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.