For Fathers Who Aren’t In Heaven

Sad stories are life’s reality. Several weeks ago I heard one sad story. It was told by a young man, but he did not even relayed it to me. I just overheard it.

We were in a youth camporee, and I went there as a supervising adult (see previous post). There were more than 300 boys and girls from several youth clubs that came to that camping.

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evening worship at the camp

One morning in the boy’s public bathroom, I was in one of the toilet stalls minding my own business. There was no phone signal in the camp, so I cannot surf the web on my smart phone to keep me entertained. I was just watching a small spider spinning his web at one corner of the stall.

(Sorry, this is my second post in a row that discuss something about restrooms. It is not my intention to turn this blog into a toilet talk, but just bear with me, for there’s a good point I want to make here, I promise.)

Then I heard people came to the restroom. I believe there were at least two boys who came in. While brushing their teeth and perhaps washing their faces at the lavatories, they started a conversation.

After some small talk and introducing themselves to each other, like their name and what youth club or place they came from, one boy opened up with a very personal information. I was not being nosy nor eavesdropping, but as the wash basins were just a few feet from the toilet stall I was in, I heard all their conversation.

“I never knew who my father is, for I never met him,” one boy confessed.

He added that he met his real mother when he was eleven years old, but her mother never told him who his real dad is. Then he said that his mother told him that she gave him away for adoption for he was a “blue baby” when he was born. “I was blue as a Smurf,” he quipped. Her mother thought that she cannot take care of him due to his condition, so she gave him away.

As a medical doctor, I know that “blue babies” have an anomaly in their heart or in their circulation causing poorly oxygenated blood to course into their arteries giving the bluish discoloration of their skin. Unless a life saving procedure or surgery is done immediately, they will not survive. Most likely this boy underwent such surgery.

I know this boy is a survivor. Yet he might had the corrective surgery to close a hole in his heart, but the void and longing in his heart for love, especially from a father he never knew, was never filled.

Like a priest inside a confession box, except that I was in a toilet stall, I heard all this heart-breaking confession of a young man without him seeing me. Most likely he didn’t even know I was there listening to his story. He is not aware that the walls, even the very private toilet walls, have ears.

I would like to break out from the stall I was in and give this young man a big hug, but given the situation and place, that may be deemed inappropriate. Perhaps even scandalous.

The thing is I know his first name, his age, where he is from, and what club he is a member of, but I never saw his face. By the time I was done with my business, and came out of the stall, the two boys were gone.

My heart was broken just listening to that sad story. I can just imagine what heartache that boy was feeling. I just hope he finds the love he was looking for even if he has no father. Though one thing for sure, “our Father who art in heaven,” loves him and I pray that he realized that.

This made me thinking, that fathers who aren’t in heaven, me included, have such a great responsibility. We may never change the world singlehandedly, but we are given this distinctive duty and privilege to make a positive impact in the precious lives of our children. And perhaps if all fathers will do that, then the world will change.

For you fathers who may be reading this, or for you young men or even boys who will be fathers some day, I hope we all rise up to this challenge.

Have a happy and meaningful Father’s Day.

Into the Next Frontier

I made it!

With another birthday under my belt, it is official. I have outlived my father.

After a certain age, people don’t like having birthdays anymore. I guess it is when the number of candles in your birthday cake is deemed a fire hazard, that getting older another year can also be deemed as a health hazard. Though a friend of mine sent me this text message: “Birthdays are good for your health; studies have shown that people who have more birthdays live longer.” Hah!

But before you all wildly congratulate me on reaching such a significant milestone (at least it is for me), the bar that was set was really low. You see, my father passed away less than a month before his 51st birthday.

My grandfathers, on both mother’s and father’s side, did not walk that long on this earth either. My mother’s dad died when he was in his 30’s, and my dad’s father did not last much beyond his 50’s. That’s why I never had the chance to meet my grandfathers.

Come to think of it, my children did not meet their grandfathers too, as both my father and my wife’s father died way before our kids were born. In fact they died even before my wife and I met. We need to break this chain.

I may consider that I am now walking on uncharted territory. But I am eager and hopeful on what lies ahead on what my father and grandfathers were not able to explore. The frontier of growing old.

It is interesting though that what age we consider old depends on what stage in life were in. In one article I read, they asked different people on when do they consider the start of  old age. Here’s their answer:

5-year-olds: Old age begins at 13.
13-year-olds: Old age begins at 30.
30-year-olds: Old age begins at 50.
50-year-olds: Old age begins at 75.
75-year-olds: Never. And go away.

For me, I still would not consider myself old. Not yet. Not after another 50 years. And if you don’t agree with me, go away!

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I am not ready to slow down just yet. In my mind I believe that there is still enough bounce left in me. Though my joints may tell me otherwise.

It is spring time and getting warmer here. It’s time once again to run outdoors and start preparing for another half marathon. I need new running shoes though. Perhaps I can get a discount through AARP.

(*photo taken few months ago)

Empty Room

As parents, there are events in our child’s life that are happy moments, that we are proud of and we celebrate.

Events like their first spoken word, or their first step. Or maybe it is their first goal in the kids’ soccer league, or their first medal in the youth swim meet. Or maybe it is their first piano recital or perhaps their first role in their school play.

Or perhaps it is your child’s first visit to the principal’s office. What? Oh my mistake! We defintely are not proud of that, and don’t celebrate that event.

However, there are also events in our child’s life that are supposed to be milestone, but somehow we are sad that that day has come.

One of those events is when they enter college. Especially when the university they are going to is more than a hundred miles away, and that means they are leaving home.

So the day that we are preparing for, and also dreading for, but know that it is coming, has come.

Our little girl is off to college! Where did time go?

my daughter’s school bag evolution: from elementary, to high shcool, and college

As we sent her off to college the other day, I was having some difficulty bringing her stuff and things down the stairs to load in the car. It was not that her stuff was heavy, like her teddy bear. Or maybe a little bit, like her drawer. But it was more so that my heart was heavy. I can’t seem to let go.

We want her to stay home. Perhaps just to be with us for a little longer. But we also know that it is time. Time for her to pursue her chosen career. Time for her to follow her dreams. Time for her to go out there, and make her own mark in this world.

As I passed my daughter’s room this morning, something have drawn me to enter it. Perhaps I was hoping that she’s still there, sleeping in her bed. Perhaps I was wishing to find someone there that I would nudge out of bed, and tell her to go hop into the shower, for it is late. Perhaps I was just missing someone to greet good morning, and remind her that I love her.

We are definitely not washing our daughter’s bedsheet, pillow cases, and blanket. We will leave her bed as is, as she left it. Until she comes back home for a visit.

 

 

Flowers for My Daughter (Reloaded)

Six years ago, I had this post (see original post here):

Flowers for My Daughter

Today is my daughter’s 12th birthday. And this is her first birthday to be away from home and from us, as she is currently with my relatives in California for a short vacation. Besides greeting her over the phone, I also did send her flowers.

It just seems yesterday that my little girl was just playing in the dirt and picking wild flowers and dandelions in our yard. She will collect the dandelions and put them in a cup with water, and then she will give them to mom.

I think it is interesting that she finds beauty in the dandelions while I find them a nuisance weed that needs to be killed at all cost, even if I use enough herbicide to poison a whole town. That just prove that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.

Now, my little girl is not little anymore as I want to believe. Where did time go?

I know not very long from now, boys will be giving her flowers for her birthday, for Valentine’s, and for no occasion at all. I just want to be the first one to do so. And when that day (that every father dreads) comes, when she will walk down the aisle with a bouquet of flowers in her hands, I hope she remembers who gave her, her first flowers.

If you do the math, then you’ll deduce how old my daughter is now. Time really flies. I still have a hard time believing this too.

In a few months she will be off to college and will be leaving home. There will be one empty room in our home. No one in that room that I would nudge out of bed if she won’t get up even after her two alarm clocks went off. No one to gently remind to hurry up if she’s taking her sweet time in the shower. No one to holler to to get out of her room and come down for dinner. No one in that room that I would say good night to. And no one from that room that would answer back “Good night Dad.” No one to……..

Sorry. Maybe I’m just over reacting. Or maybe I’m a hopeless sentimental fool. Is it full moon?

But even if she’s away and not home anymore, I still can send her flowers, right? Just like before, when she turned 12.

Today, I just did. Even if she’s not away.

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(*photo taken with an iPhone)

 

Someone to Watch Over Me

“Your bear needs a car seat”.

With a knowing smile, that’s what one of my partners at work told me, a few days ago. He was talking about the teddy bear in my car.

He claimed his curiosity was piqued when he saw a teddy bear securely strapped with a seatbelt in the back seat of a car, and wondered whose car was it. Then he saw a white lab coat with a name embroidered on it, hanging on the back rest of the front seat. He then learned that it was mine.

I was busted for having a teddy bear in the car!

my silent passenger

You probably wondering, why does a grown-up man have a toy bear?

That teddy bear was placed by my wife in my car right after our son was born. We were still in Florida at that time. It was for the purpose that whenever our baby rides in my car, there’s a toy that he can play with to keep him quiet, and also to keep him company in the back seat.

Sure enough, whenever my son and even my daughter whose 5 years older, rode in my car, they played with that teddy bear. It pacified them. It cheered them. It kept them company. My son even gave it a name. He called it “Dr. Teddy.”

That was some time ago.

We have changed home address at least 3 times, moved to Iowa since, and I even replaced my previous car. But that bear remained in the back seat of my car.

And my son? He does not even sit in the back seat anymore. He now sits in the front seat whenever he rides with me.

In the US, the traffic law of most states only allow children to sit in the front seat of a vehicle if they are more than 80 pounds, or more than 5 feet tall, or more than 12 years of age. My son is all of the above now.

My daughter? She herself has been driving for about a year already.

Perhaps I just did not notice how time have gone so fast that that bear was not needed anymore. Or perhaps I was too busy and just did not have the time to remove the teddy bear. Or maybe I just cannot let go of the bear, and the period of time and the memories it represents.

Though I don’t particularly miss tangling with infant carrier, or futzing with car seats, or changing diapers.

For you parents with little children, who probably gets annoyed with the ritual of fastening carriers and car seats, or perhaps are fed up of the duty of changing the dreaded dirty diapers: embrace these rites of passage. For tomorrow, you blink, and they’re gone, except for the memories.

Or maybe, just maybe, that the bear was not really for my kids, but for me. Someone to watch over me, and keep me company when I’m all by myself.

The bear stays.

(*photo taken with an iPhone)

Overdrive

They said it is a landmark event. An occasion of historic proportion. Signaling the dawn of a new era.

Before you get too excited, perhaps I’m just getting overly dramatic. It just that it was the first time that I was sitting on the passenger seat of a car, and my daughter was on the driver’s seat. My little girl is driving!

My daughter who is now 16 years of age, has recently acquired a learner’s permit and can drive under adult supervision. She is also taking a driver’s education course (driver’s ed).

Completing a formal driver’s ed, is required here in Iowa for all who have learner’s permit before they can apply for a full driver’s license. This includes 30 hours of classroom instruction and 6 hours of laboratory instruction, including 3 hours behind the wheel. That’s an extensive driving lesson, more than all the driving tips I can provide. Plus I don’t want her to inherit my bad driving habits that I learned from driving in Manila.

In the meantime, this means my daughter can drive as long as an adult with a valid driver’s license, is with her inside the vehicle. In another year, she’ll be able to drive alone on her own altogether.

This is exciting because this means my daughter is now a young lady and driving must be a monumental experience for her. Isn’t it not too long ago that she was just sitting at the back, strapped on a child car seat, and kicking the back of my driver’s seat?

Yes exciting, but also scary.

Scary not because I’m afraid that she’ll drive recklessly and crash. She’s more “law-abiding” than any of us in the family. If the speed limit says 55 miles per hour, she will stay at 55. Not 65. Not 60. Not 58. But 55!

Scary not because I don’t trust her with this big responsibility signifying her independence. For I do trust her and I know that she is a responsible young lady.

It is scary because this means that as much as I want to be in control and protect her all the time, this time she has to do it on her own.

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A couple of days ago, I let my daughter drive with all of us inside the car. I sat on the front passenger seat, while my wife and son were in the back seat. Not too long after we pulled out of our driveway, I got so tense and almost jump from my seat, as I thought she was driving too close to the curb and almost hit our neighbor’s mailbox.

After giving her more driving tips, I tried to relax, but I can’t. My feet every now and then, would unknowingly kick or step on the floor as if I have the gas pedal or brake pedal on my side. I remember my father doing this too when he let me drive for the first time. It is a parent’s reflex.

Many times as parents, due to our paternal or maternal instincts, we always have the feeling that our children are in harm’s way and we try to protect them and keep them always under our wings.

But there comes a time, that we should let go. And let them take flight.

After a few more miles, as my daughter have gained more confidence behind the wheel, without me overbearing on her every move, I was able to control my anxiety and settle down. I am not the driver anymore. I am now a mere passenger.

Several more minutes later, we arrived at our destination safely and with my sanity intact. I’m sure my wife was much relieved too. Though I would say, my daughter still need to work on her parking skills.

Maybe someday when she will be more masterful in her driving, I can sit in the back of the driver’s seat. And as an homage and payback, I’ll softly kick her seat.

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Post Note: After publishing this piece, I received a notification that this is my 500th post. This is another landmark! Again, thank you for all you readers who make this all worthwhile.

Beyond Testing

Recently my wife and I were helping our daughter prepare for a national exam. It was the Preliminary Scholastic Assessment Test (PSAT) or also known as National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT). For my readers who are not familiar with this, it is one of the standardized tests high school students here in the US take. It is one thing colleges can use to evaluate for admissions, as well as qualification for scholarship grants. It is akin to the National College Entrance Examination (NCEE) in the Philippines which I took to apply for college. (By the way, NCEE was abolished in 1994, ten years after I took it.)

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It seems only yesterday, we were introducing the ABC’s to our daughter and teaching her how to count 1, 2, 3. Now she is way beyond 1A + 2/B = 3C. And indeed, we are preparing her for college admission already. In another blink, she’ll be off to college. Where did time go?

I would consider myself an expert test taker. That’s not bragging. Or maybe a little bit. With college exams, medical school tests, medical licensure exams (both US and Philippines), American board exam and different subspecialties board certifications – I believe I have taken so many exams that I have my test-taking skills refined to a tee. But that’s not my best qualification to coach my daughter for the PSAT. I may also have aced my college admission test, but that’s not my prime qualification either.

I believe my foremost qualification to help my daughter prepare for the exam, is the plain fact that I am his father, and I really cared for her future. In fact, my wife and I have taken our children’s education personally that we homeschooled them.

I remember my father telling me years ago, that the best inheritance they could leave me is education. We may not have much but I am thankful to my parents for the education they provided me, and the opportunities it opened for me that led me where I am now.

I have mentioned in the past that my father came not from a family of means, but a family of farmers in the Philippines. They were hardworking yet simple people. My father was the first one in their kinsfolk to pursue a higher education and to have a college degree. He did it by working to support himself through college.

My mother on the other hand came from a family of teachers. Most of them were elementary school teachers, including my mom. She was my first teacher, who introduced me to reading and math, even before I officially enrolled in kindergarten.

I have also mentioned in my past posts, that I am the first in our clan to go to medical school. I wished my dad could have seen me graduate, but he died prematurely even before I completed my first year. Even though he passed away, I was blessed that I was still able to finish medical school. Thanks to scholarship.

Last year, one nephew of mine, finished medical school. So I am not the only doctor now in our clan. I hope there will be another one in the future, even in my own immediate family.

My daughter does not know yet exactly what college course she wants to pursue. Nonetheless she is leaning towards music and math. One thing she knows though is that she does not want to be a medical doctor, and I am fine with that.

But there’s more important things in life than grades and scoring high in exams. There’s more important assets in this world than titles and college degrees. Values like integrity, honesty, perseverance, love, and family, just to name a few. I hope I can teach these to my children as well.

Whatever happens to the PSAT/NMSQT; or whatever college or career my daughter pursues; or whatever future for that matter, she will have – there is one thing that will not change. And that is I will be proud of her no matter what. Just for the simple reason, that she is my daughter.

(*image from here)

Daddy is Home

It was a long day.

In reality, it had been a series of long days, and long weeks, of a long month. You see, I have been the ICU attending physician for the past 4 weeks, and the stress of work and taking care of very sick patients was like a dragon breathing down my neck. It was wearing me down.

I came home feeling depleted and defeated.

Even though it was late, my wife and kids were just happy to see me home. My wife has even waited for me to eat dinner, though I knew she was tired and hungry too. It felt good to be home after such an arduous day.

Before we went to bed, we had a family prayer, just like every night. My son led the prayer, and I heard him say, “Thank you God, for bringing Daddy home.”

Suddenly, all the day’s cares melted away. I felt so blessed.

As I rest my head on the pillow, I thought of the other fathers in the world that were not able to come home. The overseas contract workers. The soldiers deployed somewhere away from their home. And the others for some reason or another that cannot come home tonight. Including our patients that were languishing in the ICU. I felt sad for them and their kids who cannot say the prayer of thanks that my son did.

I especially thought of the father I took care earlier today. He will not come home. Ever.

May he rest in peace. And I pray that his family find peace.

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waiting for daddy

(*photo from here)

Some Assembly Required

I came home one day and saw my son in his room, busy tinkering on something. He had our tool box open on the floor. Was he working on a new project, like the time machine? Or transmogrifier gun? Or perhaps the shrink ray gizmo? No. He was just assembling his newly bought Nerf toy gun.

Everything that we purchase nowadays has some kind of assembly required. From furnitures, to gadgets, to toys. Next time, even our pets will need assembly. Pet robots, that is!

I bought my first furnitures from IKEA, 19 years ago. Like everything else from this store, it required some assembly. I am proud to say that I assembled my table and my single-size bed on my own. Without help. Yes, they may be crooked a little bit, but hey, they were functional. The table still sits in our home, and being used. The single-size bed, I gave away a long time ago, after I got married.446f87299cecabd15e216efd4bdf3f56_254920-700x

The key to these some assembly required things, is following the instructions that accompany them. It may be something like this: 1. Set up part A parallel to part B. (What is parallel again?) 2. Insert tab C to slot C. (But it does not fit!) 3. Connect fixture D to proximal end of slab D. (Which of these 5 types of screws provided would I use?) 4. Find piece E. (Find piece E! It’s missing!)

Many times though, we forego of the instructions and assemble them on our own instincts, until we learn that we are doing it wrong. I know, I have done that, as I have to disassemble something almost halfway, when it did not fit right. Of course the instructions was right there all along, I just have to read it.

Not too long ago, we bought a bookcase that needed some assembly. My son (who is 10 years old) and I worked hand-in-hand to put it together. In fact, I let him do most of the work. I even let him use my battery-powered screw driver which was a Father’s Day gift from my wife a few years back. It surely gave us some father-and-son time. Though most of it, we were arguing about the instructions.

Like many things, our relationships are some assembly required. Especially our relationship with our spouse and our children. But the instructions are not exact nor universal. They are more like recommendations rather than a command. It is up to us to figure it out and work it out. There may be trial and error at times. But the important thing is to assemble it up.

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I am fully aware that it takes time and effort to assemble anything. Whether it is a 3-piece furniture like a bench, or 300-piece contraption, like a children’s play set. And I know it will be much easier for us if it comes already assembled. But that’s not the case with our relationships. It does not come pre-fabricated nor assembled. It needs our time and effort to put it up properly.

Now what’s our next project? What will my daughter and I assemble? A grand piano?

For all the fathers out there, may we all have a meaningful Father’s Day.

(*photos from the net)

One Sleepless Night

I woke up to the sound of crying. It was coming from my son’s bedroom. It was not a wailing cry but rather of a quiet whimpering. I am not a light sleeper, for I can sleep through thunder, storms and screaming sirens. But somehow I was awakened, perhaps it was the parent in me that heightened my sensation to this kind of sounds.

I called my son to come to our bedroom. When he came in and I asked him what was wrong, he answered matter-of-factly, “I cannot sleep.” It was about midnight.

It was just our third night after we came back from the Philippines. With the 14-hour time difference between Manila and Des Moines, it was understandable that our day and night biorhythm was way out-of-order. Though I confess, I had no problem falling asleep that night, as I already started working the next day we arrived, and with my ICU rotation, that made me very tired. In fact, I was even on-call the night before, so my body was so sleep deprived that no amount of jet-lag can keep me from sleeping.

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Goodbye Manila! (photo taken after taking off at NAIA)

I asked my son to hop into our bed and tried to console him. He is usually jolly most of the times and we know that he is unafraid of the dark. Perhaps it was being alone in the dark with nobody to talk to, while everybody else was sleeping that made him doleful. Or maybe it was the fact that for the past couple of weeks he was sleeping with lots of people (his cousins) in a room, and now all of a sudden he is by his lonesome in his bedroom and he is missing all of them. Or maybe it was just the exasperation of lying awake for more than 2 hours and cannot fall asleep.

My son then asked me what can he do to fall asleep. He asked me this not because he knows that I am a Board-certified sleep expert, but because I am his dad. I told him that he can read a book, but he was not interested in that. I then suggested that he can eat a banana for it has tryptophan that can induce the body to produce melatonin, a natural sleep-inducer, but he was not convinced with my science. (Of course I won’t offer him to take any medications for sleep.) That was when I told him to count sheep. He asked me where did I get that silly idea, and I told him that I learned it not from my medical books but rather from Sesame Street, when I was about his age.

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Ernie counting sheep (courtesy of Sesame Street)

At that point, he already stopped crying. I quietly accompanied him out of our bedroom and back to his room so as not to wake up his mom whom we left sleeping in our bed. I told him he can play with his Lego while I climbed up in my son’s bed and lay there just to keep him company. Maybe I can finally get back to sleep.

However, as I laid there in my son’s bedroom, it was my turn to be wide awake. My mind cannot stop wandering…..

I thought of the many times that I have read bedtime stories to this boy who is now contentedly playing on the floor, and the thousand of times I have tucked him to bed. I also recalled the instance that he called me one night in distress and would not go to sleep as there was a “big” (it was really an itsy-bitsy) spider on the wall near his bed. There were also a few opposite occasions in the past, that we brought him to an evening event but he fell asleep through the show and missed it all. In fact, it was just a little more than a week ago when we were in Manila, and our relatives wanted to show us the new dancing fountain in Rizal Park, but my son was too tired and fell asleep throughout the trip. I ended up taking a video of the fountain instead and showed it to him in the morning. Oh there were more wonderful memories……

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Luneta’s new dancing fountain (photo taken with iPhone)

After an hour of me lying awake in my son’s bedroom, my wife woke up and came in to the room and joined me in my son’s bed. Several minutes later, my son finally got tired and grab his sleeping bag from the closet and slept on the floor, while me and my wife laid in his bed. Not too long after he was in La La land.

I hope someday my son will remember this night, and appreciate what his old man did for him. I did not do anything really, except laid in his bed and kept him company in one long sleepless night.

Or maybe someday when I am in my golden years, and I feel alone in the darkness of our retirement home, that I will pick up the phone in the wee hours of the morning and call my son to return the favor, and tell him, “Son, I cannot sleep.”