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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Wait a Minute, Haven’t We Seen Him Before?

Best Seen, Heard, and Read

Hampton Roads Talks About Race Before Virginia Beach Rally

I thought that this was an interesting extra piece that The Virginian-Pilot did in the long wait before Senator Obama took the stage at his appearance in Virginia Beach yesterday. For me, his race has always just been an afterthought, truthfully. I have always been drawn to his intelligence, his insight, and his abilities as a speaker. Even though he is not as experienced as some of the other Democrats he faced, I believe that his other qualities will serve him well. The fact that he happens to be half black is about as meaningful to me as the fact that I am half Filipino. Oh well.

However, I do not kid myself. I realize that I am not like most people, or some people or a lot of people. But it was nice to see this piece, so I thought that I would share it with you. 

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Just a Funny Aside

Last night, a phone number showed up on the caller ID that looked vaguely familiar, so I answered it. Turns out it was someone from the Barack Obama Headquarters wanting to speak with Corey to see if he wanted to volunteer his time. I politely told the woman that he already volunteered his time and that, in fact, we both did and that we would be in the following evening to work the phones. Corey said, “what do you want to bet she calls back and wants to speak to you?” About a minute later the phone rings, and sure enough, same thing. I said, “Hi. Just talked to you. We’ll both be in tomorrow night.”

I know that it’s not nice to screw around with phone bank people, but really, it was during the beginning of “Countdown with Keith Olbermann,” so you understand.

Joe the Plumber, Again?

I really didn’t think this guy would have a shelf-life of more than a couple of days, but it seems that Sarah Palin isn’t the only one with pit bull tendencies. I almost felt sorry for John McCain yesterday when he called out for Joe the Plumber, and the bald-headed nonplumber didn’t respond from the crowd. I said almost.

Seems someone forgot to let Joe know that he was supposed to be there. He was probably at home shaving his head. Personally, I think that he’s losing some brain cells every time he cleans that dome because he certainly isn’t getting any smarter with each appearance, but that’s just my opinion.

Seems Joe has gotten himself a publicist, is looking for a book deal,* a country record deal, and has absolutely no qualms about answering off-the-cuff political policy questions on camera. I’m sorry, but perhaps everyone else knows something about this man that I don’t. When he first arrived mise en scène, McCain heralded him as an everyman (21 times an everyman) who would be devastated by Obama’s tax plan and be unable to buy the business he so wanted to buy. Well a reveal of the facts showed that Samuel J. Wurzelbacher never had the money to buy any business and, in fact, would benefit from Obama’s tax plan.

Never let a fact stop McCain. He has trotted Joe the Plumber around the nation, and JTP has eagerly joined the campaign trail, and now, like Palin, answers his own questions sans handlers. Take this exchange in Ohio just a few days ago: A Jewish McCain supporter asked him during an election rally in Ohio if he believed that ‘a vote for Obama is a vote for the death of Israel.’ JTP replied: “I’ll go ahead and agree with you on that.” In response to Joe’s insightful commentary, the McCain campaign issued a statement saying “while he’s clearly his own man, so far Joe has offered some penetrating and clear analysis that cuts to the core of many of the concerns that people have with Barack Obama’s statements and policies” (Haaretz.com).

They’re kidding, right? They’re not kidding? Holy smokes, Batman. Someone needs to send out the Bat signal because Gotham has gone bonkers. Relying on the “penetrating and clear analysis” of Joe the Plumber”? I think that Bill Kristol may have had something when he suggested (strongly) that McCain fire his campaign. Well, at least someone at Fox (yes Fox) skewered Joe the Plumber for his nincompoop comments. Shepard Smith, in what turned out to be one of the best “you’ve gotta be kidding me” moments of the campaign hammered the pseudo plumber, and then finally gave up and closed the interview with a disclaimer. I won’t even try to summarize because it’s something best viewed in person:

 

 

On that note, more later. Peace.

*By the way, what to you want to bet JTP does get a book deal, and the rest of us working writers keep struggling for years just to get noticed? Ah, the ironies of life . . .

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.