Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Lessons Learned Part I : What My Dad Taught Me...Eventually

   If you have been following me on this blog in this short time, thank you.  If this is the first time for you, welcome.  I guess the purpose of this blog is to touch on experiences in my personal life that I know others have been through, but never put them down in words. Maybe I'm crazy for putting my thoughts down for the world to see, but if I can get others to reflect on things they would not normally think of, then it was well worth it.

I recently viewed my Dad's memorial DVD that my nephew, Marc created. It was put together with love and it shows. It got me thinking:

     There's a song by one of my favorite artists, Babyface, called Simple Times. He sings "there were nine of us living in a three bedroom house" and reminisces about growing up in his family. He sings about how simple things were back then and "when a man was a man, and a friend was friend." He mentions his parents and how they struggled through life raising all of them. When I hear that song it reminds me so much of my childhood and my parents' struggle to make sure we had, not a lot, but just enough. Like Babyface, we had a similar upbringing.

     My parents, immigrants from Burauen, Leyte in the Philippines, came to this country in the early 1950's. As teens they lived through the struggles of war as the Japanese forces invaded their homeland. My grandfather, a town leader was murdered because he would not go along with those my mom called Japanese sympathizers. My Mom told us stories of being poor and only having a handful of rice to eat for lunch and having to hide to avoid their Japanese invaders. My Mom and my "aunties" that grew up in that environment are the strong and resilient type. They had to be and I truly admire them for that.

     My Dad was the youngest son of a family of land owning farmers. My Mom told me he was "spoiled" and did not like working the fields like his brothers because he didn't like getting dirty. He usually got away with that. When the Japanese armies invaded the Philippines, many of the youth joined the guerillas forces that made life difficult for the insurgents. My Dad and many of his friends (we lovingly call our "uncles") did the same. I can't imagine 16 year old kids taking up arms and fighting against a well-oiled military machine in their own backyards, but they did. It reminds me of the that movie, "Red Dawn" where a band of small town youths take on Russian invaders on their home turf, but this was real life and death stuff. My Dad and "uncles" knew their homeland and they did what they had to do to defend it. I always noted that my Dad and my "uncles" were very, very close. They would do anything for each other and their families.  They experienced some real life drama together and I'm sure they bonded more than your typical friendships because of it.

      Although they didn't bring it up too often, Mom and Dad would sometimes mention events regarding their youth and the war. General Douglas MacArthur was their all-time hero on this earth because he did what he said he was going to do. He promised to return to their homeland and liberate them from their suffering.  He did and he did it with flair. They didn't give up hope and I am certain that it helped them through their struggles in life later on. 

     My Dad and my "uncles" later became citizens and joined the United States Navy after the war. Not only did they serve their homeland, most served this country for twenty years or more. I know they proudly served and would do it again if they were asked to.  They were part of what is called "The Greatest Generation." They set the tone and example for all of us today.

    While I was growing up, I sometimes didn't see "eye to eye" with my Dad. I was a typical kid and had my own way of seeing the world. I had six other siblings to deal with and trying to find your own identity in that kind of environment was challenging. Looking back, I realized that our small crowded home was always filled with food, hand me down clothes from thrift shops, toys, plastic-covered furniture (we tore that house up!), and at least a station wagon or large car to get us from one point to another.

     The biggest detail that stood out in all of this is that the house was ALWAYS filled with laughter and people. The laughter, most of the time was at the expense of one us. And the people, well, because that was just the way Dad wanted it.  I never quite understood why our house always had strangers in it and my Dad always seemed to be entertaining others. There wasn't a day where someone that was not part of our family was sitting at our dinner table eating with us (usually it was one of our friends who happened to be around at dinner time).  I knew we weren't rich and funds definitely were limited.  There were always dishes to wash and people to clean up after. It sucked when it was your turn on the chore rotation to wash dishes and clean the kitchen when Dad invited people over for an impromptu gathering. These gatherings always involved some type of filipino appetizer (for example, tripe, some strange sea creature or things my Dad called "turkey butts"), alcohol and a good WWII movie on television.  These types of things frustrated and angered Mom on more than one occasion. The last thing she wanted to come home to after working the swingshift was a messy house and my Dad sleeping off an alcohol induced coma on the couch. I usually took her side on this issue too and it was an area of contention with me and Dad as I grew older.

     As Dad got into his golden years, his behavior began to change. He would go on walks, get disoriented and someone would have to go look for him. He would go sit at bus stops for hours until someone from the neighborhood recognized him and brought him home.  His moods would change depending on the time of day.  I think they called it "Sundowner's."  He became very difficult for Mom to handle, but she stuck with it.  Eventually, he ended up bed-ridden having gone through two amputation surgeries due to diabetes and finally unable to communicate due to Alzheimers. It was difficult to see it happen before my eyes. He was slowly fading away.
     I have to sincerely apologize to my brothers, sister, sisters-in-laws, nieces and nephews who still live nearby, for not being more helpful as Dad deteriorated. They took on the daily task of caring for Dad and also provided Mom with relief when she needed it. Distance is not an excuse, but it's a convenient one, just the same. I discussed this with one of my brothers and he too didn't want to see Dad in that condition and wanted to just remember Dad the way he needed to; full of life, fishing and always cooking something. I told him the guilt gets heavy and we shouldn't carry it any longer. Dad would've just let it go and we should too.

      As far as the lessons I learned in all of this? After my Dad's passing on July 3, 2008, Mom shared that Dad lived by this credo: "You should always help everybody....because you'll never know when you'll need help."  When I reflect back I realized that Dad lived by that everyday. He opened up his home and gave everything he had to strangers even though he didn't have much. It was evident to me and my family how many lives Dad touched when we held his memorial and funeral services.  It was standing room only. Dad was entertaining and hosting others in death, as he did in life. He was the host and guest of honor at his own going away party. People ate and drank in his memory. Just as he would have wanted it.

    He never mentioned his life's credo to me and I'm not sure he mentioned it to any of my brothers.  If he did maybe, just maybe, I would've understood. I didn't get it until after he was gone.  I am sure as I continue thinking about him,  I will get the messages he didn't say in words, but in the actions he demonstrated.  Please forgive me. I get it now, Dad. I think I will continue to get it as I go on this journey with you in my thoughts. I will try to live by your credo from now on in everything I do.  Thank you for setting me straight.


Monday, March 1, 2010

Days Gone By: Old School-Still Cool

     Being twelve years old in this day and age of XBOX 360s, Wii and laptop computers is a whole lot different than when I was twelve waaaay back in the day. Kids these days do most of their activities indoors and they're happy about it.  When I was twelve I couldn't wait to get out of the house and get on my bike to find something to do outside with my closest friends.

     I grew up in a diverse blue collar town in the South Bay area of the Silicon Valley back in the1960's and 1970's. It was an era when kids didn't waste their spare time indoors. We would get together with our friends and wouldn't return until it was dinner time. I swear that the movie "The Sandlot" was based on our lives. As in the movie, we would challenge kids we knew from school to games of flag or tackle football or "pitcher's hand" baseball if we couldn't field full teams. They would get their neighborhood teams together and we, ours.  Sometimes we would travel all the way across town on foot or bikes to play a team. We had our special plays that worked almost everytime. We had played together everyday for years and knew those subtle signals and code words to throw the ball to the perfect location at that precise moment. We played baseball ALL summer long!

     And just like the characters in the movie "Stand By Me" we would pack our lunches and go on"journeys." It would take all day and of course, our parents didn't have a clue what we were up to.  If they did, I wouldn't be able to write about it. One summer day, a group of us decided that we would go on a journey up in the hills. Our destination was going to be the Channel 36 television tower at the top of the foothills that overlooked our neighborhood (also known as "Sunnyhills").  Once at the top, we were going to write our names on rocks and possibly the tower itself to prove to the world that we were there!

     None of us had ever been to the "mountain top," but some of us had older brothers who had made the trip and lived to tell about it.  I'm sure there was a lot of embellishments that peppered each version of their adventure.  There were tales of being chased off of private property by irate ranchers with shotguns filled with rock salt, psychopathic bulls, having to traverse dangerous ridges and cliffs and almost dying of thirst on the way up or down. These details did not discourage us-instead they sounded so cool we couldn't wait to get started. So on the day of departure, some of us packed the essentials; plastic second-hand canteens filled with the best tap water in the world, candy for energy, a bologna sandwich, and chips.  The others brought nothing because they couldn't sneak the food past their mothers without raising suspicion, so they ate before leaving.

     The journey was almost as advertised. We did have to traverse ridges that "could have" been dangerous, but weren't (we walked on a path). We did not encounter a psychopathic bull, but more of an apathetic cow-(it didn't care we were around), but we ran just as if it was that bull to avoid it. We weren't going to take any chances. There were some people who could have passed as ranchers, but we avoided them altogether. Again, not willing to tempt fate and get shot with rock salt. Five hours later we reached our destination!  We celebrated by jumping around and pounding our chests with the wind flowing through our sweaty hair as only 11 and 12 year olds will do. (The chest bump, fist bump and high five were not invented yet...if they were, we surely would have performed them).

     There was even an event we now call cow bowling that entailed digging up boulders and rolling them down the hill. It just so happened that there were some cows grazing and one of the boulders accidently hit one unlucky cow. It was unfortunate, but funny as heck.  Of course, the challenge to do it again was brought forth and it did not go unnoticed. Now, digging up just the right boulder for distance and accuracy took teamwork. We divided into our  regular teams and took our best shots. I think there were two other cows that ended up as pawns in our newly invented game and it was the greatest of times!

     Now, to memorialize this epic accomplishment for the ages, it was time to inscribe our names, mark our territory and claim it as ours. In all of our excitement, we realized that NO ONE brought anything to paint, mark or inscribe our soon to be famous names on the rocks or the tower. After all the whining and  fingerpointing was over and done with, we sat there dejected. No one was going to know we were there. Not the maintenance guy who worked on the tower.  Not the ranchers who lived nearby. Not the apathetic cow. Not our older brothers. No one.

     One of us had the idea of getting some leaves and using them to write something somewhere. It kind of worked, but didn't have the same effect as say, PAINT!  Another one of us suggested that we mark the territory like wild animals and take a leak. It made sense, so all six of us took positions around area and took a leak. It was a symbolic gesture. (We had a long walk back ahead of us, so what the heck). Afterwards, we started our walk back down the hill and made it back in time for dinner and our parents were none-the-wiser.

     It took us approximately ten hours to complete this adventure. We experienced the excitement of going on a trip without any adults and we accomplished something that 11 and 12 year olds wouldn't be able to do these days. (They probably wouldn't be able to get out of the house even if they wanted to). Although we didn't get to memorialize the event like we wanted, we, (at least I), have committed it to memory where it belongs. It wasn't just the destination that was cool, it was the journey itself.  The conversation.  The camaraderie. The moment.  Nowadays when things get hectic around me, I sometimes reminisce about all of the good times I had as a twelve year old kid. This was one of them. Although it appears that we walked several miles to essentially take a pee at the top of a mountain, I am not dismayed.  I will never get those ten hours back...nor do I want them.