Happy Father’s Day, Wherever You Are

Eamonn

Eamonn Kendall Liwag Sutcliffe on his Graduation Day 2009

 

“It is not flesh and blood but the heart which makes us fathers and sons.” ~ Johann Schiller

Oma and Eamonn
Eamonn and his Oma (my mother)

I thought about what I would say in this post. Would I dedicate it to my father, Exequiel Liwag, a man I loved greatly and lost too soon? Perhaps not. I decided that I just didn’t have it in me to talk about my dad today, probably because I think that both Father’s Day and Mother’s Day are holidays that are for the most part perpetuated by the retailers of the world:  Make a holiday, and they will come. Impose guilt through flashy ads, and they will buy.

My father’s love for me and mine for him was something that surpasses a card-giving holiday. Even though he has been dead for eight years, I still talk to him when I am most troubled. I still look to him for guidance. So I did not want this post to be about everything that I did and didn’t have with my father.

Rather, I thought that I would use this post to do two things: Celebrate the man who is a father to my children 365 days a year, and celebrate the graduation of eldest son this past week, hence all of the photos with the handsome, smiling lad in blue. 

“The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.” ~ Author Unknown

I know that I talk about Corey all of the time in my posts, but I wanted to take a moment to point out a few things about the man that I love.

Brett Eamonnn and Alexis
Brett, Eamonn, and Alexis

I believe that children learn as much from watching their parents as they do from listening to them. That is why a child will be aware that he or she lives in a house full of discontent, even though the adults may never speak of it. What Corey brought to this family is an ability to love wholeheartedly and openly.

All of my children know how much Corey and I love each other and how much we love each of them. We are a family that says “I love you” to one another, regardless of who is nearby. One of the first things that Eamonn wanted affirmation of after Corey became a regular part of our lives was if it would be all right to tell Corey that he loved him. I told Eamonn that it is always okay to tell a person that you love them, that love is nothing to be ashamed of, ever.

So rather than spending the last nine years of their lives living in an atmosphere of tension and misunderstanding, my children have grown up in a home that is filled with a very gratifying sense of closeness, and I truly believe that they are better for it.

“We also honor those surrogate fathers who raise, mentor, or care for someone else’s child. Thousands of young children benefit from the influence of great men, and we salute their willingness to give and continue giving.” ~ From President Barack Obama’s 2009  Father’s Day Proclamation

I know that several people were wary of what kind of stepfather Corey would be, mostly because of his age and inexperience. As I have mentioned before, Corey is younger than I, and there is a significant age difference between us.

But I knew Corey; I knew how much love he had in his heart and how much he was willing to give, so I never had any doubts that he would make a good stepfather to my children, and I was right.

Eamonn and Corey
Eamonn and Corey

Of all of my children, Eamonn is the one who is still closest to his father. But oddly enough, of all of my children, Eamonn seems to be the one who is closest to Corey. I admire this in Eamonn: his ability to have such love for two completely different men, and to respect each of them for who they are, never blurring the lines between them.

I know that each of my children has a unique relationship with Corey. Alexis will turn to Corey when she has a problem or needs help. She will call Corey first when Mike is out of town if she needs someone’s help. That is why when Alexis withdrew earlier in the year, it was so hard on Corey. He is used to speaking with Alexis every day, even for just a few minutes.

She is older than my sons by a big gap because of Caitlin, so  it was never really realistic for Corey to view Alexis as his stepdaughter. But he has always been there for her, supported her, and loved her.

As to Brett, whose emotions are much harder to read, I know from Brett telling me many times that he is very happy that Corey is part of our family. Brett knows how many sacrifices Corey has made for all of us, and of the three, Brett is probably the one who asks the least of Corey but understands him the best.

“He didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.” ~ Clarence Buddington Kelland

Corey took on an incredible responsibility when he married me. I didn’t have baggage. I had steamer trunks. But Corey never doubted us and never doubted that we could make it work.

Mom and Eamonn
Eamonn and Me

When things are grimmest, as they have been this past 18 months, Corey is the one who always finds a way. He is my bulwark against the storms, and no one has ever loved or understood me in the way that Corey does.

To say that I admire and respect him is an understatement. He may have fewer years than I, but his wisdom is ageless, his sagacity keen. I value his opinion on any subject, and he respects my opinions and never belittles me for anything I say or do.

We have a comfortable relationship, born out of friendship. We banter with each other constantly, which some people have misunderstood as arguments, but we rarely argue, and when we do, you can bet that it’s over something significant, not over whose turn it is to clean the kitchen or anything else completely inane. I credit part of that to our ages: I have gotten old enough to realize that small things really don’t matter in this grand pageant of life, and Corey is still young enough to be patient over small things. We fit together well.

And our relationship gives me hope that my sons will learn by watching, and will treat their own partners with as much love and respect as Corey shows me. Since I’ve been ill and less able to do things around the house, Corey has taken the burden from me and taken it upon himself. He cooks and does laundry. I go behind him and wipe down and help to fold and put away the clothes.

And if I am having a bad day or two, Corey handles everything—pickups at school, groceries, dinner, my medication, and keeping me comfortable. I’ve known firsthand of some men who simply cannot handle illness in any form; for them, illness is equated to weakness, and weakness is frowned upon. I have known many marriages to end when one spouse loses a job, or becomes ill, or if there are problems with a child.

Corey and I have weathered all of this and more, and I am comfortable in saying that we stand stronger today than we did when we took our vows eight years ago. If I were to use one word to describe our relationship, it would symbiotic.

So this post is for Corey, in honor of Father’s Day, because he is nothing if not a wonderful father, mentor, teacher, and friend.

And for my own father, I will close with this quote by former New York governor Mario Cuomo:

“I watched a small man with thick calluses on both hands work fifteen and sixteen hours a day. I saw him once literally bleed from the bottoms of his feet, a man who came here uneducated, alone, unable to speak the language, who taught me all I needed to know about faith and hard work by the simple eloquence of his example.”  

With much love to the man who is my partner in life, the young men and the young woman who are my greatest joy in life, and the man who guided my life and unstintingly gave of himself to others.

 

Le Jour De Père Huereux. Feliz Día De Los Padre. Happy Father’s Day to all of the men out there who are fathers, step-fathers, big brothers who act as fathers, grandfathers who are fathers once more, and to all of the women who are surrogate fathers as well as mothers.

We never could have become what we are now if not for everything that you showed us before. More later. Peace.

Eamonn and Josh
Eamonn and Josh (our might-as-well-be-adopted son)
This is what we've worked for
This is what we've worked so hard for!
Rebecca and Eamonn
Eamonn and his cousin Rebecca, also a graduate

Peñaranda River

nueva-ecija

Nueva Ecija

He who does not look back at his past (where he came from) will not be able to reach his destination ~ Philippine Proverb

Tagalog Translation: Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa nakaraan, ay hindi makakarating sa patutunguhan

My father has been in my dreams almost every night for a week. I’m not really sure why, but there he is. Sometimes, he is with my children, but they are younger, and sometimes, he is with my mother, and it is almost like it was yesterday.

carabao-plowing-rice-field
Carabao Plowing Rice Field, Raissone 1938

I wrote a poem several years ago about my father’s hometown, a small village on Luzon, one of the northern islands in the Philippines. This poem is based on real events from the time that we spent in the Philippines as a family after my dad retired from the Navy, and then from before, during the beginning of World War II. Before my dad joined the U.S. Navy he was a guerrilla in the Philippine Army. He was only 16 years old.

A few notes of explanation: A caribou (last syllable like boo), which is a reindeer, lives in cold weather like Alaska. A carabao (last syllable like bow), which is a water buffalo, is the national animal of the Philippines. These animals are actually very gentle, even though they may not appear to be so. They are still used to plow fields.

42-15269002
Rice Paddy

Gapan, is the name of the town, and Nueva Ecija is the name of the eastern, landlocked province on Luzon. Nueva Ecija was created in 1715 and was named for the Spanish governor’s native town. The Spanish heritage is still in the bloodlines of those born in Nueva Ecija: my father’s mother was half Spanish. Nueva Ecija is the biggest rice producer in Luzon.

Cabanatuan is one of the four cities in Luzon. In World War II, Cabanatuan was the site of the infamous Japanese Prisoner of War camp; in 1945, Philippine guerrillas were responsible for liberating the Americans held captive there. 

Tagalog is the most widely-used language in the Philippines. Babinka is a sweet cake that is cooked in a banana leaf. Mangoes grow freely in trees in people’s yards.

The Peñaranda River, a narrow but deep river, is now part of Minalungao Park; however, years ago, there was no Minalungao Park.

Ang araw bago sumikat nakikita muna’y banaag. ~ Philippine Proverb (Translation: Early dawn precedes sunrise)

This particular poem is very personal, and I hope that you enjoy it.

sunrise-in-luzon

 

Gapan (Nueva Ecija), 1967

The women still come to Piñaranda River

in the early morning

to wash the family clothes on rocks

beaten smooth by many generations of use.

They gather at the bank, squat

along the muddy shoreline, and

pummel the fabrics of their lives

amid idle chatter of children and babies

and the lazy stares of carabao

that stand knee deep in the water.

 

Brown, hand-rolled cheroots dangle from

their mouths as they twist and

wring Peñaranda from threadbare shirts

and house dresses sewn by hand.

They can point to the places where

foolish young men have lost their lives,

testing their newfound manhood against

the swirls of the rushing water that swells

during the rainy season.  They

point to the place where the river, pregnant

with the rains of monsoon, swept

into the village and laid waste to houses

chosen by God for destruction.

 

My mother tentatively asks one woman nearby

about the time of the Japanese.  Her

brown eyes, hardened by time, drift

across the river to the rice fields

that lie on the other side, expanses

so green and fertile that the images

of famine that she speaks of

are hard to reconcile with the beauty

that is now.  She speaks slowly,

as if the memory is still too near,

“All gone,” she sighs as she points,

“only the okra left.”  As she looks

at my mother, it is clear that

the woman believes that my blonde

mother with light skin cannot understand

want and grief.  Later,

 

my father explains that the okra plants,

grown in hidden gardens behind the houses,

were the only crops that the Japanese

did not take.  The only rice the village had

came from the few grains spilled in the dirt

where the Japanese stores had lain.

Those desperate enough to steal rice

were beaten (or worse) if they were caught.

He tells me this as we near

the large house that was once the

fortress of the occupiers.  Two carved

lions still remain to guard disuse.

Through the gates, deep holes

dot the dirt yard where two Americans

have been digging for Japanese gold.

“Someone sold them a treasure map,”

my father laughs, shaking his head.

“If there were gold, don’t you think

we would have known about it?” he asks

of no one in particular.

 

As we walk down the dirt road towards the

ice truck that is parked at the end, I notice

the heat rising in thick waves from the ground,

and I long for ice cream and slurpees.

My father points to another house,

“That is where the witch lives.  She

has put a curse on your grandfather.  Now

He will not come to this end of the village.”

As we walk back, I pull the wagon carrying

the straw-covered block of ice, glance

back nervously at the witch’s house.

 

Once more we pass the two lions, and

and my father stops. “Right here

is where they shot your uncle for

taking a walk at night.  The bullet

went through his leg, so he lived.

We never knew why they didn’t finish him.”

He looks into the eyes of a lion,

pauses and then tells me painfully,

“It was a Filipino sentry.  He was

working for the Japanese.”  He spits

into the dirt and walks on.

 

That afternoon I watch my grandmother

wring the neck of a chicken from the yard

and clean it for dinner.  While she cooks

I polish the dark floors of their home

with the halves of coconut shells

strapped to my feet. My toes curve downward

as I half skate half slide across the tiles.

Afterwards I take a shower

with cold water poured from old

coffee tins carried from the river.

The icy water is the only respite

from the heat that has seeped into

every corner of the shaded house.

Only when I am called twice do I leave

the comfort of the stone enclosure.

 

For dinner that evening we have

roasted chicken, sun-dried fish,

sweet bread and fresh mangoes.

Only years later do I realize what a feast

my grandmother had prepared for us.

Later, most people visit in their front yards.

My father takes me to a stand where

a man sells babinka—sweet, steamed

rice cakes wrapped in banana leaves.

He stands and talks to the vendor

in Tagalog while I eat the cake with

my fingers, sticky grains of rice

sticking to my hands and mouth.

I ask for seconds.

My American generation does not know want.

 

That night, from the safety of the

gauze mosquito netting, I overhear my father

telling my mother about those days,

how his mother hid from the Japanese

with her twin babies in the mountains,

how she lost both to hunger, how

the villagers caught one of the traitors

and turned him over to the guerrillas.

They skinned him alive before

finally killing him.

 

 

More later. Peace.

“Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

pathway

 Pathway

“Keep growing, silently and earnestly . . .”

“Right in the difficult we must have our joys, our happiness, our dreams” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Well, we achieved a major victory of sorts yesterday: We sat down to Easter dinner at our dining room table, completely free of clutter, all of the chairs put together. It was an Herculean effort on Corey’s part to get it all done, but it was completely worth it.

Alexis came over, but her boyfriend Mike had to go back to work and was unable to join us. So it was Corey, Eamonn, Brett, plus our pseudo-adopted son Josh, Alexis and me. The only thing that I regret is that we couldn’t use the fine china and silver as that is packed up pending the completion of the renovations.

white-nile-dinner-plate
My China Pattern: White Nile by Royal Doulton

I was trying to remember the last time that we had done that in our home, and Alexis said never, which is not quite true. The Thanksgiving that my dad died, I cooked Thanksgiving dinner, and we set up two folding card tables in the living room and covered them with table cloths. That was 2001.

Our usual eating routine is probably that of many families. Everyone takes their plates to their rooms, and eats while doing whatever it is they happen to be doing. Usually, I’m in the middle of writing my post, so I stop temporarily, and turn on MSNBC while I eat.

I like the table idea much better and am going to try to promote it for regular meals, not just special meals. I think that eating together helps to keep a family closer, and I have really missed it.

We eat together when we go to my Mom’s house or my other mother-in-law’s house, and that is always nice, but a little stressful, just because my Mom tends to heighten my stress level without really trying. It’s just my innate response to my mother. Don’t get me wrong. I love my mother, but she isn’t the most tactful person in the world.

But I realize that I need to be patient with her because I truly wouldn’t know what to do if she were gone. Your mom is your mom, right or wrong.

But I digress . . .

The front part of the house is gradually getting rid of clutter, which is wonderful for me as I tend to trip over things and then hurt my back. But now that the table is up, I would really like to paint the living room and dining room and put up the crown molding, but that will have to wait until Corey goes back to work.

“We see the brightness of a new page where everything yet can happen.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Speaking of which, keep a good thought on Thursday. Corey is going to an open house at a shipping company that is looking specifically for mates and captains. He has a good feeling about this one, so I’m really, really hoping that this pans out.

In the meantime, he has applied through some program in Hampton Roads that helps unemployed people to get training that will help them to get jobs. Of course, the Virginia Employment Commission did not tell Corey about this program. One of the people at the school where he was registered told him about it so that he could take his courses.

Needless to say, if we had known about this program months ago, Corey could have taken the courses that he needed before now; however, I am not going to look a gift horse in the mouth (what an odd saying), no matter how frustrating it may be to know that all of this might have happened sooner.

twic_card_technologyWe have to wait for the paperwork to be processed, but his chances of getting this funding are pretty good because the training that he is applying for is directly related to his field and would definitely help him to get a job.

Then there is the new card that he has to have by April 15. It’s some kind of TransportationWorker’s ID that merchant marines must have, probably has to do with Homeland Security or something like that. This new card costs $175. Such a ripoff. But at least we don’t have to travel to Maryland to obtain it at the Coast Guard processing center.

Our last trip to Maryland was too eventful, and I would like to avoid a repeat of that experience.

“Your life will still find its own paths from there, and that they may be good, rich, and wide is what I wish for you, more than I can say.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke 

Alexis started a new job last Monday witha shipping company. She isn’t doing what she did with the last shipping company. Right now she is working in customer service; however, she has a good chance of moving into the department that processes the documents associated with receivables and deliverables, which is what she was doing at the other shipping company before they went out of business.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that everything turns out okay for her. Fortunately, two of her former co-workers from the other company are working at this company, which should help her chances of obtaining a permanent position doing what she did before.

I know that she is happy about the change, as am I. She is very bright, and I would hate for her talents to be wasted. However, I truly believe in her and know that she will succeed in whatever she attempts to do.

swallowEamonn got his second tattoo. Not the angel wings that he wants, and not the Latin phrase. He got my father’s name tattoed above his heart: Exequiel, which is another form of Ezekiel, but is pronounced Ex-ee-kell, with the emphasis on the first syllable. Eamonn wants to get a swallow to go with it, since my father spent so much time at sea (swallows are a common tattoo for seamen who have crossed the equator).

I did not suggest this tattoo. It was completely Eamonn’s idea. I have to say, though, that it really impresses me that he did this. All of my children were very close to their PaPa and I know that they still miss him. So Eamonn’s tribute really touches my heart. Deep down, below that 18-year-old smart aleck demeanor, is a very loving, caring person.

Brett is going to be spending spring break learning more about Nikita Khrushchev and catching up on his math. I know that he is absolutely thrilled.

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart. And try to love the questions themselves.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

lovely-vase-and-cup-of-tea-by-jamie-paterno
"Lovely Vase and Cup of Tea," by Jamie Paterno

I realize that I’ve been going on about nothing terribly significant, but sometimes, that’s where writing takes you: on a winding path that doesn’t really go anywhere. But on days like these, I like to take the advice of one of my favorite writers: 20th century poet Rainer Maria Rilke, whose poetry and prose was filled with metaphors, symbolism, and contradictions. I’ll close with this wonderful passage from Rilke’s “Letter to a Young Poet”: 

There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: Ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: Must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must,” then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse.

Then come close to Nature. Then, as if no one had ever tried before, try to say what you see and feel and love and lose. Don’t write love poems; avoid those forms that are too facile and ordinary: They are the hardest to work with, and it takes great, fully-ripened power to create something individual where good, even glorious, traditions exist in abundance. So rescue yourself from these general themes and write about what your everyday life offers you; describe your sorrows and desires, the thoughts that pass through your mind and your belief in some kind of beauty—describe all these with heartfelt, silent, humble sincerity, and, when you express yourself, use the Things around you, the images from your dreams, and the objects that you remember.

I’m off to drink a cuppa tea. More later. Peace.

Photographs as Amaranthine Tranche de Vie

 limda-river-film-grain3

 Ottawa River, Ohio (with film grain effect), L. Liwag

 Through My Lens Cap

“Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still.”  ~ Dorothea Lange

Quite accidentally, I stumbled upon a gem of a site today: “The Absolutely Innovative Photography of Glenn Losack” (click this link to go to the site: http://www.glennlosackmd.com/-/glennlosackmd/default.asp).  Dr. Losack’s photographs have appeared in National Geographic, and it’s easy to see why. His images are amazing and moving. I would include one here, but they are copyrighted, so if you have an interest in really amazing photography, visit his site. He manages to capture emotion and pain in his subjects’ eyes without being exploitative.

bw-cemetery-cropped1
Old Cemetery, L. Liwag

Just as with the piano, I have never considered myself to be an artist with the camera. However, I do think that I’m a better photographer than piano player. I find things with my lens that I never found with the keyboard. I do own a digital camera now, a very nice one, but I still have the 35mm camera that I obtained while working at the newspaper years ago. It needs a new spring, but I have no intentions of letting go of this cherished possession. I have taken some of my favorite photos with it. I also have my father’s old 35mm camera. It too needs some TLC, but I have kept it.

My father shared my love of photography. He used to buy used cameras from pawn shops and have them cleaned. The same with a lens. He had an ability to find a good lens at a pawn shop, and get a great deal on it. I think that it was because of his accent. The people in the pawn shop used to think that he didn’t have any idea what he was doing, and they would try to sell him crap, and then he would surprise them by pointing to the classic Konica or Pentax and looking it over with a jeweler’s glass. No fool, my father.

Unfortunately, I have never had enough room in my house for my own darkroom, but there is a very good local developer here.  One day, if I get a big old house in the mountains, I’ll have a dark room in the basement. I’ll have to reteach myself how to develop, but that will be a good thing.

Like many creative things in my life, I don’t shoot much black and white film any more. When I was younger, I never went anywhere without a camera, just in case I came across something worth shooting. Then when the children were born, it became more about taking family pictures. I would still go out once in a while, just me and my camera and shoot a couple of rolls of film.

“Your photography is a record of your living.” ~ Paul Strand

cropped-snow-day
Snowfall on Firewood, L. Liwag

If you’ve never seen the foothills of Virginia, you should. Granted, they aren’t like the Colorado Rockies, but they have a beauty all their own. Skyline Drive was created as one of Roosevelt’s WPA projects. Skyline Drive is 105 miles long if you drive the whole thing; it runs through Shenandoah National Park through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. We usually get on at Rockfish Gap in the south, which is just past Charlottesville. The speed limit is only 35 miles an hour because the whole point is to take your time and see the sites. There are 75 scenic overlooks, some much better than others, and if you begin the drive in the early morning, you’ll see lots of natural wildlife, everything from deer to bobcats. At some point about two thirds on the drive, I think, is a man made tunnel, cut through the rock, very cool. If you go all the way to the end of Skyline Drive, you’ll end up in Front Royal, which is closer to Northern Virginia.

At Rockfish Gap, you can also get on the Blue Ridge Parkway if you turn right instead of left. But again, driving on either of these roads is dependent upon weather. It can be treacherous if there is snow and impossible if there is ice. The best time to do Skyline Drive is during the fall when the leaves are turning, and then you can stay at the Skyland Lodge, which is still open. The lodge closes at the end of November. If you go on the Blue Ridge Parkway, there is a beautiful place to stay called Peaks of Otter which is on a lake, and there are also hiking trails. We went there when I was pregnant with Brett, so I wasn’t able to do much hiking, but sitting out by the lake in the early morning, watching the mist on the lake was incredible.

I really miss our annual trips to the mountains, for many reasons, not the least of which is the film that I brought home with me. I’m hoping that once I get this whole back situation straightened out or at least made better, I will at least be able to do day hikes. I know that Tillie the Labrador will enjoy that. And now that the price of gasoline has become reasonable again, a trip to the mountains might be feasible next year. I suppose I had better get to work on the old 35mm cameras. My Dad would not appreciate the disrepair into which I have let them fall.

And like my feelings about older cameras, my feelings about photography tend  to fall in line with those of the originators of the medium:

 “Photography is not documentary, but intuition, a poetic experience”

~ Henri Cartier Bresson

 More later. Peace. 

“You Can’t Be Forever Blessed” or No One Gets Away Unscathed

Many’s the time I’ve been mistaken

“And many times confused
Yes, and often felt forsaken
And certainly misused
Oh, but I’
m alright, I’m alright”

“I’m just weary to my bones”

I wrote about a commercial right before the election that featured words from Paul Simon’s song “American Tune,” and then a few nights ago, Simon himself was on “The Colbert Report” talking about his new book, Lyrics: 1964-2008. I have a real appreciation for Simon’s lyrics. In fact, when I used to teach English, I would always incorporate, “Sound of Silence” in my poetry selections because it is a wonderful lyrical poem, as are many of Simon’s songs.

But “American Tune” is haunting me these days for a number of reasons—politically and personally.  So I was not at all surprised that when Colbert said that Simon was going to sing a song at the end of the show, the song turned out to be “American Tune.” For me, it was one of those signs to which I allude occasionally. Simon’s voice unaccompanied is weaker than in years past, but of course, he is older; as are we all. But his scratchier voice was the perfect sound for this soulful song.

“I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered

I don’t have a friend who feels at ease
I don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered
Or driven to its knees”

Do any of you know anyone who hasn’t been affected in some way by what’s going on, with what’s happening out there? I mean, stop and think for a minute. If you don’t know someone who isn’t out of work, surely you know someone who has been affected by the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. Is someone you love over there? Have you lost someone you know or love? Is someone you know on the brink of losing their home because they are behind on their mortgage payments? Do you have a friend who is gay who has a longtime partner? Do you know someone who doesn’t have health insurance but has an ongoing health problem? Does your child have someone at his or her school who is homeless?

Did your retirement account lose a significant amount of its worth and now you are having to reconsider when you actually stop working? Do you have a child with special needs? Have you had to curb your spending in any way? Are you thinking of trading in your car for something that uses less gas? Were you thinking of buying a big ticket item, but now you are delaying the purchase because, well, it might be more prudent to wait and see? Are you bringing your lunch more and eating out less?

See. No one can claim to be untouched. It’s like the six degrees of separation. Even if you are on the periphery, it’s still touching you somehow. That is, unless you are part of that uber elite, and then you can turn your head and pretend that it’s not out there. But really, how can you? How can you live in your bubble world so completely oblivious to the suffering of others? But then, why do I bother to ask because as Fitzgerald said: “The rich get richer, and the poor get children.” I suppose that’s how it’s always been.

“Oh, but it’s alright, it’s alright
For we lived so well so long
Still, when I think of the
Road we’re traveling on
I wonder what’s gone wrong

I can’t help it, I wonder what’s gone wrong”

I wonder every day what’s gone wrong, and last night, I felt as if I were dying. I felt as if my soul rose and was looking back down on me and was wondering what in the hell had gone wrong. What’s goes wrong in a country in which a 19-year-old teen commits suicide in front of a live audience on a web cam that he had been blogging with for 12 hours. How could no one notice over that 12 hours that he was getting progressively worse from a drug overdose? Are we so obtuse collectively that we just do not notice what is literally in front of our faces?

“And I dreamed I was dying
I dreamed that my soul rose unexpectedly
And looking back down at me
Smiled reassuringly

And I dreamed I was flying”

I used to cry a lot more, and then, for a while, I hardly ever cried.  Someone sent me one of those e-mail updates, and it had a question that asked when I had last cried, and I honestly couldn’t remember. But in the last three months, it seems that I cry all of the time. I think that it’s a combination of the larger things and the smaller things. For example, Obama’s speeches make me cry. I cried when the Democrats took Virginia. Obviously I cried when Obama won the presidency. But I also cried when I saw the “American Tune” commercial. I cried when I read about Addie Polk shooting herself in the chest so that she wouldn’t be evicted. I cried over last week’s episode of “ER” and the entire last few episodes of last season’s “House,” which devastated me. I couldn’t even delete the shows from my DVR for weeks. It was too personal.

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Slow Boat to the Moon

So last night, I had one of those cathartic cries that came out of nowhere and resulted with my body curled into the fetal position and my face in a pillow. Then, I finally realized that today is the seventh anniversary of my father’s death. November absolutely sucks for bad anniversaries for me.  Unlike with my daughter, I wasn’t with my father when he died, something that I will probably always regret.

But I still feel my dad’s presence often, not in that wacky, seance kind of your father is here, knock on the table kind of way. But at times, I know, just somehow know, that my dad is still with me. But not last night. So I had my little breakdown, which led to this entry on an “American Tune,” because in the end, even with all of the weariness and displacement of which it speaks, in the end, it’s all right. And I like the fact the we come on “a ship that sailed the moon.”

“We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come in the a-ges most uncertain hours
And sing an american tune
Oh, and its alright, its alright, it’s alright
You can’t be forever blessed”

There will be more later. Peace.

Veterans’ Day: A Memorial to My Father

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Dad on the Far Right

My father, Exequiel Liwag, was not a man who liked to call attention to himself. For example, it was not until we were going through his personal items after he died that we found out that he had won the Bronze Star for Valor during World War II. But that was how he was: unassuming.

He loved thrift stores, even though he could afford to wear better, he didn’t really see the point. He loved his 1966 Ford Falcon. That was his baby. He adored his grandchildren, and when he found out that he had pancreatic cancer, the one thing that he said that he regretted was that he wouldn’t be around to see them grow up. He loved to work in his garden, and he used his machete from the war to hack away at the weeds, squatting down on his haunches like a native, doing battle with crab grass and weeds. And he loved to fish. He would go off at night and fish off the old Harrison’s pier, the wooden one before the hurricane washed it away. (He would hate the new one, all rebuilt and yuppie with bright lights and a cafe.)

My dad, like many Filipino men of his generation, first served in the Philippine guerrilla army before joining the U.S. Navy. However, the difference is that he lied about his age. He was barely 17 when he joined the Navy, and he had already seen combat in the jungles of the Philippines. His family had hidden in the caves for safety from the Japanese, and his mother lost the youngest children in the family, twin babies, because of the harsh conditions and a lack of food. My dad joined the Navy so that he could send money back to his family, something he did for many years after the war was long over, which enabled his brothers and sister to come to the states to get educations and better lives.

He also served during the Korean conflict—never really called a war, and then he had a breather during which he had extended shore duty, heading the household staffs for several admirals, which is how I came to attend public school in London. While he was still on Navy ships, my dad slipped on an icy gangplank while disembarking and injured his back, an injury that caused him back pain for the rest of his life.

He retired from the Navy after putting in his 20 years, and he tried to stay on dry land, but it wasn’t for him, so he joined the merchant marines, which is how he came to be in the middle of yet another war: the Viet Nam war. During this conflict his ship took on heavy fire, and we received word that his ship was badly damaged. For a while, we did not know his fate because, of course, the world was not wired the way that it is today, and it took much longer to get news.

Luckily, he was not hurt, and he was just transferred to another ship. During Viet Nam, his tours were six to nine months at a time, and he was always in harms’ way.

I don’t ever remember him complaining. I just remember his body slowly curving more and more over the years. His left hand atrophied as the muscle wore away, and his back always ached. But he stayed at sea until he couldn’t go any more.

My father came from a country thousands of miles away. His risked his life time and time again, first for his family in the Philippines, and later for his new country and his family in the United States. He never questioned whether or not he was doing the right thing. He believed that his country, the United States of America was the greatest country in the world. He sang the national anthem off-key, but he sang it proudly. He saluted his flag, and he believed in his country.

There were times when his country let him down. When we tried to live in the Philippines after he retired, he wasn’t allowed the same benefits as other retirees. I was too young to remember why, but I remember that it happened, and that my parents were upset by this. I remember, too, that he was upset when he found out that the money that he had been paying into survivor benefits for my mother wasn’t going to amount to very much and that he could have been paying that money into an interest-bearing account that would have yielded much more. But he had invested into the U.S. Government, never thinking for one minute that his government would not protect him and my mother.

When my father died, he was entitled to a veteran’s funeral: a flag-draped casket and a 21-gun salute. We requested that “Taps” be played. Actually, I made that request. I had no idea that unless you were some kind of officer of rank, you didn’t actually get a bugle player; you got a cassette tape version of “Taps,” which, I suppose, is better than nothing. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful in any way. It was just a shock to the system to hear a tinny cassette and not a proud bugle.

Pretty much everything I learned about honor and duty I learned from my father. He worked hard all of his life, and he devoted a large part of that life to this country. He came from a small country thousands of miles away, just a boy really, and he gave this country whatever it asked of him.

I once said that if had to vote for only one issue in this past election, it would be for veterans’ rights, and I stand by that. How a country treats the men and women who serve it and die for it is a direct reflection of how that country feels about its citizenry as a whole, for its veterans represent its citizens. Our veterans go to war to protect our freedoms. They go to war so that the rest of us do not have to. They go to war so that we can say what we want whenever we want. They got to war so that I have the freedom to express myself in this blog. They go to war so that we can vote for whichever candidate we choose in a free election process. How we treat them when they come home should be as the true heroes that they are.

Our veterans should not have to fight for medical treatment. Our veterans should not have to fight for benefits. Our veterans should not be living on the street. Our veterans should never, ever be called names or be made to feel ashamed for doing what their country asked of them.

My father was a veteran. I am incredibly proud of him for the service that he gave to this country. That is only one reason that I am proud of him, but it is one of the more important ones. I still miss him terribly. But on this day, he, like thousands and thousands of others, deserves our support, our thanks, our recognition, and our undying respect.

As always, more later. Peace.

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