Dear dad,

It’s been three years since you left us. I’ve been missing you a lot these days.

Today I scrolled through your Facebook profile, looking at old posts. Thank you for being so proud of me then.

I wish you could have seen me grow up a few more years. I bought my first refrigerator, dad. You used to buy me Cowhead milk every time I came home because you knew I loved that and never got to drink cold milk when I was on my own. I finally have one. I wish you could have celebrated the unboxing day with me.

Every Friday I pick up E from the dormitory. I think you would have found it cool that the daughter you used to pick up and wailed that she wanted to drop out of that school is now taking care of her little brother all by herself. Maybe you could pick us up or drop us off every month when we go back to the province, if you were still alive, if you were healthy. I miss sitting in your passenger seat, and stopovers, and trying to stay awake with you. I miss eating with you.

I ate your favorite noodles on your death anniversary, but I miss going to the Binondo one with you. I never really liked their siomai but I remember you always bought some so I ordered one this time, too. Recently I ate at a restaurant that sells sizzling ramen. Their noodles were so hot, for so long. I think you would have loved it.

There’s still so much I don’t know. I tried installing hooks for a curtain but managed to tear off plaster. I tried a telescopic rod that didn’t fit. I remember staring at the glass door thinking I wish I had a dad to teach me how to install curtains.

Your family is doing alright. Mom has a new rack for her plants and is more fashionable than any of your children. She has become a full tita in your absence. She misses the love of her life. Your eldest has a remote job with a Singaporean doctor, and your third daughter is upskilling herself, taking clients from all over, and helps pay the house bills. Your youngest daughter started clinics and your oldest son is graduating soon. Your youngest is living on his own in a dormitory now. Two of your daughters know how to drive now, and when they’re in the driver’s seat part of me misses you more because it feels like you should be there instead.

We’re doing alright, but I wish we didn’t need to be alright without you. I see your smiling face in old photographs and I miss seeing it live, and I can’t help but think it unfair that you are smiling like that with Jesus, maybe eating mami or steak and watching movies all night without us.

I wish I had hopeful words to end this letter with, but I don’t have them tonight. Tonight there’s just absence and grief and I will need to let myself sit with it.

Advertisement

Old Love, New Love

My childhood best friend visited from Canada, and we spent the better part of over a week together. In between my workdays and my apartment search, we slept, ate, talked, sang, played, shopped, and walked around our hometown together with her friends. It’s been a week now since, but it feels much longer than that.

We didn’t go to any tourist destinations. Instead, we went mostly to places that felt so familiar they’ve been easy to take for granted. The mall that’s a 5-minute walk away from my house, and the 2 other malls we’ve been going to for years. All of the palengkes in the city: just to walk past seamstresses and craftsmen, drink Mirinda from a plastic bag, eat biko from a street vendor, watch the fish and pork and all the other meat get cut up and hung for all in the wet market to peruse and purchase, and to be assaulted by the scent of freshly butchered meat. Buying choco sticks from a sari-sari store, Twin Popsies, Jelly Tongue. Going into an old general merchandise store with everything one could ever need – school supplies, home furnishings, clothes, toys, hair accessories – just to see, just to talk about the differences between Grade 1, 2, and 3 paper. We sang karaoke, played charades, took the jeepneys and tricycles, got manicures and pedicures, and watched horror movies. We walked by the beach and ate ice cream. We appraised Filipino snacks in the convenience stores.

In Manila, we sang more karaoke, and walked endlessly around BGC High Street. We ordered bubble tea again. They shopped for clothes and we ate xiao long bao. We celebrated a dog’s birthday. We rewatched Shaolin Soccer, ordered Jollibee at midnight. They told me stories of Pampanga, and I stayed up all night with her as she finished her review class for med entrance exams. Afterward, we talked about how much we loved our hometown.

Life is full of precious and lovely things, but my favorite days are the ordinary ones spent in good company: the days that are really nothing special or crazy, nothing FB- or IG-worthy in any usual sense, but full of laughter and gratefulness. Because the days are so ordinary, I find myself willing myself to remember the most mundane moments: sprinting out of the freezing cinema to get coffee and hot chocolate before the movie starts, trying to act out economics or rim or darkness, the purple of the lights in the karaoke room, getting a taxi to take everyone home safely, Beyonce the chihuahua. Duets, the way it felt to hug her again after so many years, jokes about the showers, looking through phone galleries, late-night conversations, the incorrect jeepney and the pouring rain we had to walk through. The way they looked like burritos as they slept beside each other, the spoken word poetry in the middle of karaoke, the panic of looking for someone as they wandered away, the car rides, the way their eerie humming echoed in the empty church, whispering into each other’s ears. Even now as I write, it’s an attempt at remembering these small moments.


There is an oldness to our love that makes it special. She kept saying to everyone, “I’ve known her since I was in Grade 2!” She’d say things like, “She loved me when I was still dark and ugly, and when I still lived in the palengke.”

There is a faithfulness to old love, something steady and true. Perhaps it comforts our need to be fully known and accepted. Here is a love that has seen me, that has known me, and that chooses to love me, then and now.

Everytime she comes home, though, I also think about newness. The realization I am meeting someone new again, someone whose past few years I have barely glimpsed the surface of. I wasn’t there. She wasn’t here. We built our lives away from each other, and yet – how precious it is to realize, again and again, that there is always space for each other. There will always be room.

Church & Generosity

I went to church onsite with my family for the first time in years last week.

After two years of online service, worshipping with others felt so lovely. The speakers were loud, the voices were close.

The pastor was a friend of our dad’s. I hadn’t seen him since the wake. His sermon was about Jesus as Savior, then Jesus as Emmanuel, God with us.

As he was nearing the end of his sermon, he suddenly choked up and said, “One of the times I remember God was with me, mag-isa ako, wala yung asawa ko, nagkasakit akong malala at kinailangan ko dalhin sarili ko sa ospital. Wala dapat akong kasama. Pero si Bro. Jun Lao, sinamahan ako. May dala siyang 5k pesos. Bagsak negosyo nila nun, wala rin siyang pera, di ko nga alam kung alam ng maybahay niya na binigyan niya kong pera. Pero may 5k siya pambayad. Tapos siya yung nagtutulak ng wheelchair ko, siya sumama sa’kin nung may sakit ako. Cinontact niya yung iba naming kakilala para masigurado may mapapambayad ako.

Did my father find Emmanuel in his hospital bed, too, I wonder, as he took in the news of a cancer that left him with a few months at best to live?

The tears came even though I tried to hold them back. My father was not many things, but he was a generous man. We always had difficulty making ends meet. But here was our father, living out 2 Corinthians 8:1—”Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.”

He was generous with his time, with his attention, and with what little he had. I pray to be that kind of generous, that kind of present for the people around me. The kind that makes people remember God is with them.

Soulkeeping & Tail Ends

This week has been a nourishing one.

I started the week close to the beach: waking up early on a Sunday morning in the company of good friends I had spent the Saturday with swimming, laughing, melting in the sun, eating fresh mangoes and leftover pizza on the beach, watching the sunset, playing bridge Jenga in the dark, asking big questions into the night — our greatest fears, our biggest regrets, our disappointments, how we know if it’s love, what we would change, what goals we’ve given up on. It was heartwarming and almost strange, how safe and comfortable it felt even though it was the first time most of us were meeting in person.

We traveled to Manila after, and from there I met many others. On Monday I had Southern Mindanao cuisine and milk tea with handmade pearls with childhood friends I see twice, thrice a year. We played with my friend’s cat, who had gotten groomed just that afternoon. We spent the evening sitting in the dining room; we left the door to the balcony open to let the night breeze in. We played a game of We’re Just Friends and spoke about unexpected joys, hard truths we’ve had to learn, people we can be the most vulnerable with.

On Tuesday, I met former workmates over a Japanese lunch. I also met my current data team for the first time in person, over dimsum, and we visited one of our sites to meet the people on-ground whose work we support — the riders, the pickers, the site supervisors/managers who do the daily hard labor.

Then I met college friends for dinner. 2 years ago, right before the lockdown, we had made plans for dinner but opted to postpone it until things were safer. We thought it would be a few months at most, but this was the first time we had seen each other since.

On Wednesday, I met our tech team, and went to an onsite meeting with the rest of the company’s leaders and management. I saw my boss’s face for the first time outside a video call.

In between all these, I met my boyfriend for pockets of an hour or two for dinners and lunches. Laksa that was a little diluted, misua, homemade iced tea, ramen, gyudon, takoyaki, tempura. I had to take an antigen test, we had to take inefficient routes, and we barely had any time together, but the moments felt precious.

Afterward, I went home to family and spent the rest of the week back again in the province. I ate soft, sweet crinkle cookies with milk. I rested, watched k-drama episodes with my mother, did the work that needed to be done, started a book.

I write this now as a remembering of this week that feels like a gift. I have been trying to remain more aware this year of what keeps me well, what nurtures my spirit, what drains my energy, and this week is a reminder to me that above all, people matter to me. I love being close to nature, close to people I love, accompanied by good conversation and good food.


As I’ve cherished these moments, I’ve found myself thinking of life’s finitude, how precious these days and these moments really are. How many more of these meet-ups will we have, how many more memories will we be able to make together?

I spent second to sixth grade with the childhood friends I now meet maybe twice, thrice a year. During those five years, I spent maybe 220 days of the year with them (weekdays over the 10 months of the school year), for a total of 1100 days. If I met them twice a year since then, it would have been 28 more days together. If I keep meeting them twice a year until I am 75 (optimistically, assuming we all live to our average life expectancy and meet at the same frequency we do now well into the future), we will have about 100 more days left. This does not sound so bad at first, but it means I am at the last 9% of the time I have and will ever spend with them.

Here’s a great Wait but Why piece on “The Tail End”, with sobering visualizations of how much time we really have with those who matter most to us. “… Despite not being at the end of your life, you may very well be nearing the end of your time with some of the most important people in your life.”

I am reminded of a New York Times piece with this passage:

At some point you were closer to the last time than you were to the first time, and you didn’t even know it. You didn’t know that each time you passed the threshold you were saying goodbye.

An excerpt from The Way We Live Now: 11-11-01; Lost and Found by Colson Whitehead

How many last times have I already unwittingly passed without relishing the moment? As I ponder and carry this, I am challenged to be even more intentional for the people who matter. Many times, making time can be inefficient and impractical. Fully being present for others can feel difficult after a long day, a tiring week, a hard month. But putting into perspective just how limited the time we have is somehow lends strength.

This week has been full of firsts, and those are always worth cherishing. But this week I am sure has also been, without my knowing it yet, full of lasts – and both of those truths make these moments so precious.

Gentle Homes

A yell directly into her ear that rocks the living room. His hand slamming and slamming and slamming against the chair brings my mother to tears. My body reacts involuntarily, trembling for hours even after and silently tearing up again and again, even while my mind and the rest of my face keep collected. I’m an adult outer shell with a small child inside who’s still afraid of a drunk father, already dead for years and sober for even longer. My head is rational, logical, but my heart and my body are honest to triggers that I didn’t know existed.

I can’t pretend to be asleep anymore like I did when I was younger, so I just pretend I’m not shaken so I can firmly caress the back of a sobbing mother, pull her quietly away, offer water and a peanut butter sandwich, sit in the same chair for hours waiting for my sister to come home. When we finally close the lights of a bedroom all of us share, I find there are more tears, until finally, hours later, I fall asleep exhausted.

Some friends asked me last week — friends I’d known for half a decade, almost — don’t you ever get angry? I’ve never seen you lose your cool.

I grew up in a home that was both terribly loud (the karaoke blaring from the store outside, shouting and crying, things clanging, breaking) but also unbearably silent (we didn’t try to talk about things we didn’t know how to change or all the ways we hurt each other, we just moved forward, pretending we could heal from our internal bruises & forgive and love each other as best as we could). I wrote before that I’m learning to make anger a friend, but the truth is that I’m still afraid of it.

I cannot bring myself to anger because I’ve seen what loud anger does. I picture a younger version of myself with closed eyes, tears running, trying to breathe through a clogged nose without making a sound, underneath the sheets, reminding myself anger has only briefly transfigured a person I love. I cannot bring myself to frighten, even just a little bit, that tender child that might be in another person, too.

I once read this passage going around social media, which seems to be from an anonymous Tumblr user whose blog is now deactivated —

We will create a home with no loud anger, no explosive rage, no slamming doors or breaking glass. Our home will be gentle, it will be warm. … We come from broken and twisted places but together we will build something whole and safe. We will heal, and we will raise a family that doesn’t need to heal.

Gentle and warm. Whole and safe. Sometimes I think of this and I wonder if it’s truly possible. When you live life the same way for too long a time, it’s hard to imagine things could be different. The thought feels almost unfair — if it’s possible, why couldn’t it be possible for me? But we don’t get to choose what hand we are dealt, only what we do from there.

I hope no one ever trembles when they remember my anger. I hope I build gentle, warm spaces. I hope I can make people feel whole, safe.

Best

“You made the best decision you could have made at the time.”

This line has been a source of comfort over this pandemic. There have been so many important decisions I have had to make in the middle of confusion and uncertainty, and often in retrospect — especially when the outcome is painful or un-ideal — I berate myself for making bad choices, even though when I’m asked if I’d choose differently, I can’t say yes.

Here is a well-written piece on outcome bias, and why all decisions are bets and should therefore be evaluated based on odds, stakes, and the thoughtfulness of the decision-making process undertaken with the information available, instead of its end result.

From the Wikipedia article: “One will often judge a past decision by its ultimate outcome instead of based on the quality of the decision at the time it was made, given what was known at that time. This is an error because no decision-maker ever knows whether or not a calculated risk will turn out for the best.”

We course through life making educated guesses. We’re faced with decisions that define our relationships, our career, our lives — and many of us hold ourselves accountable every time things don’t go right. I know I do. Even now, I sometimes spend hours reflecting on the things I said, the things I did — asking myself how I could have chosen differently. Is there a life I could have chosen where we are still friends? Could I have spared my father the heartache, spared my mother the fear and anxiety? Should I have known it would turn out this way?

But many times, all we can do is make the best decision we can from where we are. A softer, more compassionate voice inside me serves to remind me this when things are difficult. Life is unforgiving, but I can forgive myself for the choices that led to things I could not have controlled.

Nevertheless, we do make mistakes. Things we’d do over if we could. Celeste Ng writes in Little Fires Everywhere, “We all do things we regret now and then. You just have to carry them with you.”

Life’s full of a million choices. We try to make our choices thoughtfully, wholeheartedly. Sometimes we find out, later along, that there are better choices after all, and we have the opportunity to make them. Sometimes all we can do is carry them.

A Short Story Snippet from 2016

“Sorry, we can’t insure you for a journey like that,” the man said. He was a middle-aged man in a well-fitted business suit.

She frowned. “Why not?”

The man continued to press buttons on his calculator. His eyes strained behind his gold-rimmed spectacles. After a few seconds, he looked up and said, “Ma’am, the company policy is to only insure trips with at least an 85% probability of success—”

“You’ve already told me about the predicted success rate!” she said, slamming her hand on the table and rattling him. “But I’ve already told you that this is important. This is my last chance. Please, I only have three weeks—”

“Yes, yes,” the man said, shifting in his seat. The others in the office were now staring at them, making the man visibly uncomfortable. The woman, on the other hand, was unfazed. “But the company—” He coughed. “Let’s put it this way, ma’am. The X3005 model has been out for 5 years. It’s already so outdated; companies these days are releasing models every 2 weeks, you know.”

She opened her mouth to retort, but the Business Suit Man held his hand up to stop her. “Frankly, we don’t think X3005 would make it through a trip like that. Might I recommend talking to our Collection Department? I’m sure the compensation would be sufficient for a down payment on our newest model—”

“Her name is Annise!” she screeched. “And I already told you! I’m not going to have her made into scrap metal! I don’t care about the fucking compensation.” She looked like she was about to cry. “Just—I need to be sure she’ll be okay after this. Please.”

The Business Suit Man looked at her and sighed. They had been talking for two hours now, and he was growing weary of her persistence. He opened his table’s left drawer, took out a stack of papers, and handed them to the woman. “I can’t guarantee it, but you can fill up these forms and submit them to Counter 5. I’m telling you, ma’am, they are subject to approval and—”

The woman was visibly relieved. “Thank you,” she interrupted.

He furrowed his brows. “But ma’am, you have to understand: even if you get insurance, X3” — her eyes narrowed — “…ahem, A-Annise — she’ll have questions, when you’re gone. And the best we can do is drop her off at the local orphanage, but the adoption system for androids isn’t great in this country. You’re better off staying, spend what remains of the three weeks here. There are too many risks. Do you understand, ma’am?”

The woman looked at him, eyes sad and tired. “I have to go.”

Anger

Anger is a friend. It was created by God for a purpose: to tell us that there’s a problem that needs to be confronted.

Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend

I grew up afraid of anger. My father would come home drunk from nights out with my uncles and get into fights with my older sister and mother. There was lots of shouting, and I remember as a child pretending to be asleep so I wouldn’t need to be part of it. There are two holes in the walls of our bedroom back when we still lived in Magsaysay Drive — both are from times he got so angry he punched straight through the wooden walls.

In elementary school, there was a boy in my class who picked on me because I had scars on my legs and if I got angry and picked on him back, his face would burn red and we’d get into physical fights.

Because of these and more, I had always thought when someone said “anger management issues” it meant violent outbursts and hurtful words. I’d never considered the possibility that anger management issues included not expressing, quickly stifling, and not making room for my own anger.

It wasn’t until a few months ago that I realized that maybe I wasn’t allowing anger to accomplish its purpose: to help me confront a problem, to acknowledge when something was not right and when I was hurt, and to use it to help me be brave enough to confront, speak truth, and to communicate what I needed and where my boundaries were.

Often, I am too quick to turn Anger into Sadness. When I get mad, I end up crying. I feel guilty for being mad, afraid I am asking too much, anxious the relationship might break.

When the film Inside Out was released, a lot of people talked about the story of Joy and Sadness, and how they need to co-exist for us to be truly emotionally healthy, but not so much about the other emotions. Today, I think about the red hothead that was Anger, with his fiery spirit and the way he truly cared that things were fair.

I don’t think I want anger to make my heart a home, but I hope I can learn to listen to him when he visits.

Video Games

One of my favorite Twitter threads from Julie Zhuo is about how life is like a video game, and how people can be playing different games. It’s similar to that saying — “don’t climb someone else’s ladder.” “Some successful people climb the ladder and find that they’re on top of the wrong building.”

It’s easy to get swept up by the most popular games (“acquire wealth and possessions”, “be known for [topic]”), or to trust blindly in the advice of those playing a different game than ours. Zhuo recommends thinking about ourselves at 80, and asking ourselves: “What will you be proud that you played?”


My favorite video games as a kid were Neopets, Harvest Moon, and Pokémon. What is common across all three games is that in each one, you take care of other beings — neopets, farm animals, Pokémon. You go around a village or a nation or a world meeting all kinds of people and there are plenty of stories to discover.

There are no right ways to play these games. There isn’t a specific goal and no preset definitions for winning at those games. Even for Pokémon, it’s arguable — is the goal to catch them all? To win the Pokémon league? To complete the Pokédex? How does one know when one has become “the very best”?

While playing Neopets, I learned about wealth (from waiting for the Neopian shops to restock), coding (from designing my pets’ pages), the stock market (from that Chia in a tux), and even manufacturing businesses (from Plushie Tycoon). I played a lot of games, joined battles, did quests, collected avatars, collected trophies, gave my pets books to read, considered joining contests for writing and art for the Neopian Times.

In Harvest Moon, I enjoyed learning about farm crops and farm animals (plus a dog). I learned cooking recipes when I built out a kitchen for my house. I memorized the favorite items of the village people (even the Kappa and the Harvest Goddess) so I could give it to them and develop our relationships. I married the doctor and had a baby. I paid for appliances and house and cabin renovations. I went to festivals and danced.


Many years back, I told a friend that I had no specific dreams for myself. Instead, my dream is supporting others to make their come true. I feel I have plenty of dreams for myself now, but it also remains true that I feel passionately about supporting others’ dreams.

A colleague recently told me that he thinks “[my] expertise is in starting things up.” I was surprised, because I’d always thought of myself as someone who was terrible at building something from scratch. But looking back, I realized that many of the biggest things I’ve said yes to, I did because someone had a bold dream and I wanted to help make it happen, even when I didn’t know how to — to build on the dreams of others and be part of making an even better dream come true.

I love setting the stage and letting others take the spotlight. I’m proud of it, in fact, and I consider it a win when others are celebrated instead of myself.

When I sit down and think about it, it feels as though I already know what game I want to play and what “winning in life” means for me. But sometimes I still get confused by the loudness of what society expects me to be playing and I second guess whether my choices for how I am choosing to design my life is right. (Of course, there is no one “right” game to play, so perhaps this concern is not even a valid one.)

These days, this is what matters most to me, the game that I care about playing:

  1. Can I show up for and love well the people who are closest to me, most especially the least, the last, and the lost? Can I be fully present and pay attention?
  2. Am I growing in faithfulness, gratefulness, and love for God?
  3. Can I offer my best self and better myself every single day? Am I continuing to discover more of the world?

This is the game I’d be proud of playing.

Qualifications

I am trying to learn to say yes to opportunities I don’t feel qualified for. I’ve been quieting the voice inside me that asks whether I can, that tells me I don’t deserve to — and replacing it with kinder words to remind myself to accept life’s graces.

I’ve always been overly conscious of taking up too much space, and I’ve self-rejected and shied away from so many things in the past — but I want to be a braver person. To become that person, I’m learning to make more courageous choices in my life, and to lean into the discomfort of accepting bigger dreams, wider platforms, greater responsibilities.

I’m slowly discovering how to trust myself, to trust the voices around me that believe in me, and to trust that God will still be enough when I am not.