my father was born in san juan, metro manila, philippines of a chinese immigrant and a filipino native. he’s the 8th of 10 brothers and sisters (the first-born lived with his mother and two cousins are pictured along with the family above). at age 23, he came to the states by way of guam and served in the US army during the vietnam war. i’ve always described his demeanor as “so chinese.” often quiet and stoic, he masks his feelings of meaninglessness behind an underbitten smile. after 20-some-odd years of living under his roof, i realize i don’t know much about my father. every time i asked about his past, he would give me brief, diluted responses. i got a sense he was avoiding it because there were emotions he chose not to revisit or express. so i left it.
we had a tough relationship growing up. i longed for us to have the kind of father/daughter relationship i saw on tv — a father whose heart was softened by his little girl — but we just didn’t understand each other. i wanted him to be uplifting, supportive and compassionate. instead, he was critical, unsupportive and stone-hearted. he wanted me to be an obedient daughter who trusted and respected him. instead he got one who was rebellious and challenging. i always wanted to pick a fight. i thought if i was terrible enough he would somehow realize i was trying to get his attention, and then he’d magically be the kind of father i needed. he was never a violent man, but i once tested him to the point where he raised a hand at me. we were both prideful, but it took several years for the Lord to soften my heart and give me the wisdom and understanding to realize that in order for us to have any kind of civil relationship, i had to swallow my jagged pride and set aside all the anger i was harboring. i understand him more than i ever did before, so we have the most loving relationship we could possibly have now.
my mother grew up in pasay city, metro manila, philippines. as the only daughter of a moderately wealthy family, she was spoiled but restricted. she had a maid, a driver, and a seamstress who made her new clothes every week. everything she wanted was hers, except freedom. her brothers — who are 13 and 16 years older than she — kept a constant watchful eye on her. she always used to tell us how much she longed to join the girl scouts, but all her parents allowed her to do was buy their cookies. after graduating college, she decided to see what the states had to offer and moved in with her eldest brother in east hollywood (where 30 some-odd years later, i would find myself living on the exact same street).
a devoted catholic for most of her life, she became a born-again christian in the 80s and started taking us to a foursquare church. she raised us to be God-fearing children, but as i got older, her fundamentalism and conservative upbringing came head to head with my youthful desires to “rock out.” i went to church every sunday, was consistently involved in the church youth group and friday night bible studies, and yet late nights in hollywood attending phantom planet and yeah yeah yeahs shows (but not necessarily doing anything bad) still labeled me the black sheep of the family. i grew tired of my mother’s constant preaching to “save my soul” when my soul was never lost to begin with. everything she said reflected everything i disliked about southern baptist/conservative filipino beliefs, and i left her church. as some of you may have caught (if you pay any attention to my posts), i left her church, but never left the faith.
living away from my parents was the best thing for our relationship. it gave me a chance to step back and appreciate who they are without the dense fog our differences created. despite my mother’s annoying tendencies, the heart in this woman is incredible. she is the hardest-working, selfless, most loving and generous woman i have ever known. her inability to understand sarcasm and american idioms is one of the most endearing things about her, and when she tries to use them, it’s so hilarious that we all laugh until we’re red in the face.