Perhaps it’s Masoch’s purest form of dilettantism, the inability to go beyond the first act, or maybe it was just my innate procrastination but this was supposed to go up at the end of Sunday. I was thinking of putting this up at 11:59 p.m. Hawaiian time, as the inhabited world says its final goodbye to Father’s Day, serving my symbolic gesture of honouring the man who slipped life lessons into practically everything he did, be it playfully placing bets on who could keep their hands in freezing glacial water the longest or leading trivia games during our month long road trips; the same man who taught me, in his absence, the most important fact of life: Everything is fleeting and accepting that is the key to contentment. Instead, here we are at 3:30 a.m. on a Wednesday. Cheers.
In the span of five years, between the ages of 11 and 16, I had four family members keel over. Cancer’s a bitch. Its invasive malignancy defined two of my summers. Instead of kickin’ it by the beach or on our annual road trips around most of western Europe, I spent my eleventh summer in a Hong Kong hospital splitting shifts with my mom and five siblings to take care of my dad who, in a year and a half, deteriorated from the charming and boisterous, no bullshit, I-can-and-I-do-man to a vegan burrito, turned every few hours and wrapped in the hospital’s finest crusty cotton blankets. About a month into his hospice stay, and at least 3 months from the last time his facial muscles could muster anything more than a dull, vacant expression, my sister and I were working our morning to afternoon shift of watching the only two English channels on a 14″ tube T.V. and calling the Chinese nurse for glycerin and more morphine through gesticulations and grunts. Needless to say, we were bored shitless. Sick of the soap operas that filled the daytime airwaves and droned on in the lifeless geriatric ward, my sister and I stood at the foot of Dad’s bed, performers in a spontaneous musical extravaganza. Line up: Her, me. Audience size: one. I have to say, the audience was super fuckin’ rude. He didn’t clap once. A while into it my sister and I got to the chorus of The Temptations’ “My Girl”. We were sliding and two-stepping at either side of the foot of his bed when, for the first time in months, he cracked a smile. I guess you’d say what could make him feel that way? His girl. His girl(s). His girls. Yeah, his girls. (Now would probably be the time to clarify that my dad was my sister’s stepdad. But still, her father.)
It’s difficult to express the power of that smile. A stage 4 brain tumour the size of a golf ball will strip away every vestige of a person’s identity but in that fleeting moment, music brought back a flicker of the man who taught his 3-year-old daughter a limerick about Uncle Billy and his ten foot willy.
Alas, the flicker of normalcy was just a flicker; inevitably the cancer took the man away from his family leaving us a few steps above destitute, all of the money he worked his life for caught behind the red tape of probates and taxation. So, there we were, a housewidow and her 6 children hiding away whatever money we could to survive in a city we couldn’t afford to live in. Not long after, we had to pack up and leave Hong Kong for Manila, the first world for the third world, and I’m not gonna lie, it was tough. Imagine the family you’ve known your whole life suddenly pulled in every direction, your reality having had shifted from the relative comfort in which you lived to one plagued by uncertainty and unfamiliarity. It’s one thing to lose a parent and another altogether to then realize that you’re completely socioeconomically immobile. As a kid in middle school, already going through the transition of being a kid to trying to figure out what the hell it meant to be a teenager, it was a mindfuck. Less than a year before he died I bought a CD from HMV every weekend then all of a sudden the music stopped (and so nearly did the lights and the water and the food), all while living in a place I only ever visited, a place that wasn’t quite yet home. Thank god for Napster and dial-up internet. The connection may have been slower but the music was still the same.
During the two years it took for the probate to be released, I don’t know how Mom did it but we survived on quite literally nothing. Then, even after it was released, it was a struggle. A family of six is still a family of six — it ain’t cheap. And because, as Dad taught me, life is a bitch and then you die, within that time my grandpa kicked it, then my great-grandma, then my mom’s sister. My point being that aside from losing our dad and the security that entailed, life continued and life, as much as I love it, can be one cruel bitch.
There’s no real coming back from the pain of losing your family-as-you-know-it, while being stuck in an unfamiliar place, you simply adapt. But adaptation is a process and not everyone can make it. Shoot, if the tribulations that cause it can be avoided then why even inflict it? But cancer isn’t something you choose or you can predict. It’s senseless and erratic. The best you can do is pull it out, try to treat it, and fight the good fight of life against it.
I’m just lucky I was able to adapt because, despite losing my dad, I had my mom, my siblings, and my cousin. I still had my family. I wasn’t alone.