Monday, October 3, 2005

The Odd-umm's Family

Whenever I tell people our family story, I myself could not believe how much it resembles a TV soap opera. From my mom's "almost" rags-to-riches story surrounded by too much drama from her attempted suicide over lost embroidered goods to the town's gossip of her illegitimate children and my dad's family's refusal to accept us as part of their family. Then, there's my dad's endless marriages that never quite worked out. He met my mom while serving in the US military stationed in the Philippines. They had a son but lost communication when he went back to US and met his second wife, the nurse who took care of him when he fell ill. Before my mom got reunited with my dad, she met someone and had a second child. Eventually, they found each other and I was born. To this day, I'm still doubtful of the truth behind these stories, such as the validity of their secret marriage. For one thing, they could not cough up a marriage certificate when I needed it for immigration purposes.

I didn't grow up with my dad but I didn't feel like I missed much. It seems though that I was forced to grow up too soon. Mom was very protective of us so we were sort of 'sheltered' as kids and didn't get to socialize as much. But, when we moved to Manila, I had newfound freedom from a sudden shift of roles. Suddenly, I had to look after my mom and make decisions on my own. She was not a courageous person and having completed only few years of schooling, it didn't take as much time for me to step up on the role of taking care of our family. I'm glad that I learned to be responsible at a young age and to dream big. However, I wish I had more guidance, support, and encouragement so I could have gone further in life.

Our first home in the city was a small room in a three bedroom house where there were at least four different family/renters living. There's the landlord's family (Aling Avon, Manong, Aiza, Nonoy, and Kuya Tata), two college students (Kuya Erick and Kuya Joseph), a young entrepreneur (Ate Cecille), and my mom and I. That was probably one of the happiest memories of my childhood because we were one big family! Ate Cecille taught me how to sell stationers in school and how to keep money in the bank. Kuya Joseph and Kuya Eric taught me how to be funny, tell jokes, and draw cartoons. Manang Avon always sew my uniform and taught my mom a lot of things from cooking to surviving the difficult life in the city. In a way, I learned more from her because I was always watching them. I really missed College Road. I hope I get to see these people again one day. It's those days that bring a smile to my saddest days.

My last years in the Phillippines was rough. In 4th grade, my Uncle Virgil adopted John Paul when he was only a few month old. Mom and I took care of him since my uncle and his family are in US. One night, he was sick and I had to buy some groceries and medicine by myself. On my way back, the street lights are pale yellow but I noticed how there seems to be a bright light coming from behind me. Growing up in a Catholic school, I was raised to believe in aparitions and miracles. Am I about to see an angel? When I turned around, I saw a truck-full of men instead - just a few inches away from me. I wanted to scream but I was too scared. Fortunately, I had the strength to run as fast as I can and immediately caught glimpse of a crowd waiting for jeepneys. I then found the courage to scream. No one heard me but it's enough to frighten the kidnappers and drove them away. I cried my fear out before I get home. I didn't want to worry my mom.

Living with some of my dad's relatives is one of the painful memories that I wish to forget. Grandma made sure I'm aware that I'm not a "true" Tablante. Her constant yelling embarrased me in front of friends. I've watched them treat my mom worse than a house maid. I helped my mom clean their condo in Makati and their house in Paranaque, washed their clothes, and run errands. And how did she reward us? By accusing a 10-yr old of stealing her missing jewelry. Maybe that's one reason I never liked gold or wearing expensive jewelry. I remembered the day my dad called our neighbor just to ask me if I did steal it. I said no and that's it. No comforting words, no "how are you?", no "i'm sorry I had to ask", no "are you mad?" - nada. Afterwards, I had to sit there and watch my mom lose it, crying for hours in anger and bitterness. I've wanted to run away from home and go back to my loving grandma (my mom's mother) in the province but I have dreams that kept me going. Part of it is sweet vengeance. I wanted to prove them wrong.

I thought moving to US would be the end of all these misery. But, not really. Growing up, I was told that my step-brother and sister from my dad's second wife despised us. We were the first family and yet they made us the symbol of what broke their family apart. The truth is that my dad was responsible for all of these. I didn't choose to be born in this family and be treated like a stranger or a slave and not be loved or accepted. My dad's second wife made our first couple of years of stay a nightmare. She constantly called my mom threatening her and asking her to go back to the Philippines.

I miss my half-brother, Kuya Dennis, who is more a family to us than my real brother, Kuya Joey. Joey treasures his friends and has no sense of family.  He screams at my mom and demands that she goes back home. He threated to kill me once when I stood for my mom. He only remembers my dad when he needs help paying off his debt. He was never grateful to our parents and he is always filled with envy and greed. I don't blame him completely for how he turned out. It's partly my parents' fault. Other than providing their children basic needs - food and shelter, they were never there to shape us to be successful individuals. I credit my friends' parents and my mentors for being good role-models and for giving me guidance and advise.

Two years after moving to US, my mom had an accident at work that put her in chronic pain and disability. Whenever I look at her pictures when we first move to US, I feel sadness as I see how much her health has deteriorated and how her fighting spirit diminished through the years. She was never strong and courageous enough to fight back, move on, and make something of herself. I've spent so much time trying to encourage her to learn English and build a new life. As time passed us by, a gap (worse than a generation gap) started to grow between us. I started feeling desperate and hopeless as far as the dreams I have for her and for our family. She refused to grow up to become a better person. I thank God for a doting mom but these days, it's a struggle and has been unbearable for me to be around her. I fear that someday, I might find myself a lot more distant from her. I feel helpless and ready to give up from the frustration of not having a normal family. I can't stand the sight of hopelessness and everything that I stand against. I always find myself aspiring to be the exact opposite of my family.

Paying for the sins of my father is what most of my life has been and I want it to stop. At a cousin's wedding shower, a saw a portrait with my dad and another woman I've never met. My aunt told me it was my dad's third wife. On my college graduation, I didn't get a car or a dinner or any kind of gift. My dad took an early retirement and left. It was around the time that my mom had her surgery from the work injury and she was battling pain and depression. I had to take care of her and console her and watch her deal with both the physical pain from her shoulder surgery and the emotional pain of losing my dad. But, without dad around, I found a new sense of being and energy and we managed well. I had a great start on my career and worked for an environmental lab and an aerospace company. Later on, I got into real estate as well and into investing. I have friends and  having the time of my life.

Just when I thought I'll never have to deal with my dad again, he came back with his new young wife - close to my brother's age. He was my cousin John Paul's tutor. I played it nice since I have no choice and I didn't want any more drama.  But, my dad wanted more. On my house blessing and on my nephew's baptism, my mom wasn't able to join us because he had to bring his new wife. It was really painful for me to see him care more for this girl than his own blood. I even feel uncomfortable hanging out with him. At one of his friend's party, people mistaken me as his new wife and I was a part of this circulating, ugly gossip the entire night.  No wonder they were looking at me funny. Once, I tried to stay with my dad and his new wife at their place to somehow try to bond with them but it was like un-repressing all the pain he had put me through. I can't stand watching him be a door mat and humbly obey on her every command, listen to stories of how they throw a big party for her daughter in the Philippines, and even ask me to do things to make her happy. I was never treated that nice and I would have appreciated it if they would have been more sensitive and thoughful of my own feelings. I'm glad that my dad and I didn't have a good bond because it made me care less and shielded me from more pain.  Each time I look him, I feel tormented from all the painful memories I have of him. But I have to forgive in order to heal and live a happy life. I wrote him a forgiveness letter, which I never gave him. I just have to live through it and just not make it a central part of my life.

In high school, I got drawn into reading Psychology Today. It helped me find myself. In college, I took couple of psychology classes to help me heal.  My biggest fear is to be a bad product of a broken family and bitter past. I wanted a bright future and I will do what it takes to not let my past ruin what I have built for myself and hurt my chances. Yes, I didn't have the luck with my family but I will have my own family and kids in the future and I will not repeat the same mistake. Also, life is too short to be a prisoner of negativity. If there's anything that came out of my experience, it's to love and care for myself when no one else would and to build a strong life so I can take care of other people.


  1. Hello Jo,

    This is the first time I read this post, and it absolutely shocked me to learn that you've gone though all that when we were growing up! I'm still reeling from disbelief!

    All I remember is that Joselita P. Tablante is that bright, strict, snobbish (sometimes), wonderful mestiza friend I had back in grade school that Jessica Dela Cruz and I could never beat in Science even if our lives is on the line. :)

    I can never really think that you've been through so much when growing up, I thought that you're one of those folks who "had it all" in life!

    For what it's worth, I believe you couldn't have made your family any more prouder! I applaud your conviction and steadfast determination - of course, I wouldn't expect anything less from you!

    God bless you and your young family more! Maybe next time we can get together with your family when I bring back the wife and kids back to the States.

    P.S. I still have that note you gave me during 6th Grade. For some strange reason, yours was the only one I kept all these years, weird huh?

    Like what I said, I can never forget you, JPT ;)

    P.P.S. - Add me up in Skype, "darabiana" maybe we can talk some time. :)

    Best regards,

    Del Feliciano Arabiana

    1. Thank you, Del! I just had a chance to view your comment. I hope life is treating you well. I think as children, we accept life as a norm and don't quite make much of our hardships. But, as we grow old, we look back and realize what was wrong and starts questioning certain things. To this day, I'm still discovering things. My dad had a recent heart attack and while he's in for examination, I had a chat with my step-mother and found out that my dad actually wanted to turn his back on us before. Being a mother herself, she encouraged him to continue supporting us. I was grateful to her for that. Some people might think that maybe she's lying. But, I know my parents too well and something inside me actually said, "it makes sense". My biggest challenge these days is forgiving. I've never treated my parents with disrespect and I continue to maintain a good relationship with them. I've never reminded or told them of all the bad things or decisions they've done because from knowing them, I know that they can't handle the truth. They never quite grew up and they never learn the parent-child relationship. They don't know how to communicate or to talk openly. So, why bother. But, don't get me wrong. I tried many times before. I think I should just focus on forgiving and forgetting. And that's what I always pray for. I look forward to seeing you again one day and meeting your family. Just send me a message anytime in Facebook :)