Happy Father’s Day

mom, dad & me in England

Cherish them while you can . . .

                   

My father’s hands

are gnarled and time worn

Atrophy has eaten away at the muscles,

leaving his hands weak and small.

They remind me of a monkey’s hands—

brown and leathery.

These hands that have tended to so many machines—

fixed so many moving parts

These same hands have stroked the hair on my sons’ heads

and lovingly cradled my daughter’s face.

With these hands he has planted generations of gardens,

patted down the earth around all of the tender shoots.

He has cast lines into many waters,

unhooked his catch again and again,

alone under the moon on warm summer nights.

These hands held the back of my first two-wheeler—

blue with silver fenders and tassels streaming from the handlebars,

before finally letting me go to find my way on my own,

and they have wiped the blood and picked the gravel

from my skinned knees,

patched my wounds,

only to let me go again.

They patiently whittled the sticks to frame a homemade kite,

taught me the right way to pound a nail into wood

and how to make a seam true.

I have watched these hands make fine knots in a net

with the same careful tenderness

as when they held an injured dog as it lay dying.

And I watched these same hands pull a drowning woman

from a deadly current

with a strength I hadn’t known they possessed.

A world away in another lifetime,

my father’s hands wielded a rifle and a machete

in the jungles of a homeland that he left behind—

but never forgot.

Now, I watch his hands move back and forth

in morphine dreams,

sewing imaginary threads through invisible garments.

I look on helplessly as they pleat the stiff white sheets

and knit them to and fro, over and over.

In the few moments when they are still,

I hold my father’s hands close to my chest,

against my beating heart—

they are so diminished within my own.

These hands

that have labored and loved

harvested and hewn

These hands are the man he was

and the life he lived.

And now that his days are waning,

I want nothing more

than to be taken back to that one innocent moment

when everything was safe,

and nothing could harm me

because I was cloaked in my father’s inviolable protection,

taken back to that instant

when he held the fender of my bike

and guided me on the path.

touched me on the shoulder once

before setting me free to find my way.

L. Liwag

May 31, 2001

                   

Music by Mike and the Mechanics, “The Living Years”

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My Own Worst Enemy

Same Song. Different Day

The Migraine that Ate Cleveland

I know that you’ve heard this lament before, but some days, it really is better not to get out of bed. I’m on the second day of a killer migraine, and it looks as if there will be no Obama rally for me tonight. My only solace is that we did make it to the Richmond rally last week; otherwise, I would be pulling myself into two sweaters, and double-dosing on the meds to go there, probably paying for it big time later tonight.

My Migraine (Balrog Image by Frank de Shacher)

This is one of those sound/light/smell sensitive, full-throttle migraines. I’m typing this with all of the lights off in my bedroom, after taking my meds about an hour ago. Not sure how long I’m going to last in this position, though. The wonderful thing about my huge screen is that it’s not only big, but I can also adjust the contrast ratio automatically, so right now I have it set lower than usual, which is also helpful.

Migraines are gnarly beasts. I can go weeks and weeks without a peep from these insidious monsters, and then without warning, they pounce. Granted, they are much better than they used to be, and I have no doubt that their (almost typed there for their, egads) lessening frequency is due in large part to my no longer having a full-time job. Overhead office lighting has long been a trigger for me, so I have always had lamps in my offices, and when I have been fortunate enough to have window offices, I have usually just worked with ambient light. It used to drive some of my bosses and co-workers crazy. They would make comments about not thinking that anyone was in my office and such. Whatever. It kept me from being in pain, which kept me in the office. You would have thought that they would have been happy . . .

But Words Live On Forever

But, I don’t have to worry about that any more. Do I? But of course, I still do. I still carry around with me all of the slings and arrows from years of negative comments from the workplace because in spite of my outward insistence on being such a hard-nosed, world-weary, seen-it-all, done-it-all, cynic, I am the exact opposite inside. Every harsh word, every criticism I took to heart, and it wounded me so, even when I tried so hard to be a bitch on the outside. You do realize, of course, that those of us who are so very certain and self-assured on the outside are the most insecure on the inside? At least, I have always found that to be the case for myself and my fellow blowhards.

I can remember harsh words from years ago. It’s not that I want to hold onto them. It’s that they are embedded in my psyche, echoing every time I make an error, mocking me. I am truly my own worst enemy. Years of friends and psychotherapy trying to patch my insecure ego have helped but not fixed the problem, which for me, began a lifetime ago.

I am an only child you see. Many people think that it would be wonderful to be an only, but trust me, in so many ways, it is not. While you benefit in material ways, the loneliness can be overpowering. I compensated by immersing myself in books and by being creative, but this did not prepare me to deal with other children, so by the time I went to school, I was not prepared to defend myself. The first time I was teased, I took it to heart and cried. Bad mistake. I had shown my weakness. It took months and months before I overcame, and by then, there was always the stigma of otherness about me.

And then, when we came back from England, I was enrolled in Little Creek School. I had a right proper British accent, a Filipino last name, and olive skin. Again, I was a gazelle waiting to be pounced on by the herd. It took a long time to learn the rules of this tribe and to toughen up, but again, I never quite fit in. My way of fitting in was always to stand out just enough to call attention to myself: surrender but with victory. And so, I always got A’s, got awards, joined clubs. Teachers loved me, and the cool kids hated me. It was great, but it sucked.

By the time I was 16, I was getting migraines. By the time I graduated when I was 17, I was already having symptoms of IBS. When I started working full-time at the newspaper when I was a freshman in college, my IBS was full blown. This is the price you pay when you are an overachiever and you internalize. This was the cycle that I started that continued throughout my entire work career: I volunteered for special events, extra shifts. I was in the newsroom before I was 20.  I was working full time, going to school full time, and already looking at life through jaded eyes. People commented that everything came easily to me. If only they knew how very untrue this was.

I worked for everything that I have achieved. I have my father to thank for instilling that work ethic in me. I know that I’ve written about my father numerous times, but truly, as far as working goes, he was amazing. Actually, both of my parents used to tell me something pretty progressive for the time: Never be dependent on anyone for your livelihood. Since neither of them had gone to college, they were going to make damned sure that I did, and I did. Changed majors several times, but I made it.

That Word

My, how I digressed. How did I end up talking so much about school? My point was actually about fitting in and the n-word. When we came back from England, a kid at school called me the n-word (I hate using that term, n-word, but I hate the word more). Truthfully, I had never heard the word before, so I went home and asked my mother what the word meant. She was outraged. She made me stand outside on the porch with her as the kids walked home from school and point out the child who had called me that. I did. She, as we like to call it in the South, lit into him like there was no tomorrow. As it turns out, this boy and I become really good friends and actually dated for a while. Neither one of us remembered the name-calling, but my mother did. She chalked it up to childhood stupidity. Personally, I’m glad that it’s one incident that I actually don’t remember other than through my mother’s retelling.

The point is, words hurt, and can even leave scars. Some people never let on that the words you are using are penetrating. Corey, who has felt my wrath at home before, has asked me why I never stood up for myself more at work. It’s a valid question. I think that it’s because I fight passionately with those with whom I have passion, him, for instance. Only one of my former bosses, who is no longer at my most recent job, actually saw my raw emotions, and that’s because I actually felt close enough to him to be honest enough with him to fight with him. Others with whom I do not feel enough respect, I do not engage. I know, I know. That’s my arrogance showing. Can’t help it.

As someone once said to me, “Life is too short to spend with people you do not like.” I really did not appreciate that quote until I got older and wiser. I have rambled on and on about much and nothing at all, but in the rambling, I have quieted my soul and now can rest.

More later. Peace.

My Father’s Hands

My father’s hands

are gnarled and time worn

Atrophy has eaten away at the muscles,

leaving his hands weak and small.

They remind me of a monkey’s hands –

brown and leathery.

These hands that have tended to so many machines,

fixed so many moving parts,

these same hands have stroked the hair on my sons’ heads

and lovingly cradled my daughter’s face.

With these hands he has planted generations of gardens,

patted down the earth around all of the tender shoots.

He has cast lines into many waters

and unhooked his catch again and again,

alone under the moon on warm summer nights.

These hands held the back of my first two-wheeler,

blue with silver fenders and tassels streaming from the handlebars,

before finally letting me go to find my way on my own,

and they have wiped the blood and picked the gravel

from my skinned knees,

patched my wounds, only to let me go again.

They patiently whittled the sticks to frame a homemade kite

that I had to have but could never get to take flight

and taught me the right way to pound a nail into wood

and make a seam true.

I have watched these hands make fine knots in a net

with the same careful tenderness

as when they held an injured dog as it lay dying.

And I watched these same hands pull a drowning woman

from a deadly current

with a strength I hadn’t known they possessed.

A world away in another lifetime,

my father’s hands wielded a rifle and a machete

in the jungles of a homeland that he left behind

but never forgot.

Now, I watch his hands move back and forth

in morphine dreams,

sewing imaginary threads through invisible garments.

I look on helplessly as they pleat the stiff white sheets

and knit them to and fro, over and over.

In the few moments when they are still,

I hold my father’s hands close to my chest,

against my beating heart –

they are so diminished within my own.

These hands

that have labored and loved

harvested and hewn

These hands are the man he was

and the life he lived.

And now that his days are waning,

I want nothing more

than to be taken back to that one innocent moment

when everything was safe,

and nothing could harm me

because I was cloaked in my father’s inviolable protection,

taken back to that instant

when he held the fender of my bike

and guided me on the path.

touched me on the shoulder once

before setting me free to find my way.

 

May 31, 2001

 

The Wonder Years

Today is my youngest son’s 16th birthday. I won’t bother to get into the details of how we celebrated because most of you would find it oh so strange; however I will share one of his deeper comments with you: “Krispy Kreme donuts must have cocaine in them.” I’m not so sure that he isn’t close to the truth about that one. If any of you have ever tasted these delectable concoctions from hell, then you will know of what I speak. Don’t even bother to swallow. Just apply them to the largest portion of your body as that is where they will eventually settle; have no doubts. 

But back to the birthday. After buying books–yes we went to the bookstore first, and we had to decide which ones to put back because we both had too many in each of our piles–we headed out to find other things for his birthday celebration. I have a special place in my heart or my youngest son, and I will admit it, and it is not that I love him more; it is that I love him differently. When it was time for him to be born, he did not want to come out. Right before his due date, he turned laterally (women who have given birth, you can appreciate this special pain). He put his elbows under my ribs, and I had to have a c-section to have him removed. My ob/gyn, with whom I have a special bond, said that there was no way that he was going to come out on his own. He had decided that he just didn’t want to leave. And it has been pretty much that way ever since. We have a connection, he and I, and I think that it comes from the fact that he is a living, breathing replication of my father in so many ways, down to his eyebrows and the way that he stands.

Nevertheless, one thing is for certain: no matter how old he gets, or how old his brother or sister get, I will never stop being amazed at how we reached this point in time, how we survived this crisis, or that calamity. I have to believe that there is some fabric that exists in our tapestry as a family that binds us together, that will not let us be tossed to the furies of the four winds alone without the support of each other. Ours is a pattern that fate has chosen not to weave easily but intricately, making us resilient, independent but always interdependent, creating a beautiful whole.