Another turning point in my life was my father’s return to the Philippines. I did not meet my father until I was over 2 years old. He did not seem to have any interest in kids and he’s never been a family man. I didn’t know that then, but grew to understand it over the years.

I’m sure my mother was hopeful and I wish I could say it was a happy reunion of two soul mates. It was nothing of the sort. My father grew more and more distant and drank heavily causing constant verbal, physical and emotional abuse. My mother grew more and more bitter, angry and heartbroken.

My father’s mother, Mary Catherine was a good, strong, Christian woman full of integrity, compassion and loyalty. She urged her son to do the right thing.

To his credit, my father is a good man who made both good and bad choices. He’s smart, talented, strong, and a list of other admirable qualities, but life took him by surprise and a man who never wanted kids was put into an impossible situation. He coped poorly for years usually through drinking, making as many bad decisions as good ones, if not more, and we never had a father/daughter relationship of trust and love. Now, years after I’ve left the house and started my own family, I forgive him for resenting me. He made his own kinds of sacrifice to “do right by me.” I can respect that.

It was rough though. growing up in this “broken” home. When I was 13, I actually prayed they would get divorced. This thought usually destroys children, but I begged for it because I could imagine it making things better, not worse. I remember when I was much younger the fighting was unbearable. I frequently thought “they are fighting about me again” and I would hide behind my bedroom door and cry. I may have been 4 or 5 when I started this habit of internalizing others’ conflict and pain, leading to a feeling like everyone’s problems were mine to bear and later, mine to help fix.

Suffer through “the right thing.”

This was my world. This man and this woman, who clearly hated each other, but suffered through “the right thing.” I suffered right along side them, but I didn’t understand how very lucky I was and how good I actually had it, despite the tears and challenges along the way.

It wasn’t until I was 6 years old that they finally married. It was the worst day; not by any means a joyous celebration for me because my father, as usual, tried to keep me out of the way. It doesn’t surprise me now that I look back on it. To him, I had ruined the life he had planned for himself. My mother on the other hand, acted as a buffer between us, selflessly accepting any fate for my well being and my future to grow up as an American.

That was an important moment. I was an American and I had no idea, but that changed everything from that day forward. I understand now what opportunity is and what it means to live in a free country. On July 4th in particular, I sat and watch families in the park and wondered if they really knew how different it would be elsewhere. Not worse, perhaps, but definitely different.

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