“Are you gaining weight again?” my father asked last night, before Christmas eve mass. I was taken aback. I was suddenly 18 again when he said, “tumataba ka na, mukha ka ng balyena (you’re getting fat, you’re starting to look like a whale).” A sudden sadness filled my heart. Once again, I disappointed Papa. Once again, I was not good enough.
My husband asked me in the morning of December 24, as I was stressing out and panicking over the Christmas feast that I was hosting for the family in my home, “why did you say you’d host Noche Buena (Christmas eve dinner)? Maybe you should have said that Ate (older sister) should take care of it so you don’t stress out like this?” I said, "you know Ate’s busy and can’t handle this. Besides, this is the only thing I CAN do. This is the only way I am appreciated by them.”
All my life, I always felt like I was the least favorite of all siblings. Call it the "middle child syndrome," but I’ve always been very sensitive when it came to my parents’ opinions of me. In my 40s, I started to accept the truth- that I was not and will never be the favorite. That they were proud of my other siblings, but not of me. But that it was okay because I knew they loved me in their own strange way.
I can’t blame them, really. I got pregnant and married while in college, separated with my first husband after five years then had a string of awful relationships. I even lost custody of my eldest child to my ex-in laws because I was involved with a scary man.
I’ve never been an achiever. It took me eight years to finish college. When I finally did, I had brief stints of employment, never lasting more than two years anywhere. I started my MBA but after two years into it I just quit. And what do I do now? Nothing really. I am a homemaker- I paint, I sew, I do my crafts, I take care of the kids, and I’m not always great at it.
So i wanted the Noche Buena to be perfect. Everything (and more) that everyone requested I rushed about getting days before. I bought new serving pieces. i started preparations in the morning. I cleaned my patio. I even got my hair fixed. But as I squatted on the floor in my house dress, tinkering with the iPod so that it could play vintage Christmas music for my folks, all THAT was useless when Papa said I was getting fat.
“Just a little,” I said, forcing the sweetness and a smile. "You should have answered back,” my husband said. I wish I did, but no matter how hurt I was, I couldn’t. I didn’t want to hurt Papa or disappoint him. I wanted to get hurt with grace. I wanted to show him that I was no longer the unstable, moody child from long ago.
I remember two years ago, in Boracay, when the whole family (even my siblings living in the US) got together after many years. For two days, we were all happy and having fun. Then, after dinner prior to next day's departure, as we were lounging about by the shore, Papa said out of the blue, “tumataba ka na naman ha! (you’re getting fat again!)” Despite the pain, I smiled and said, “konti lang (just a bit);” even if I had probably only gained five pounds. But my younger sister wouldn’t have it. She blurted out, “why do you have to be so hard on her?! Don’t you know how hard it was for her to lose 60 pounds and how hard it is for her to keep it off?! Why can’t you be more supportive of her?!”
My sister knew that I would never be able to fight for myself when it came to Papa, so she did. I was thankful that she came to my side but, at the same time, I felt she embarrassed me. I didn’t want to hurt Papa because my sister’s words were really my own (in someone else’s voice). I felt I disappointed him again.
But last night, I wished she was there. I wished she told him to shut up. I wished he would just find some other topic to bring up other than my weight. Like that the pieces I painted were great. Or that my decorations were nice. Something. Anything. There must be something else about me to talk about. There must have been something I did right… right?
These thoughts came to me because I was listening to my “Angry” playlist- the songs that I dedicated to all the boys who hurt me. I realized, just now, how I let them all treat me badly, say bad things to me, hurt me. I remember how I would smile when they would come up with an alibi or excuse every time they would fail to fulfill a commitment. All because I wanted to get hurt with grace. All because I didn’t want to disappoint them.
Just like with Papa. Except Papa does not make excuses. He says hurtful things because he doesn’t realize they hurt me (how can he? I never told him.) Papa does not need excuses. I make them for him. Even now, as I am in tears still feeling years of pain from him, I make excuses for him. I try to understand him. I find reasons for why he says the things he does. Because I love him and I know he loves me. He just doesn’t know how to.
Unlike before, however, I don’t blame myself. I won’t work out or starve myself to death tomorrow because of this. I will stop crying and forget his words. I will find reasons for why I am great. Why I deserve to be happy. Why I am worthy. Because there are many. Because I’m good at many things, things he may not appreciate and value. Because, after 44 years of doubting, I’ve finally realized that despite my seemingly lackluster homemaking career, or (slightly ;) ) above-average weight, or wrinkles and cellulite, I am great. I am worthy, Papa. I was worthy, boys. It was your loss because you didn’t see it, all of you.
"Fathers be good to your daughters," some singer said (of course I know who but won’t say). Spare them this drama. Life is short. Imagine what I would have achieved early on without all of this self-doubting. It’s never too late though.
I am a work-in-progress. :)
|Five pounds over?! I love you, Papa!|
I know you mean well!