhelming. And familiar. I should be used to it by now, after 47 years of hearing that I’m lacking in one thing or another. Throughout my life, I’ve managed to smile respectfully at hurtful comments. I’ve tried to understand him and make excuses for him. I’ve never doubted his love for me but have always wanted to feel it. 

He’s shown it in more practical ways- with generous gifts, trips, my monthly allowance. And I’m grateful. I’ve learned to accept that this is how he shows it. And I have no doubt he loves me. 

But whenever I’m around him, I’m a nervous 5 year old afraid to spill water on the table. In my 40s, I’ve seen major changes in him. He has become more communicative, laid-back, funny, honest. So I’ve relaxed, too, and have tried to open up more. But when these comments come (mostly having to do with my weight), I am often caught unaware. I’d be paranoid if I was really overweight (like yesterday) but I know that, even if I’m not at my fittest, I’m not ugly-fat like he makes me feel.

While I was holding back tears in my bathroom after lunch, I finally admitted that this feeling of unworthiness from my father has permeated my life through the years. I guess the mental conditioning that I wasn’t good enough led me to go on with relationships that were detrimental to me. Because I wanted to prove I was worthy. Because I kept making excuses for these men, thinking they’ve had sad childhoods, or that they, themselves, did not feel valued by their families. Or maybe, “he’s just tired.” With my ex-husband, I also justified the lack of intimacy with “I’m fat and look disgusting.” Nowadays, when my husband says something that challenges my intellect, I often retort, “are you calling me stupid?!” Or “I’m not dumb, you know!” because I tend to think that people look down on me.

Although I’ve been going to a psychiatrist for a while now, we never really discussed childhood hurts. It was my choice; I never wanted to dig deeper. I’ve had so much trouble dealing with the “now” of my life that I didn’t want the added burden of trying to resolve past issues. Yesterday, I realized, that I didn’t need to spend hours with my shrink to dissect why I’m so screwed up. I was screwed up because I still kept hearing my father’s voice in my head. Whether in justifying my partners’ abuse or being defensive about being inferior, this feeling of unworthiness has been ingrained in me. And, now that I am more conscious about it, I want it to stop.

I don’t regret what happened yesterday. It was meant to happen. I was meant to see and realize. I guess I am in a better place to appreciate the value of that pain. And I’m hoping that I finally draw from that pain to be a better person.

I don’t blame Papa. I still want to make excuses for him but I don’t hate him. In fact, it was when I realized that, it wasn’t him that I was sad about but that, I have  allowed his silent voice to make me believe that I did not deserve love or to be treated well; or to believe in myself and feel secure. Yesterday was a turning point that, although painful, was long overdue. I was emotionally ready to go through it and process it better. To not dwell on the feelings but to draw from the experience and learn.

After my moment of sadness in the bathroom, I was walking with my 15-year old daughter to the pool. “Don’t give your dad such a hard time. He loves you. He always tells you that. He says you’re pretty and smart always. He really appreciates you.” She gave me a quizzed look so I told her what happened over lunch. She understood. And I hope that you, who have children, see this too. The seemingly innocent teasing, joking about appearance and weight, or of your child’s intellect, sometimes those linger. Like mine have. Don’t wait until your grown up child has to see a psychiatrist at 45! :p

The father-daughter dynamic is very crucial in shaping a
young girl's future. I'm grateful that their relationship has
gotten better through the years.

Empathy is good but not to the point of abuse. I want to learn to set limits. I will try my best to distance myself from people who always tend to hurt me or those who want nothing but to take advantage of my kindness and understanding. I will learn to bask in the love that I have long-deserved but never truly appreciated. I am worthy. I am loved. I deserve this. I know better now. I will be better now. :)

No more silent voices in my head! (Hopefully :p)

Friday, November 3, 2017

Getting through

Here I am, 10:30pm, thinking about how to get through another emotional night alone. With a bit of self-pitying, I think, “I just want to get through tonight.” 

Then, my thoughts turn to Vicky Caparas, my high school friend. We were never close, but she was special to me. And (unknown to me) I, to her. 

Vicky said during our school's 50th anniversary reunion in
2013, "Aya, ang ganda mo! Pa-picture naman!" I blushed
and felt so awkward because it seemed so insane.

She passed away on October 28, with none of her friends by her side because she didn't want us to know of her situation. After battling bone cancer for four months, she finally succumbed to the disease. During her wake, her family said that she refused to take any pain medications for supposedly “the most painful cancer.” She prayed and put her faith in God until the very end, trusting that whatever pain would come, they were temporary obstacles to a better, more peaceful, pain-free ever-after. 

How did Vicky get through?  How strong was that faith? How do I even get that? How do I believe that there will be a better tomorrow? 

How? Here’s how. From one of Vicky’s dearest friends, Dory, to me on Facebook Messenger:

Vicky, and her closest friends Dory and Divine, saw me as valuable. Even if I do not see myself as such. They drew happiness from the knowledge that I valued them. And, though they saw me as “perfect” which is far from how I feel right now, I have that responsibility- to spread love and kindness. These two traits, I am sure I have (no matter how tough I am when I question my worth). 

Love and kindness. I have so much of these to give and share and I rarely ask for much in return. I give ’til it hurts. I try my hardest to make others happy. And, sadly given my mental state, I try my best not to inconvenience others.

In my lowest moments, when I force myself to overcome the sadness alone because I dread to reach out to any one for fear of inconveniencing them with my petty troubles, this is what I have to remember, thanks to my super smart sister.

In the greater scheme of things, what are my troubles, anyway? Sadness? Tell that to my friend, Vicky. My mental state defeats me. Her mental state defeated the pain of her disease. 

Dearest Vicky, no. I am not the perfect one. I am highly flawed and weak. Without intending to, your struggle has shown me what strength is. Like me, you did not want to inconvenience your friends with your troubles (though mine are far more petty than what you went through). But, unlike me, you marched on, battling your disease with just the immense belief that you would get through. That you would see it until the end. 

The last time I saw Vicky (and Dory), 2016, during my 45th
birthday celebration

I was not the blessing in your life, after all. You were my blessing. Please watch over me, Vicky. Soar. And, finally- live!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Better late than never

Hard to believe, but I was always anti-social. I am an introvert and I try to avoid social situations because I don’t quite know how to talk to people for the first time. Or, once that conversation has started, how to sustain it. 

This is why I do not have many close friends from my youth. The few that I have from high school and college remain special (even though we rarely see each other) because they’re like family. We grew up together and we learned to accept each other for who we were. And no matter how much we’ve changed since then, they’ve accepted that that’s part of your evolution. They still love you no matter what you’ve become. 

In fact, during a recent trip to Singapore with them, I realized that I was wrong for thinking that ours was a not-so-deep connection. It was there that I realized that they see the "me" hidden inside the “lost” girl I've always been. As I went through a very painful event in my life, they hugged me and cried with me. I realized, then (and even now as they express their support for me through my depression), that no matter how rarely we meet, their concern is genuine and unconditional.

In the honors section all, nerdiness brought us together. We may
have morphed into new beings but our shared history binds us.

In my midlife, though, with the added self-confidence and decreased self-consciousness, I have gradually made new, deep, meaningful friendships.  It didn’t take a lot of effort, really. I was ripe for new connections that would help carry me through to the next stage of my life. 

Surprisingly, I found out how the friendships I developed in my midyears could actually be the anchors that will keep me grounded and sane. Maybe it’s because I am already formed. I know who I am now. I am comfortable in my skin and am not ashamed to be me. I have come to a point where I pride myself in knowing that I am a good, loyal, honest, supportive, loving friend. And if these new characters in my life don’t appreciate who I am right now, I can move on without the pain of rejection. 

Luckily, I now have friends who accept me as I am. Flaws and all. History and all. Scars, deficiencies, quirks and all. I am not perfect. And they have willingly expressed that they themselves aren’t. We are all just people trying to make the most out of our lives. We want to be happy and have the unconditional support of sisters to help us get through whatever challenges we are going through.  Funny how I found that support from my Seoul Sisters.

Initially, I hung out with them for laughs and beauty advice.
Nowadays, I don't need a reason to. A month without seeing
them is just not complete.

They were my high school schoolmates but we were never close. I was always nerdy, in the honors section, and I was never their classmate. So I rarely spoke to them. After knowing them better in my 40s though, I’d like to say that we’ve more than made up for lost time. I often run to them for ears- about my passions, my weaknesses and my insanity. Who would have known that the women I once thought of as “landi  (flirtatious) would be my major support system? They might have influenced me somewhat on the “landi” front, but if only to assure me that I am beautiful and I should not be ashamed to flaunt it. 

Then, thanks to my indoor cycling classes, I have had the wonderful opportunity to meet women who inspire me in different ways. My dearest Ting is like my Ate- she is a role model, she inspires and guides me (she is also my favorite cycling teacher :) ) The rest of my spin sisters come from a wide range of ages, one as young as 38 and then there’s me at 46 (!). We are in this circle to share different perspectives, different experiences, different passions but one motivation- to be there for each other when needed. Who would have thought? Me? Friends with my exercise classmates? Unheard of in my 4 decades, but real now. And worth cherishing for as long as I live. 

Whether we hang out over Happy Hour or in cycling class,
seeing these girls always lifts me up! (missing Donna and
Eleanor here)

46 years old. And only now am I planning nights-out, sleepovers and out-of-town trips with my girls. I feel like a teenager again! Secure in ourselves, we are not afraid to show each other who we really are. We are secure in each other’s love. I am grateful.

For so many years, I kept my guard up with other people. I was cautious of making friends for fear of being judged. Not anymore. I love and feel their love because I, myself, no longer have those judgmental cobwebs in my head. I am ready to trust and am willing to be vulnerable and lean on them for support. No matter how late in my life. ESPECIALLY THIS LATE IN MY LIFE!

No more solitary emoting! In my 40s, I realized
that I didn't have to carry it all alone.
I have friends!!!

Like I always say, “labia” girls. I’m looking forward to growing old with you! 

Monday, October 9, 2017

Things Midlife taught me, part 1 (because I’m sure I’ll think of more along the way!)

1. Long-term planning is futile. Didn’t I wish that my marriage (marriages :) ) would last forever? I don’t even believe in forever. You live one day at a time and make the most of each day. You don’t wake up everyday and kill yourself working for a goal that will make you happy one day. You make yourself happy, today. 

Be happy. No matter how short-lived!

2. Parenting is not easy. I used to blame my parents for not being affectionate. I told myself that I was flawed because I lacked hugs. Here I am now, a parent of a 15-year old girl, and I’m thinking, “if I was anywhere near this, I understand why my parents didn’t want to hug me!”

She got the quirky gene so now I understand what my parents 
went through! It's just a lot tougher because I see so much of 
me in her.

3. (Related to #2 above) MY PARENTS LOVE/D ME! I grew up feeling like the ugly duckling. I was different. (I was pretty! Hahaha! Seriously…) I was the lost child. The one who gave them the most headaches. They may have rarely shown their love before in traditional ways (they still don’t), but I feel it now. They love me and care for me. I just have to be open to receiving that love.

I have learned to accept that Papa's
"lumulobo ka na naman, ha?" 
actually means, "stay healthy, 
my baby girl!" :D

4. Motherhood supersedes ALL THINGS. Even your own happiness. The minute my children started expressing their wants- it was Jollibee every time we ate out! Or if we tried planning for a family trip, the answer always used to be “Disneyland!” (Which I dread like crazy because I have vertigo!)

But, really, their welfare trumps all things. The minute I had them, “I” was shoved to the back shelf. A mother would never allow herself to be happy at the expense of her children’s happiness.

4. Being Ms. Congeniality is tiring. I used to be a people-pleaser. I had to be friendly to everyone. I would tiptoe on eggshells so that I wouldn’t offend anyone. 

Well, those days are gone! I know now what I want, what makes me happy, what is worth my time. I take great efforts to nurture friendships that are important to me. Every one else can call me a B (although I’m rarely rude and never unkind). 

Though late in life, I developed deep friendships with people 
who help me stay sane.

5. To hell with what everyone thinks of me! I never wore sleeveless shirts most of my life because I knew I had fat arms. Well, those days are over! Global warming demands sleeveless shirts and halter tops! 

Seriously, I have loose skin because I lost 70 pounds. I even have stretch marks because I used to be an elephant (though my youngest says I’m a zebra because I have stripes!). But, when you’re 46 and you may die soon, you realize that you want to feel sexy even if you’re not perfect. You want to show some skin finally because you’re not too young that it’s immoral. You’re not too old that it’s disgusting. And, specially because, your husband understands your need to show more skin in your midlife. If not now, then when, right?!

Elephant no more! Now it's "baby elephant"! Hahaha! (I spy
stretch marks, cellulite and loose skin.)

6. I am “Aphrodite!” That’s what my psychiatrist said. She said that, under Jungian theory, I am an Aphrodite. I am naturally friendly and charming. I tend to attract people’s attention and admiration and (hard to believe!) I exude sensuality. (HA!- maybe I should replace my shrink!) So, I say to my husband, it’s not my fault that men (of a certain discount age) look at me stickily. Blame it on Carl Jung!

The shrink said I was a "Diana," too, but only
mildly. I was always meant to be "Aphrodite"!

And, finally for now….

7. Life is short. Make the most of each day. Tell people you love that you love them as much as you can. Forgive. Be kind always. Tie loose ends. And- live! Learn new things, love with passion, do good, find your happiness. Try not to die with regrets. We only get one chance at this. :D


Sunday, October 8, 2017

Hello, darkness, my old friend

My friends know- I’m an avid Facebook user. I’m on Facebook all the time with memories, my current events, even my diet and exercise. I have a happy, exciting Facebook life. What 95% of my Facebook friends don’t know, however, is how I’ve battled depression for most of my life. 

It started in my teens. I think I was 13, a junior in high school. Like many teenagers, I questioned my life. I self-pitied. I cried about how my family was imperfect and how nobody loved me. By the time I was a senior, I started missing school. I’d tell my parents I wasn’t feeling well when the reality was I just wanted to withdraw from the world. 

For those who have known me (but weren’t close to me) since high school, this would be hard to believe. Even then, I lived the “perfect” life. My family was financially comfortable. I was popular in school. I was in the honors class.  I was president of the Dance Troupe.  I had many suitors. I had a life many girls envied. 

I was 13 when my depression started. I was popular. I was an
honors student. I was talented :D, but I was unhappy.

I hid it well. (I still do.)

Eventually my close friends noticed. I almost did not get a silver medal for my high school graduation (boo-hoo, but it was a big deal for me and my family). I got into a much-coveted pre-medicine course in the University of the Philippines (UP) but decided to shift to another course after two years. Then- I decided to pack up and move to another UP campus after I fell in love with a boy who lived in Los Banos (LB), Laguna.

I continued my perfect life in LB. I was popular and admired. But it was there that I started to overdose on over-the-counter drugs just to numb my emotions. Whenever I would get into my crying spells (that last for up to 6 hours), I would feel so desperate to make the pain stop that I would drink 4 or more Bonamines (Meclizine HCl) at a time. It wasn’t because I wanted to die. It was because I just needed the pain to stop. I wanted to stop crying. My boyfriend even had to get me through a couple of vomiting sessions to expel the Bonamine out of me. 

Pregnant bride at 20. I actually believed that
I finally had my "happy ending."

In LB, I started skipping classes, went on prolonged Leaves of Absence, and got pregnant. I married him, that boy I moved to LB for. The marriage, the baby, meant I could start anew. I would finally be happy and live a normal life. But that was short-lived. At 25, I realized that there were no happily-ever-afters after marriage. I separated from my first husband and launched myself into a world of drinking and smoking to once again help me survive the pain. 

I called my eldest, Paolo, "my hero" because he
helped me forget about my depression. 

You get the point. I was always depressed. If I wasn’t crying, I was getting myself into situations that were harmful- smoking two packs a day, relationships with scary men, drunk-driving. I was always the belle of the ball, the clown, the life of the party. (That is, whenever I did go to a party, which was so rare because I didn’t like social situations.) I looked happy and full of life. If only to hide the yearning to die that was inside. 

When I was 30, I married my high school sweetheart. For me it was a fairy tale ending to my tumultuous life. And, just like with my first marriage, my second wedding was my fresh start. And to give myself, my husband and my family credit, I was happy for many years. I stopped drinking and smoking. I had my life figured out- I was mother and wife. I did it well and I was happy. 

I believed my second chance at marriage would
stop the depression. 

Fast-forward to 42 years old- I started feeling that I was failing as a mother and was not happy as a wife. So, I was depressed again. The most obvious manifestation was the alcoholism. What started out as social drinking of mojitos became nightly rituals of red wine sometimes up to a bottle per night. I knew I was in deep trouble when I started ordering alcoholic drinks every time I’d eat in a restaurant. Mojitos with my pizza, Cabernet Sauvignon with my steak, sake with my tonkatsu. There was a time I even had to have a mimosa with my breakfast tapsilog!

This was a 2pm mojito. Last year, there was no right time to
grab a drink. It was happy hour every time!

It got so bad a few years ago, that I felt that I was going to die of alcohol intoxication. Lying and crying on a couch in a Napa (for wine-tasting, of course) hotel with my husband sound asleep on the bed a few feet away, I felt myself spinning. I was spinning, gasping for breath and nauseous all at once. I was so scared that I would die that night. I didn’t, of course, but that episode scared me. It signaled that my depression was spinning out of control. I needed help.

I loved Napa for obvious reasons!

My near-death episode taught me that no matter how many hobbies and skills I indulged in, no matter how much I traveled around the world, no matter how pretty or thin I was, no matter how many prayers I prayed, nothing was fixing my depression. I used to think it was a stage- adolescence, postpartum, now midlife. But all those years, even when the disease was dormant, I could always feel it like a dark, heavy cloak on my shoulders, just waiting to engulf me again. 

It was merely a coincidence that I found my psychiatrist. She shared an office with my son’s doctor. Without knowing her or what her approach was, I booked an appointment immediately. In my 33 years of depression, this was the first time I was willing to address it medically. And I’m glad I did. 

It appears that my latest episodes were actually another depression stage for me (and many women). I am premenopausal and, with hormones fluctuating, I am now again vulnerable to emotional upheavals. 

The psychiatrist gave me a prescription for mood stabilizers, but I call them “anti-depressants.” And although at the start I was extremely skeptical (even judgmental) of the power of these medicines, their effectiveness in my life is proof that my depression was chemical. With one pill a day, I get through 24 hours without an emotional meltdown (usually :) ). 

I am now painting, sewing, spinning, learning
 Italian. I try to keep busy and appreciate the
stability my medicine brings.

When long ago I would cry buckets and hide under the sheets because, maybe, the driver couldn’t pick me up on time (it was that bad!), I have recently even surprised my husband who said, “the medicine is working, no? When Ton (our son with autism) was having a meltdown, you just sat there and said, “it’s okay. It happens.” Long ago you would have cried for hours, too.” Or, a week after we arrived from Paris (where I forgot to bring my medicine), back home in Manila my husband said, “are you drinking your meds again?” I nodded. “Good,” he continued, “you were super grumpy in Paris!”

My husband said I was grumpy in Paris. I beg to disagree.
I was silly-crazy half of the time!

I haven’t turned into stone. I’m still the crazy, silly, socially-happy ME. I still get sad but it’s a nice feeling to not cry every time I feel lonely. Sadness is no longer a vortex that draws me into depths of depression; of despair, isolation, pain and desperation. It has now become just this heavy pit In my heart that I carry. Then it passes. 

Typical ME- humiliating myself in public!
(Easier done in a foreign country, by the way.
This was in Portugal!)

I don’t know how long this current depressive stage will last. My psychiatrist says that I should use this stable time to learn new things, engage in various activities, find diversions, build tools to help strengthen my own ability to handle the depression. So that, one day, I won’t need the meds anymore. 

I don’t think there’s a cure for my depression, really. I’m just wired this way. It’s part of my quirky, silly, friendly makeup. But- with the help of my psychiatrist, “quirky” no longer means that I am crying every night wanting to die. Nowadays, Quirky wakes up every morning, with new hopes for a better day! 

One day at a time...

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Graduation Day

I love happy endings; maybe because they're so rare. Four years ago, I started helping someone dear to me financially. While to me it was "just money," little did I foresee how it would lead to a beautiful, new beginning- for a family and for me. 

Last April, Mely Arbo graduated from college with a degree in education. She is 32 years old, married, with a 13-year old daughter. She was our first college scholar. 

Mely's college journey began accidentally. Her college dream, however, was a longing she kept since she graduated from high school. She was working for us part time as a yaya (nanny) to augment her husband’s income as a construction worker. During one of our chats (I have these often with my yayas), she told me how sad she was when her parents couldn’t afford to send her to college after high school. “Ano bang pangarap mo? (What was your dream?),” I said. “Gusto ko talagang maging teacher. (I really wanted to be a teacher.),” she smiled with watery eyes. Right then and there I told her to look into it. To look for universities in her province of Camarines Sur that offered degrees in Education. 

In 2010, Mely was Tessa's yaya.

The next few days she was online, researching. “Wag na ‘te, ang mahal! (Never mind, it’s too expensive!)” she said with sadness. I looked at the website. It said, “tuition per semester- around P 8000.” I was not sure if my husband would approve of the added expense in our already-inflated household budget but I said, “basta mag-apply ka. Pag nakapasok ka, pag-usapan natin. (Just apply. If you get accepted, let’s talk again.)” I said reassuringly.

Her tuition did average 7000 pesos but there were some semesters when she got into the Dean’s list which meant a tuition discount. Her monthly allowance was P 1000 with increases often at semester’s end when she would need more for projects or her thesis. At P 8000 per semester for tuition and P1000 per month allowance, the cost to send Mely to college (don’t worry, Mely, di kita sinisingil (I'm not charging you), hahaha!) was around P 120,000. A small price to pay to witness a dream fulfilled. 

School field trip to Albay

After graduation, she thanked me profusely. Even her relatives expressed their thanks to my family for supporting Mely’s dream. And although I was touched by their gratitude, all I really felt was the pride of a mother. 

Our eldest child, Paolo, graduated from SUNY Binghamton two years ago. And even if my husband and I only contributed partly to his college expenses, when he went onstage that day to receive his diploma, I wasn’t computing how much we spent to help him graduate. All we felt was pride and happiness. He made it! 

Proud parents with the graduate

And Mely made it! My pride for Mely doesn’t come from my personal satisfaction that my money helped her finish school. Yes, she might not have even considered going to college if not for the assurance that someone would shoulder a huge portion of the expenses until her graduation. Mely’s achievement is that she fulfilled her childhood dream despite the odds. 

I remember when I was a college student and new mother at the same time. It wasn’t easy. But I was lucky. I had my family to support me in caring for and paying for the needs of my baby. I drove a car to school. I had a yaya. My ex-husband and I were never hungry or needing of anything because we were financially dependent on our parents. 

I used to bring Paolo (green cap) to school with me
(above Paolo, brown headband) in between classes.

But Mely’s life is different. Prior to college, she was a homemaker; her husband the sole source of family income. She cared for her pre-teenage daughter full time. So for her to dare to break the mold, for her to deviate from the story of every married woman in her barrio; THAT took courage. She was steadfast and stubborn. She knew what she wanted. She knew this might be her only chance to get it. So she dove in and never looked back. 

I often wondered about Mely's husband, Choy. What I realized eventually is that Mely’s graduation is her husband’s achievement too. In fact, in a country where most women accept their roles to stay home and abandon their personal aspirations, he may have given the biggest sacrifice. Most Filipino men (especially in rural farming areas) would have thought, “bakit pa? 9 years na tayong kasal. Nagtratrabaho naman ako. Ang lugar ng babae ay sa bahay. (What for? We’ve been married nine years. I work and provide. A woman’s place is in the home.)” But not Choy. 

He put his support behind her. He ignored the macho man inside that said that his wife should be happy just being a wife and mother. He had to adjust to the new person his wife was becoming because she was being exposed to other people and was beginning to care for her appearance. He had to be brave too. It took a lot of security for him to trust that a smarter, more attractive, college graduate Mely would still love him and never leave him. 

The proud husband with the graduate

Mely’s story is not only a success story. It is also a love story. Mely found her passion. She listened to her inner voice. She became empowered. But it took a loving, selfless man like Choy to help her succeed. And without intending it to be, it has also become their labor of love for their daughter, Dimples. She now sees a possibility she may not have seen in her clan before. Her own mother braved many odds to get a college degree. In her head she now knows that she can too. 

Dimples pretends to be the college graduate.

I now have two more yayas who are going to college. I know mine is not a grand scholarship program. I really don’t care. And I write about it not to brag. I just want it known that it does not take much to help someone out; to help them achieve their dreams and change their lives forever. It doesn’t take a lot from us. But it will mean a lot for them, their families, children and community.

My happy ending in all of this? I may be irrelevant in the greater scheme of this country’s politics and development. But I found out how to make a difference- by empowering women in the provinces who might not have opportunities to fulfill their dreams. I want them to know that there is a chance to have a life aside from getting married and having children. If they want it. I want them to have options. I want them to know, that no matter what their age, or background, or marital status- it's never to late to make their dreams a reality.

My (in the middle) college graduation, 1994, eight years in the
making; earning a husband and baby along the way

Sunday, May 8, 2016

My Father's Mother's Day

It was mother’s day but, like most of our family gatherings, he was the star. Papa suddenly sat across my sister and I at our restaurant table and said, “I want to talk to both of you.”

In my teens, those words would have sent me into panic. “What did I do this time?” I’d fear. In my mid-forties I’ve begun to find amusement in my father’s need for his children to listen. “Uh-oh! What funny, insensitive, racist, sexist comment will he say this time?” I thought, smiling, as he sat down across me.

You see, when we were growing up, Papa ruled our worlds. Like the king of the house that he was, he was seen as regal, untouchable and, sadly, distant. He barely spoke to any of us. We rarely heard any of his stories- about his day at work, about people he met, about himself and his feelings. Oh, but when he spoke, we shuddered with fear. We braced ourselves for the harshest words and our own buckets of tears. He never needed to be heard by his children. He would speak. Whether we listened or not was irrelevant, what mattered was that he was able to unleash his anger or disappointment at what we did or did not do.

Now that he is an old man, he is physically smaller, weaker and fragile. He no longer seems daunting or as regal. Maybe that is why I now see the humanity in his words. Why I listen intently and why, though rarely, I speak up.

“Look, guys. One day I will lose my eyesight and no longer be able to stare at the beautiful legs of women passing by but at least I got to see many legs in my lifetime” There they were (I smiled a big smile) his sexist opening sentence. “Or maybe even if you're blind, you’ll keep looking and think all legs are beautiful!” I blurted out, surprised at myself for cracking a joke in front of my father. “Wag naman (hopefully not)!” he laughed.

“Why are you guys so afraid of the elections?” he said, actually expecting a reply from us. “It’s scary,” Ate (big sister) said. “You were there during martial law,” I answered, “you knew how scary it was,” I added. “Yeah, I know. But you see? It made us all tougher. (To me) It will make your kids tougher.” I said, “I understand, but my children are young and I don’t want them to grow up in an atmosphere of fear, silence and lack of freedoms.”  He could have given a rebuttal or smirked at my point but to my surprise, the once mighty, invincible king merely said, “you’re right.” 

“I’m so proud of you, girls, you know. I tell my friends that in our family walang umuutang sa amin (no one borrows money from us parents). I tell them, “they’re all smart and have made great lives for themselves. They don’t need our money and they’re too proud to ask even if they did.”” My jaw dropped. Papa was praising us. In a language that mattered so much to my father when we were growing up, the language of money, he saw us as great and praise-worthy. Then I said to him, “me, I’m proud to tell my friends that I don’t need to support my aging parents. That my parents don’t need to ask money from their kids. Not many of my friends can say that.” He patted my back, I patted his (figuratively speaking, of course). 

Tell me twenty, even ten, years ago that I would have conversations like this with my father and I would have smirked. Papa never talked WITH me. He talked TO me. He talked, I listened and I often cried. We just never had that relationship that you see in "Father of the Bride" movies. We didn’t play basketball together. I never ran to him during heartbreak. I didn’t want him around to comfort me during the delivery of my babies. He was not that kind of father to me. 

What happened? What changed? My guess is old age and the inevitability of death. “I’m getting ready to move on. I can’t bring these all with me when I go,” he said. “In the end, all you have is yourself. You fix things. Fix relationships. You ready yourself to meet your god.” I didn’t feel it yesterday but I’m teary-eyed now. Papa’s change of attitude, the fact that he’s suddenly become human, these are his ways of slowly saying goodbye. 

So, Papa, I promise to listen to all your sexist, racist, everyone’s-a-jerk anecdotes. If I sift hard enough through the words, I’ll hear your words of wisdom. I’ll hear your words of praise. But mostly, I’ll finally hear your words of love.

It was difficult to find photos of me and Papa.
I realized it's only recently that I've been
comfortable standing/sitting near him for photos.

During a discussion on marriage, Ate said marriage is easier when you marry at an older age like she did. “Look at you (to Papa), you married in your twenties (referring to my parents’ challenging and often difficult marriage), or Aya who first married when she was 20. It’s better when you marry older because you already know yourself better.” To Ate, Papa asked, “do you know yourself?” “YES!” my sister said proudly. “I don’t,” I blurted out. And the moment I said it, I saw the words hanging in the air and I wanted to pull them back into my mouth. I knew I was going to get into trouble. I knew Papa was going to preach. 

Instead, Papa looked at me, smiled and said, “good!" "You know why?” he continued, “once you know yourself…” Then I interrupted him, “you’re ready to die.” He gave me the biggest smile. I emotionally shrunk to my thirteen-year old self. Then he said, “correct! You’re learning, kid!” Those words moved across the table and gave me an imaginary "Father of the Bride”-kind of hug. 

When we were young, Papa used to say that he wanted his kids to fight over the family business and whatever would be left for us. That was the kind of father he was. Yesterday, I realized that no matter how late in his life, I am grateful for the father he has become. Here’s to many more years of craziness, wisdom and love, Steve Martin. Maybe next week we can start playing basketball.

Father of the bride indeed!