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.



  1. I would appreciate the words "Kleenex Needed" prior to your blogs about your dad! I truly enjoyed reading this Frank and can relate to some of it with my own family. Thanks for taking the time to write it down!!

  2. This is fantastic, Cuzin. I can relate to a lot of what you've written in regards to my own parents.