No Shave November 2016
This year’s NSN was a little different. In previous iterations of this collective arrangement of photos of my face, I posted facts and statistics about pressing issues in men’s health. I have decided on other plans for 2016 along with the usual day’s picture.
Respecting and recounting the more distinctive moments in my life in relation to my dad is something I personally would like to share in its place. I’ve brought thirty separate stories to light about growing up as my father’s son. Thanks for the read.
It was one of the Christmases before I started driving on my own and I was with my dad in his truck driving to my aunt’s place for the family gathering. There was a late video game I needed to return to Blockbuster that my dad decided could wait until later on in the week to bring back.
I remember getting angry that he thought it wasn’t a big deal to wait it out. I made a point about how it wasn’t a smart thing to do to tack on late fees to something that was as simple as a five minute drive not much out of the way. I recall being a brat about how I’ve become smarter than him since I got older. I challenged him to a spelling contest to prove it.
He accepted. I gave out a word that I knew he wouldn’t get correct. I told him that he has to spell the word subtle. With such confidence and arrogance — probably something that I took after — he dished out the letters in this fashion, “S-U-double T-L-E. Suttle.”
It was wrong and I called it. I told him that much. I proceeded with the accurate spelling of it, “S-U-B-T-L-E, subtle.” I’m pretty sure if I had a smirk I wore it proudly.
He then goes on, not one to be mistaken, saying, “That’s not the word. That’s ‘subtal.’”
I laughed at it as if it were a joke but knew he was entirely serious.
Two: “Water Dispenser”
Our family at this time was still living in the house I grew up in. One of my favorite small memories of that house was when we finally got a water dispenser, one of those big 15L jugs attached to a platform with spouts for hot and cold water.
With any new technology or device that gets brought into the household, I was expected to install and troubleshoot everything. After setting up the dispenser with a fresh container of water, all signs were good to go and it was working well. I got hot water and cold water coming out at reliable temperatures.
Now later that day, my dad called for me about problems with the dispenser. He told me that there was some issue with the hot water not coming out. I told him that I wasn’t experiencing any problems earlier and that things should be running smoothly.
He reached over for the lever and positioned it up and down. Nothing was happening.
By then I was aware of the child-safety mechanism preventing water from being released. Of course there would be a precautionary measure in place as the water is boiling hot and will cause bodily harm if tapped accidentally. It was time to explain what to do.
I showed him that in order to get water out of the hot water valve, the lever had to be pushed inward and then brought down in that order. I demonstrated the motions and let a small amount of water escape to show that there was nothing wrong with it. I move aside and let him try.
He immediately places one hand under the spout and the other hand on the lever. Before any chance to warn him that it was incredibly hot, he operated it flawlessly. I still laugh thinking about how quickly he withdrew his hand from the scalding water poured on it. The sucking of air through unmistakable pain was a moment of humor.
At that point, I couldn’t help but rub it in. I said to him, “I told you it works.”
I think it was toward the end of the wrestling season in my sophomore year that I injured my ankle. It was a weird twist and I wasn’t able to walk on it well enough to do anything productive besides lay in bed with an air brace around it. I had no confidence in myself to be tough and endure. At that time I was a pansy for injuries and used any excuse to justify just being straight up lazy.
It was an early evening of one weeknight when I was in my room not up to anything when my dad barged in with a can of root beer. He said nothing and gestured as if he were giving it to me. I was totally confused about why he was going to give me a soda.
He went on to explain that I can put the can on the ground and walk on it as some sort of physical therapy. I think he said a few words, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this was all done in grunts and nods. He put it on the ground and rolled it around with his foot. I told him that it didn’t make any sense to me why that could help if I couldn’t even put much weight on the ankle to begin with. I recall having some attitude and sass with my reply. This was pretty classic teenage Jerome at work.
My dad then scoffed at my contempt for his help and slammed the door shut before he stomped down the hall. After the initial shock wore off from the randomness of the moment, I looked on the bright side; I had a cold can of root beer to myself without having to do any work. I am a terrible person.
When my dad was in the hospital last year for the heart surgery he was prepped to have, the nurses at Swedish were all kind and professional. My mom and I stopped by one day and they had told me of the interesting stories that my dad shared throughout his time there.
It’s not like I was expecting to hear anything about me that my dad said he was proud of. We’re not much of a family to share positive stories about ourselves. However, one of the nurses spoke up that my dad was happily joking about his son being a hippie.
I was caught off guard for sure. Of all the things that my dad would mention regarding his family, the only thing worth noting was that his son looked like a hippie. I guess it was that having long hair and being a vegetarian made me a progressive youth in the 1970s in his eyes.
It feels like one of those comments that you’re not sure was intended as an insult or a point of pride. Coming from him at any other point in our relationship, I probably would have thought of it as some sort of slight and reproach of my life choices. I get it now that it was probably his way of expressing positivity.
Well, at this point you just have to take what you can get.
In one of the memories I remember of my dad that had me the most dumbfounded, there was one time he left his handgun out in the open on a desk while he was out to work.
I was waking up late on a weekday that I didn’t have class or work while at community college. I strolled downstairs and felt my heart drop when I saw a loaded gun on the table with no one home.
Besides the shock, I was angry and disgusted at the lack of responsibility and care from my dad. It was clear he left it there by accident, but that’s a pretty serious oversight. Nothing bad came of it, but it was a definite wake up call I’m sure. We never talked about it and it never came up in person.
Before I left the house, I had a note written and placed it near the gun. I don’t recall what it said, but it was probably along the lines of, “This is stupid.”
Six: “Work Shoes”
The first few days of returning to the US for good were more dramatic than relaxing. Still in the mindset of using skating to burn off some stress, I found my black Nike 6.0s from 2008 hanging around in our garage. I was a bit surprised to see them, but felt some pleasant timing in that I wouldn’t have to ruin any other pair of shoes. These were already worn through the heel and wrinkled throughout the tongue. That old pair was meant for skating anyway. A quick driveway and cul-de-sac session later, I tossed them in my bag for convenience and thought nothing of it.
The next day my dad confronts me in the morning with an accusatory tone. He grumbles and moans about his missing shoes. I only remember the feeling of my head going lax and my eyes rolling to the back of my head. When I regained my senses, I realized that he was talking about those beat up Nikes. He claimed that they were his work shoes. I realized that there were some serious attachment issues he had with possessions.
More questions about this bizarre conflict came up in my mind. How was this such a big deal? Why was he wearing old shoes? Why couldn’t he wear one of the dozens of pairs he had scattered in his room? (That’s another story entirely…)
Back in reality, I told him that they were my shoes and that I used them. He made a huge fit about how he was using them and I told him straight up that it made no sense to me. I could not comprehend his reasoning. He stopped talking to me during my reply and essentially shut out everything else I was going to say. He scoffed and bitched the whole way walking down the staircase into the garage.
I never got an explanation about why he was holding on to my old belongings. It seemed so much like hoarder’s mentality to me. For such a minor issue, his pettiness was beyond anything I’d ever be able to imagine. The next day I skated I landed a kickflip first try.
Seven: “Root Beer”
My dad had an obsession with root beer. He had the same love for it as Kel did orange soda. Just to put it in perspective, I’m fairly certain he had at least two or three cans of it a day for twenty-seven years. Yes, that means there was not a time in my life that he didn’t have his preferred beverage.
Let’s go back to a month before he was admitted to the hospital last year. I was searching for something in our garage when I found an large stack of A&W root beer perched atop a shelf in front of my dad’s Jeep. When you think of a large stack, imagine if you had to provide drinks for a football team after a homecoming game. There were easily twenty plus cases of 24 packs huddled together in the corner. Neither of the other two living in the house, i.e. my mom and I, drink soda. He had stored away enough of it to last him, quite literally, for the rest of his life.
His refusal to listen to either me or my mom about this addiction let him continue in his downward spiral of health. When he had his serious heart conditions a few weeks later, the doctor ran other tests to check on his overall health. My dad stated that he only had issues with his heart, but the diagnosis said otherwise. He was at dangerous levels of high blood sugar as well as hypertension. My dad said he didn’t understand why that was the case. My arms were assuredly crossed and my mouth tensed irked at the notion that he truly had no clue.
After sorting out more and more of the complications to his health, the doctors and dietician informed us of drastic and much-needed lifestyle changes. There would be an increase in vegetables and whole grains and restriction if not full elimination of sugary drinks. Physical activity was also encouraged to supplement the nutrition shift.
With all of that in my mind, I made the executive decision to clear out the root beer. Before my dad was discharged from the hospital, I offered to a variety of friends as much root beer as they possibly could take. My friend Justin took me up on the offer a few days before I left to move to NYC. We loaded the accumulation of bad habits into the back of his car in three trips each. I still remember how impressed he was that I was not joking about the shit ton of root beer my dad had. I entertained some ideas for him to use all of it for root beer floats in case a potluck is in the near future. Those giant tubs of vanilla ice cream you can get at grocery stores would complement the mass of sarsaparilla very well.
When I came back to Seattle finding out about my dad’s passing, my mom joked about how furious my dad was with me taking away his root beer. It’s not like he didn’t have it coming.
My dad had a distinct macho complex that surfaced at the weirdest times. A few years ago when he was in the clinic seeing a doctor about a lot of the problems he was having, they gave him some pills to take while they prepared for other examinations. He was told that he would need stents in his legs to improve blood flow to the rest of his body.
I can’t remember exactly what the medication was that he was given. More than likely they were prescribed in order to relieve the symptoms he had. There were a few pills in a tiny paper cup, each a different color and size. The nurse that came in and set them down on the side table also reached out and filled a bigger Dixie cup with water. She set the two next to each other and headed outside of the room.
My dad in alpha mode during this entire appointment, swiped up the smaller cup with the pills. He threw all of the contents into his mouth and slugged them down. He never winced nor showed any sign of having difficulty. In his sneers from finishing the cup, he said to me and my mom that it was nothing. He left the water untouched next to him.
I was far from impressed. To me, it’s not like he had anything to prove by making a performance of taking medicine. It was more along the lines of me thinking you’re not going to look like a badass just because you can swallow pills without drinking water right after. It’s not a shot of whiskey with no chaser. You’re in a hospital given tablets and capsules that are supposed to be helping to fix whatever’s wrong with you. There’s no need to make a spectacle of it.
I think about that moment now and I feel like he was so desperate to be seen as strong and powerful, but it just makes me think of how pathetic all of it was. I believe that him hiding his insecurities was all that he knew. There must have been some time it had burnt him in the past. It’s a shame that the only confidence he could muster up was a show that I saw right through.
Twelve years ago, I had an argument with my dad about voting. I remember asking him about who he was going to vote for, John Kerry or George W. Bush. He claimed it was pointless either way and that he wouldn’t be voting. I was a passenger in his black and red truck as he was driving to Albertson’s to get groceries.
At that point being a rebellious teenager with an inclination for U.S. history, I was upset and lashed out. I challenged him about the issue. I don’t think that not voting is something an American citizen should feel proud of. Exercising your civic duty was something that I didn’t have the right to for a few more years. I wanted to be a part of the process and to have a say in what goes on, no matter how small or inconsequential. I was and still am passionate about having a voice, no matter the capacity or volume. I knew he wasn’t as informed as I was back then, and maybe he never was about the historical significance of elections.
My dad shot down all the reasons I went through in an attempt to get him to vote. He made several bold statements. None of the votes would matter in the end. If he didn’t know about what was going on, he didn’t care. Other people were going to get what they want anyway. It’s a waste of time to go out and wait in line just to write something on a sheet of paper. The world will move on.
I felt sickened. My dad’s reality was selfish, tiny, and subjective. I couldn’t understand his logic behind that decision. I’m not sure if he was jaded from mishandled elections in the Philippines. I’m not sure if he felt that as an immigrant, his vote was a wash. I don’t even know if he was registered to vote. It could have been an amalgam of different circumstances. My dad not being able to vote may have been the fact that was hidden and veiled by his other cop outs. When we got to the supermarket, I kept my thoughts to myself.
Whatever the truth was, he never voted that year. President Bush continued his term for four more years. I’m not saying that my dad was to blame for that; that’s far from true. I just think that now this problem still exists in people. There are folks out there that still feel this way about our election process. They feel disenfranchised toward the democracy we live in. People might not always enjoy the responsibilities of being a citizen, but it’s a part of our function in a community and in a society.
When he decided not to participate, he made a choice not to be a part of how the world operates. How lucky he was to have a luxury that people from many other countries in the world may never see in their lives.
I know it’s super illegal now, but back in the early and mid 90s, our family raised chickens for cockfighting. In the heart of the highlands in Renton, WA, we had a few dozen hens and roosters living in makeshift shacks in our backyard. I was too young to realize the ramifications of the animal cruelty that existed around me and too naive to think that it was anything other than something to be proud of.
There was some tournament one night that my dad and several of his friends drove out to. It was a point to bring their prized and burly roosters in tow. I grew attached to one of them with a distinguished comb on its head. It looked like a red mini-cannon aimed at whatever target my dad would set its sights on. This one chicken had a mild temperament around me and never fought back or showed aggressiveness whenever I had a chance to handle him. It’s a shame I can’t recall if this rooster had a name. I knew at the time that this chicken was to enter the tournament. It was one of my first memories of animal companionship that I recall.
When my dad came home late that night with the surviving members of his cockpit, I asked what happened to that sole rooster I had been fond of. Turned out he was grievously wounded in battle. I was desperate for more information. Being as young as I was, I never realized the danger and the savagery that cockfighting was and still is. My dad explained that razor sharp blades, some as long as three inches, were attached to the talons of these roosters. When time comes to set them up against one another, these bladed birds attack feet first. The lethality of their weaponed assault often left no survivors. As luck would have it, that evening was not the call of death for my favorite fowl.
The rooster took a gash deep into the breast, about six or seven inches long and at least an inch deep. I’m not sure if he had won his duel, but I felt compassion for the pain that this animal was going through. My dad and his friends patched up the bird in a haphazard manner, stitching the wound together. Blood still dripped and oozed out of the laceration in the space between the stitches. Medication wasn’t used at all. In fact, I distinctly remember him rubbing dirt into the injury in order to promote the formation of scabs. I only remember questioning why couldn’t they make him better faster. Watching my dad grind the soil into the lesion made me wince and grimace in horror at the heartlessness of the moment.
It was one of my first memories of the horrifying reality of cockfighting that made me think about how not everything that my dad did or was a part of was something that I should feel I needed to go along with as well. I find it more encouraging now that the impact that this memory had on me as a child has stayed with me as an adult. My continuing takeaway from these stories is that my values have been far different than his were.
Before the year 2000, I remember occasionally staying up late and waiting for my dad to get home. I’d sit at the kitchen counter while he was next to the range hood smoking his menthol cigarettes for his post-work ritual. He’d talk and tell me about his day and I’d listen like a curious and impressionable son. One night he came back at a particularly late hour. He had a hell of a story to tell me that evening.
He and a coworker of his got into a fight. Of course it was natural for a young boy to ask what happened. Before that though, at the time, he was employed at a saw blade manufacturing company and was in charge of checking the tolerances of each carbide edge. It’s real blue collar work. From what I recall of my dad describing his fellow colleagues, they all seemed to be cut from the same kind of cloth. I was imagining two alpha types launching into fisticuffs over some minute detail. I never found out what the real reason for them fighting was.
My dad did, however, go into great detail about what he did to the other person. He took drags from his cigarette and began with his account from just over an hour ago. There had been a verbal disagreement between him and the other man. He told me that increasingly volatile words were exchanged and that my dad gave a single warning before he threatened to take different measures. The other man seemed to push the button just enough to get the reaction that my dad was eager to let loose.
He said that a single strike with his right hand to the other man’s eye dropped him to the ground. At that moment, my dad mounted the downed coworker with his own knees on top of that person’s chest. He then strangled the man gripping at his throat and squeezing hard and long enough to see his face turn blue. My dad said that he only felt anger as he watched himself applying more and more pressure with his fingers.
Other employees at the company jumped in and shoved my dad off of the man. They knew of the grievances the two of them had and weren’t surprised at the quarrel. He told me that they felt like it was a good time to stop him. He mentioned this point with a matter-of-fact tone. My dad said to me that the man was lucky that they had arrived in time. Watching them pick the barely conscious man off of the ground, he told the former aggressor, “Next time I’ll fucking kill you.”
Back at home listening to this story, I was fascinated and entertained with the detail. I also felt a great deal of unease knowing that my dad had an unsettling kind of darkness inside of him. Despite those contrary impressions, I was overall impressed with how my dad painted the picture of the situation to me. A child can only have so many thoughts about the experience in the moment. My verdict then was that it was cool. He later said that problems never came up from that man again. That wasn’t surprising at all. I feel like he mentioned months later that that guy quit out of fear. I suppose that’s one way my dad dealt with conflict.
As I got older, I recognized that some stories my dad shared he liked to exaggerate, meaning that I could get a compelling story once in a while. However, with this one I was never certain about its status as fact or fiction. I think that it happened to be much closer to what actually occurred that evening than he intended. Regardless of how much of it was true or not, this was one that he most likely didn’t bring up at the next family reunion.
At nearly every meal that we had in our house together, I remember my dad eating with the exact same technique every time. He’d drag a high-seated stool to the end of the kitchen counter. There his initial posture was normal for sitting, but then he’d prop his right foot up on his seat as well. Hunched over his knee, he’d place his plate of food right around chest level with his left hand. He often kept that hand nearby but idle. It wasn’t the left hand’s job to help him eat. That role was exclusive to his right hand.
I’m not sure if my dad even believed in using utensils. I certainly never had a memory of him using them. Even when we went out to eat at restaurants, I never paid much attention to him there. I was always drawn into conversation with other family members and he never missed an opportunity to fall into the backdrop. He never drew any attention to himself around my mom’s family. Thinking back at the few times we were out, I can’t even picture what this image of him working a spoon and fork may have looked like.
Anyway, I’ll continue with his distinct approach for consumption. Roosted in his chair with an uncanny resemblance to a sloth, he made sure the four fingers of his right hand created a kind of gestured cup with his opposable thumb rested underneath them as a base. It looked like he was partitioning and measuring the segmented tips of his fingers using his thumbnail. Dragging his shovel-shaped fingers across his plate, he steered rice towards his protein with his thumb and squeezed the mass altogether. He then shifted his leverage from the plate at an angle, allowing for the food to sit comfortably between his five right fingers. From there, it was no issue. This maneuver guaranteed that he’d be able to equate spoonfuls of grub by way of hand to mouth.
Whether or not this hand-eating strategy is specific to my dad isn’t too important. It’s definitely not just him though and I’ve witnessed this apply to a boatload of Filipinos all over the world. Never outside of my home life or people in the Philippines have I seen others reproduce these feasting tactics though.
It’s safe to say that with how many times I’ve watched my dad do this, I’d probably be able to imitate the method fairly well on my own. I have yet to try it myself outside of a demonstration though. I’d say it’s because I know that my other utensil techniques, i.e. spoons and forks and knives and chopsticks, have been effective enough for me by force of habit. In the end, I don’t anticipate a dining event where I’d need to get my hands dirty.
In attempts to stave off the reality of going gray, my dad was a dedicated user of hair color products. His go-to purchase was a spray and paste combo from a business best represented by Burt Reynolds. My dad mentioned that if it was good enough for that man, then it would be good enough for him.
Throughout the decade or so of living in our new house, he took the “his” space in the master bathroom and transformed it into something that looked like a neglected auto body shop — more specifically, it probably specialized in matte black. Remnants of the soot from his numerous and excessive daily applications caked every nook and cranny imaginable. Anywhere from the baseboards to the grout and even including the blinds for a window on the same-facing wall were not left out. All surfaces in that room were victim to layer after layer of abuse without a single instance of any meaningful cleansing. Whenever either my mom or I mentioned something about the state and condition of the bathroom, he unleashed a fury of defenses and deflections. It appeared that there was no hope of reaching through to him about it.
In the end, he went bald anyway. The little hair he had left was buried under sheets of black mist on his scalp. He would be damned if he cared about any other part of his body. My mom told us about how in his last few months he used painter’s tape across his forehead in order to get the hairline just right. I never got a chance to see with my own eyes what that display would look like, but I still ache with laughter at just the thought.
When he passed, several cousins and I went through the arduous process of cleaning the area, no longer restricted by his contempt. It was even more difficult to reach something close to the original appearance than anyone could have imagined. A lone picture hung on one of the walls and when we took it down, we compared color of the paint from before and after. It was on the same scale of shock as seeing meth destroy people’s lives. Even with several hours of deep scrubbing and wiping from four separate people, it was still a few shades off. Short of sanding down the walls and applying new paint, it seemed like what it is now may be as good as it’ll get. I certainly would have lost my mind if at it alone. I’ll always be grateful to the help of Jenny, Mandy, Haydee, and Joe. Misery loves company after all.
Fourteen: “Driver’s Ed”
First learning how to drive a car was something I looked forward to a great deal. It was the time between when I was 15 or 16 that I had started learning how to prepare for that new responsibility. As typical of families in America, I started out sitting shotgun to my dad driving as he talked about being behind the wheel. I asked for his help in teaching me after our trip to the Philippines the year before. He agreed to help me and there was no trace of doubt when he said it.
Of what I remember, I don’t think there was anything of substance that I picked up from him before I actually started driving. I recall a lot of the tidbits he’d bring up as if he were talking down to someone who should have known about everything ahead of time. They were always trivial things like how to turn the key or where the odometer trip reset button was. In the grand scheme of driving, those aren’t the first things that I expected to be tested on. In any case, I wasn’t much of a good student to know how to prepare myself for the experience of driving with no context to base any opinion off of. I felt a great deal of pressure trying to get things right the first time.
His driving technique, which I’ll get into as another story entirely, wasn’t something that was seen as a good influence, either. I was always glad to arrive at our destination, and it was only because the ride got to end. I was overjoyed longer having to be a passenger and endure the motion sickness I’d often get from being in the same car with him as the driver. As I thought more and more about all of the red flags that came up, it started to seem like a bad idea to ask him for help, but I didn’t know who else would be willing to teach me. I committed to at least giving it a shot.
When I first sat in the driver’s seat of my dad’s Dodge Dakota, I remember feeling a sense of power and control. I felt uncomfortable thinking about maneuvering the ten-foot vehicle. It was an awkward experience feeling such a separation between body and surroundings. I lost all sense of my physical space. I couldn’t get a lock on the awareness of the truck’s footprint and it seeped into my consciousness. The more frustrated and nervous I got, the more impatient and fed-up my dad would get.
He eventually made a weak analogy that did not help me in any capacity. He said that driving a truck was a lot like riding a bike. I had no idea what to make of those words. I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that this two-ton engineered mass was a kind of “bicycle” for me to use. He mentioned how it’s easy to drive a big car and then a smaller car. The extended metaphor wasn’t helping, but he was running out of patience.
My first test was to back around and out into the street. From there I’d enter traffic normally. I started up the engine and tried backing out of our driveway into oncoming cars and panicked. We had stopped right outside of our house in the middle of the street. As soon as I tried shifting into a new gear to drive forward, that feeling spiraled into anxiety and despair. I froze trying to look behind and through an empty truck bed and at a handful of cars stopped along Edmonds Avenue waiting for me to complete the process. It was mortifying going through every action conceivable in the cabin — turning the steering wheel, switching between gas and brake pedals, shifting into all the gears, and so on — trying escape the turmoil both inside of me and outside of the cabin. Cars started driving around us.
The minute or so that elapsed in those moments of terror was too much for me. I managed to get the truck out of the street and next to the sidewalk, haphazardly parked along the curb right in front of our house. I shut the engine off and felt waves of apprehension, shame, and embarrassment alternate all around me. My dad was yelling by this point with heavy-handed criticisms. I couldn’t bring myself to talk about what it was that I did wrong, but I knew that it wasn’t worth trying anyway. I was seen as a failure and that’s how I felt. After that day, I chose never to get any driving instruction from him. I was shell-shocked and conditioned to feel terrible about anything I did in fear of doing something wrong again in his presence.
About a week later, I was offered lessons from one of my uncles. It went well and I gained confidence and hope for driving. Passing the test wasn’t a problem by then. I grew out of the emotional wreck I was as a driver after years had passed since the incident. I believe the combination of hormones and inexperience coupled with my dad’s short temper and complacency created this monstrosity of a conflict.
Fifteen: “Old Clothes”
I went through at least a quarter ton in weight of my dad’s clothes when I was back in Seattle. His taste was plucked out and preserved from the 1970s. I’m sure that what he had worn was in fashion at the time, but the transition into later decades did not hold up as well. Much of the majority of his clothes were throwbacks to national pride and manliness.
I found at least a few dozen shirts with flames, women, marijuana, cockfighting, motorcycles, etc… A lot of them were tank tops or short-sleeved muscle tees. Not many were appropriate for wearing around in public without some serious glares. At least I never saw him wear those shirts out while I was growing up.
Not everything was junk though. I found some hidden gems that I would even wear today. I held on to those and threw out the rest. Among the myriad of options in his closets and drawers, I pulled a “Stop! Hammer Time!” sweater as well as an 80s patterned turtle neck long sleeve. There was also a light tan suit with elbow patches that was pristine and unworn. It fit surprisingly well for something near 40 years old. It must have also helped that I’m about the same width now as my dad was back then.
Capturing the emotions during this experience was a lot of bittersweet mixed with awe and awkwardness. My reactions ranged from sitting in silence and shaking my head at every unturned shirt to holding up tops in the air for me to laugh at. In any case, after all was said and done, I think I’ve got the next decade themed party down for sure now.
Sixteen: “Are You Korean?”
My dad had the strangest reactions to whenever there was a girl at our house. The first year out of high school, a few friends of mine came over and my dad happened to be home. Everyone is from an Asian background. Two of the friends were familiar faces, and I’m pretty sure my dad greeted them normally.
My other friend, Laura, was with us as well. My dad had a little more enthusiasm when he talked to her for the first time. I remember him grinning as he said hi to her and then started to ask some questions.
He asked with growing curiosity at Laura’s ethnic identity, “Are you Korean?”
Laura reacted with confusion and politeness rolled into one. “Umm, no?” she said back to him.
My dad then immediately shifts eye contact to another friend of mine, totally ignoring Laura after her response. He never bothered to explain what the importance of Laura being Korean was. I never bothered to ask, but always got a laugh out of remembering how awkward it was that because she wasn’t Korean that she was no longer worth talking to.
Thank you again for your infinite patience, Laura.
Seventeen: “Gas Tank Lid”
When my dad first bought his truck, he found that it didn’t have a locking gas tank cover. He then purchased a couple of keyed lids to replace the unsecured one. I was young at the time, but I can’t recall how old I was exactly. It was before being too much of a smart ass and a little after being gullible enough to believe anything.
I asked him why he needed to have a locking lid to the gas tank. My child mind couldn’t come up with any reasoning on my own. I knew something was up when my dad gave me a very obscure and irrational fear about his truck.
I finished asking my question and my dad said nothing. Instead, he started pantomiming lighting a match. I was so confused. He lit his imaginary matchstick off his imaginary matchbox and threw it into the open gas tank. He then jumped back as if a massive explosion occurred. His eyes grew and I could see all of the white around his pupils. He was for serious.
No words left my mouth after watching him act out the danger. I stood next to the truck and switched back and forth to staring at him and looking at the gas tank. The hesitancy inside me prevented me from reacting honestly. He really believed that someone was going to blow up his truck with a match… My first thought was that there was no way that this person would be able to escape the explosion if they’re throwing the match with their hand. It would have to be some suicidal maniac to think that they would get away from the damage unharmed. I think I just forwarded the conversation to something else.
It wasn’t until I remembered this story a few weeks ago that I realized what a locking gas tank cover would actually be used for. Siphoning gas would be ridiculously simple if the lid is out in the open and unscrews without any sort of key or lock. That was a more practical concern. I laughed out loud to myself when I realized that if he had shared that instead of what he did, I probably would have connected the dots much earlier.
Eighteen: “Sex Book”
Last year when I was driving our truck quite a bit for both personal and family-related reasons, I found some interesting things inside the back seat of the cabin. I was sifting through the space to make room for some shopping when I came across a huge variety of things. The common culprits were work clothing as well as half-filled old plastic bottles with who-knows-how-old water.
The most unusual item I found was a book titled “How to Satisfy Your Man” in red ink on black hardcover. At a couple of hundred pages worth of material, I dared not to read anything inside of it. However, on the outside, it seemed to be in good enough condition with pages crisp and untouched.
My immediate reaction when I unearthed it was to throw it back down on to the seat. It landed corner first and bounced around before settling in. The spine faced me and taunted me as if holding its history above me head. I felt the tension in my face build and my eyes narrow in disgust. As the shivers of embarrassment subsided, I pulled myself together to do something with this peculiar pick-up.
I knew I would not dare to ask either of my parents. That’s a Pandora’s box not worth breaking open at any point in life. I grabbed a loose button-up camo-patterned shirt to throw it into the footwell and buried it under the front seats.
I kept note of where it was in the truck and hid it from sight in case any peeping eyes were to judge. I would find a better use for this text later on in the year. It made for an entertaining gag-gift, pun not intended. For some of the folks wanting a little more context, happy anniversary!
Nineteen: “Man on the Roof”
At our old house, my dad would work on smaller problems that came up with maintenance on occasion. One time our ceiling was leaking and he propped up a ladder outside against the house in order to go up and check out the issue.
I was perhaps eight or nine years old when my dad needed my help holding the ladder still as he climbed up. I was too scared to go on the roof myself, so I stayed grounded. Even after he was walking around up there, I held firm to my position, but started to drift off in thought.
My dad played some music for us earlier that day and I remember hearing for the first time Paul McCartney’s band Wings and the song “Band on the Run.” It was catchy and I grooved. It popped into my head to do something with that verse instead of being bored waiting around for my dad.
For much of that afternoon, I belted out “Man on the Roof” as my own personal parody, given the context of the situation. It felt fun and light-hearted. I must have sung it dozens of times in the middle of my dad’s work. It didn’t even begin to wear through his patience, at least on a superficial level.
He never complained or said anything about me repeating the awful version I came up with. I think there was some definite impatience, but my dad was pretty casual about it in retrospect. I think I started to feel bad with how often I kept singing and stopped when I felt like no one was listening except for me. There was a light bulb going on when I had that realization that I was the only one enjoying my shenanigans.
Now, whenever I hear the original song, I always think about those times when my dad would be working and I’d be helping in the smallest way I felt comfortable with.
Twenty: “American Chinese Food”
Every birthday my dad had that I remember was consistent with what we were going to eat when he wanted to celebrate. We’d always have several large orders from the Little Peking up the block. The late afternoon/early evening would have our kitchen counter covered in American Chinese food.
My dad was never about presents or big celebrations. He just wanted to have something a little more special than his normal day. I don’t have any shame or discouragement for that. Although I questioned his specific dietary choices in life, he was always about consistency with the simple things.
Most of the Saturday mornings at our old house were exciting. I treated some of those days like diet Christmas. There weren’t many rituals in our household, but this essential one was one that mattered. It wasn’t the typical child-aimed interests like cartoons or breakfast cereal that hooked me, either. It was the music.
At the time, I never woke up that early on a Saturday on my own. I always got a little help from my dad’s stereo bumping artists that would influence my own taste in music as I got older. I was drawn to the songs my dad would play in our living room while he was lounging around. His choice of the day would be spinning its course as the dawn broke. He’d be laying down on our faux-leather couch with his feet propped up. He’d always be lost in thought. It’s a habit of his that I realized I picked up as well.
He was fiercely proud of his collection. I think he maxed out his CD case capacity before I was born. There were probably a couple of hundred discs in a little black cabinet situated as a centerpiece in the back of the living room. I can’t remember how he organized them, but everything was stacked deeply. My dad fussed with anyone who tried to tamper with his property.
Genres ranged from oldies to classic rock. He threw in a little disco and funk every now and then as well. There was always a surprise looking for something new to listen to when I took a peek inside the collection. I’d find a Best of the Temptations album next to Led Zeppelin II then go back and check out Earth, Wind & Fire before settling into Rubber Soul. He had mostly songs in English, but there were a handful of CDs sung in other languages, too. When I finally got my own CD player, I snuck an album to my room every other day to indulge. I’d always be sure to put things exactly where I found them as not to stir up any trouble.
My first distinct memory of a song that I heard and liked was “Anak” by Freddie Aguilar. It’s a Filipino song about the relationship of the parents and the child. I’m sure if I listen to it again, it’ll become an emotional release valve. I’m not confident in saying that I could hold back from breaking into tears throughout the duration of the song. The melody and lyrics are haunting and the cadence of the entire song has this slow and steady trot to it — as if even though things may feel drawn out and gloomy, they continue along. Before you know it, it’s the end of the song and you don’t have to feel that way anymore. It’s kind of a metaphor for life.
The kind of person I am now is most definitely shaped by such early exposure to the wonders of music. I might not have agreed with my dad on many things, but we both shared the experience of enjoying that time spent listening to people sing and play instruments. Even as time passes and my memory of those weekend mornings fades, I’ll always attribute my appreciation of music to him.
Twenty-Two: “Fry’s PC”
My second computer in life was a pre-made Fry’s tower. It was a mid-tier PC with media center capabilities. The main characteristic of this computer was that it had bright blue LED lights on the front of the case that shined whenever it was turned on. It was a pretty beastly computer for its time back in 2004. I can’t remember the specs too much, other than it was able to run Guild Wars (not WoW though!) with no problem.
It was one of four big gifts that I remember from my dad. The other three that come to mind were our dog Shadow, a tool set, and a suitcase. None of these had any relationship to each other nor did they happen during an appropriate or nearby holiday. They were all chance purchases in retrospect. The computer, though, was for sure the most expensive of them all.
I don’t even really remember why he decided to buy a computer for me. It was just a random spring weekday afternoon when my dad said he wanted to go to the local computer electronics store down the street. It seemed like any other day to me. Not having anything better to do and also excited to check out the stuff that I wish I could buy, I joined him.
I wasn’t expecting anything in particular when we arrived at the store. We browsed around for a few minutes before my dad made his way to the computer section and got a little more serious about his window shopping. The two of us were looking at different products when a young brown man (he was probably Filipino as well) dressed in the Fry’s classic red and black attire walked up to us. In hindsight that salesman most likely smelled a pair of suckers in the two of us.
Neither my dad nor I knew enough about computers to be able to compare and contrast the pros and cons of each. Sensing that both of us were a little arrogant about what we thought we knew and what we wanted, the man played us well. He brought us to one of their marquee computers with lots of the bells and whistles to show up the neighboring merchandise.
As the salesman talked up the features of higher end gaming as well as its multifaceted ability to pick up radio and television, both my dad and I were sold. I’m pretty sure that the Fry’s employee played to my dad’s Filipino Card. My dad may have showed a few signs of buyer’s remorse, but sure as hell wasn’t going to let anyone call him out on his bluff.
It was north of a grand and well past the amount I expected we were going to spend that day. It came with everything we needed except for the monitor. Luckily for us, we still had the old CRT connected to a computer that we purchased close to seven years ago. We were good to go.
Securing it into the back of the truck and on our way home, I thanked my dad for the gift. He said not to worry about it as he was also planning to use it for work in the future. It wasn’t a gift in his mind. Still, I was grateful and a little shocked that my dad decided to spend a great deal of money on something that wasn’t his. It was as uncharacteristic to me as him not trying to change his hair color. The most predictable people often can surprise you with the unexpected.
In the end, however, he never used the computer for anything on his own. I think it must have been his way of gifting something expensive and justifying it to himself. The funny thing to me is that I had that same kind of shame when I wanted to get something nice for someone important in my life. It took some time to get over that feeling, but it never occurred to me that I would have gotten that trait from him.
Twenty-Three: “Bed + Stairs”
The first week that we started living in our new house, my dad and I did a lot of moving together. We’d spend most of those first few days shuffling large furniture up three flights of stairs. For a few of the larger items, like the old school big screen TV for example, I got a few friends to help with. When it came to mattresses and boxsprings though, that was something I had to do on my own.
He had a queen mattress with springs and coils that he wanted to keep. My dad set them onto our driveway and left to round up other things from our old house up the street. It was my job to haul both mattress and boxspring singlehandedly up three flights.
I was about fifteen then and still not very coordinated. I managed to get the mattress up alone with no problem. It was flexible and I could get a firm grip on it knowing it wouldn’t slip. With some effort and irritation, I remember bringing it to his room and complaining about how much moving sucked. I took a breather and then strolled back down for the last piece.
The boxspring was a thing that I didn’t know how to handle. At first I assumed that I could treat it just about the same as I did the mattress. If it got too tough to move around, I could just strengthen my grip on it and re-position for better leverage. Not long after I worked the mattress into the foyer, my dad pulled up into our driveway. He gestured that he was going to help and I felt a wave of relief rush over me. I was far from prepared for doing that on my own. It would not have been a problem for the two of us. He took the bottom end while I had a hold of the top. We began to slide the boxspring up those stairs one step at a time.
Eight steps after I dragged the awkward panel of wood and fabric, something went wrong. I think it was carpet slipping out under my feet that made it so that I lost my grip. My dad wasn’t expecting anything and didn’t have his grip set either. The boxspring became a big sled.
When children slide down stairs in cardboard boxes, it’s a pretty surprising speed headed to the bottom. When you’re looking down at forty pounds of box-shaped furniture rushing toward the bottom of the stairs, it’s not nearly as fun or exciting. It was all regret. I remember watching for the two and some odd seconds completely helpless. I knew there was going to be some damage and in no way would it be minor. I braced myself for the noise.
It slammed corner-first into the drywall. The echo throughout the space felt like the house was collapsing. The boxspring left a face-sized indentation and sank three or four inches in. My dad panicked and furiously wiped his face. I was familiar with that reaction. It was the I-can’t-believe-you-did-that response. He was having a breakdown. As he started cursing and swearing up a storm, I burst out into gut-busting laughter. I keeled over on the stairs unable to contain myself. The entire thing seemed like a cartoon to me. I couldn’t believe how comical and wacky the incident became.
When you’re not supposed to be laughing and you’re caught laughing, it’s extremely hard to stop. I probably spent the next minute or two in fits because of how ridiculous all of it was. The context, the reaction, the result — it all seemed to perfectly aligned for my sense of humor at the time. After my hysteria subsided, there was the fallout. My dad was not happy with me and he made sure that I was going to be the one to fix it.
Twenty-Four: “Football Helmet”
Back in high school, I used to breakdance quite a bit. I spent a lot of time trying to learn headpins and was feeling the repercussions of putting so much pressure on my scalp constantly. It became a sore and tender area with less and less hair growing. I wanted to come up with a solution.
My dad and I were at a Big 5 sporting goods store one random winter afternoon. I saw some durable and flat-topped helmets. These were the kind that were aimed at extreme sports like BMX and skateboarding as well. I immediately thought that one of those would be a perfect fix for hurting my head. I could throw it on and throw down some nasty drills and glides (head spinning power move speak). Plus, I’d seen a few similar models worn by other dancers before. It was a no-brainer.
When I picked out a black one to get, I brought it to my dad. I asked for him to pay for it, thinking it wouldn’t be a big deal. It wasn’t too costly and I had no extra cash flow. He then asked me what the purpose was of a helmet like this one. For some reason, I didn’t think to say riding a bike or skateboarding. Those options would make so much sense as excuses. I knew that saying this helmet was for breakdancing would be shot down as a good reason. My mind came up with a bizarre and unrealistic explanation.
Since I talked about playing football while I was in high school, I tried to make a connection work. I mentioned that our team was asking students to buy these kinds of helmets for football practice. After saying that out loud, I regretted how ridiculous it sounded. I felt like there was no way that he would take the bait and help me out with buying the helmet.
It turned out that he bought it, both literally and figuratively. Somehow he never asked any questions about why our school needed to have these helmets for football. I’m not sure if he even really thought about how different the helmet was from the ones they use in games. Whatever the reason was, he either went along with it or had no clue. Thanks for that, Dad!
Twenty-Five: “Pants and Super Cock”
I’m not sure if my dad ever knew how to fold pants. I say this because I have never seen him have folded pants anywhere in the house. He had numerous hooks installed in the two places that he frequented — his room and his closet. Those were the only places that he got dressed and he made sure everything had its place. There was not an empty hook among the spots on those walls.
Once again, while I was going through all of his old belongings, I found it bizarre that I never noticed some of the peculiarities that he had when it came to his pants. I counted roughly two dozen pairs each with their own belt slipped in and several dollars worth of loose change in the left hand pockets. It was such a specific pattern of habits. I pictured him slinging his jangling denim on hooks that were drilled into his doors. The heaviness of the door was accompanied by the sloshing around of coins. Sometimes there’d be a pounding sound when the heavy pockets collided with the walls. Those poor doors never saw the abuse that was coming.
Knowing that my dad likes to keep his pockets fully loaded, I went through each pair and turned them inside out to make sure that he wasn’t stashing away other kinds of valuables. It’s possible that he had an emergency stash of cash somewhere that no one would have looked. Well, someone at Goodwill is bound to get lucky, I suppose. By the time everything was finished, with some help from family of course, we estimated at least $50 dollars worth of change accumulated over who knows how long. Now it’s sitting in a jar at home next to his old collection of CDs.
Going through the belts was another unusual discovery. He had at least one belt per pair of pants. Most of them were already assigned to a complementing other half. There were an array of different materials ranging from fabric to leather and even metal links. One of the most embarrassing belts that we found was related to the cockfighting that he was so very fond of back in the day.
It was a thick full-grain leather belt with stitching along the sides. In the back center of the belt, text running across the middle of it, was the phrase “SUPER COCK” professionally etched into the material. A pair of opposite facing roosters bookended the lettering.
There aren’t enough muscles in my face to accurately detail my reaction when I found this article of clothing.
Twenty-Six: “Jimi Hendrix”
The first time I listened to Jimi Hendrix, I was hooked. My dad only had the Essentials copy of his greatest hits, but it was more than enough to set me on a path of screeching licks and legendary riffs.
I knew a little bit about Jimi the person reading some articles about him. His grave was a couple of blocks down the street from where I lived. I recall that he didn’t like Seattle much. From what I’ve read, he had a bad relationship with family there. My history teacher in 10th grade corroborated a lot of the things I was curious about.
When I asked my dad what he knew about Jimi Hendrix, he answered with a simple reply. “That guy was a drug man,” he said. “He would shoot heroin into his brain.” My dad mimed having a syringe and needle and placed it to his temple. When he squeezed his imaginary device, his eyes scrambled inside of his sockets. “That guy was crazy.”
I was shocked. Other than the gruesome depiction of someone shooting heroin into their skull, the desperation needed to stoop that low rocked my thinking. It was such a powerful demonstration of the dangers of drugs. How could that feel good at all?
I never looked up if that was true or not. It was a bit too dark to ask my history teacher as well. However, I wasn’t surprised to think that it might have been possible. The man lit his guitar on fire on stage; it’s not a surprise that he probably experimented with drugs. As far as his delivery method via brain veins, I’m not so sure. After all, I knew my dad had a way of exaggerating things.
I think the men on my dad’s side of the family all had amazing handwriting. My dad’s penmanship was damn near immaculate. I’ve heard the same things from my cousins about their dads. He, as well as all of my uncles, wrote and write in all caps. Their kerning was something to be studied. Everyone told me English was something that all the sons in the family practiced when they were growing up in the Philippines. I didn’t think that it applied to the aesthetic as well as the language.
Any time that he’d have to write something, whether it be a check or a note for someone, he wore his reading glasses and gripped his writing utensil with precision. My dad looked like an old scribe in front of a fresh sheet of parchment. He maintained a perfect angle with his pen and never pressed too hard or softly onto the surface. Each stroke glided with little effort in gentle swings and stops. The ink always landed with consistency and purpose; typos were few and far between. The calm in his approach could have been mistaken for meditation. It was like watching a conductor in front of an orchestra and his words were coming to life. He owned his writing, every piece of it.
I’ve picked up some small influences from my dad when it comes to writing. If I choose to, I can come up with something clear and legible, but far from as beautiful as his was. I, too, end up having all the characters in capital letters. It’s mostly because I thought it was a cool thing to do and it also looked awesome when my dad did it. It ends up being a lot more work than I think is necessary for writing, so I’m usually not in favor of using it.
With that in mind, I haven’t been in practice with this kind of handwriting for a while. As great as it looks and feels when it’s complete, it’s just not all that practical for me. I write hard and fast in order to get the information down as quickly as I can. I don’t feel like I have time to slow down or else I’ll miss something. I’m more fast food while my dad was fine dining. I think it says a lot about how I’ve been living life. It’s past due time to bring back my nicer penmanship. It’ll be good to slow down and really appreciate the little things for the way they are and not for how I think they should be.
Twenty-Eight: “Mariners Pizza”
Back when my dad was working at a saw blade manufacturing company, he’d get free tickets to Mariners games. This was the legendary mid 90s era team with the likes of Randy Johnson, Edgar Martinez, and the great Ken Griffey Jr. The SoDo Mojo was real.
Around that same time in elementary school, we would go to a handful of games a year together. Just me and my dad, we’d grab a small Mariners bag and stuff it with pizza from Costco under sweatshirts, baseball gloves, and team caps. Sheets of aluminum usually wrapped up the slices before burying them under everything. My dad told me to hide the food well among the mess of other stuff inside. I wasn’t aware that you’re not supposed to be bringing in food from elsewhere to a ballpark. It was the frugal side of my dad showing its early signs.
When we’d get to the entrance gates and have to carry our bags through, the staff would always take a peek at the contents of our bags. They’d use a stick and rummage around for any signs of items that are not allowed. When they were sure that we weren’t smuggling anything in, they let us through. I’d be sure to cover the slices of pizza well enough with foil and clothing that they wouldn’t be detected. We never got caught with our outside food.
The one downside I remember from these sneaky habits was always smelling like pepperoni and cheese once I threw on those sweaters. The odor always lingered well past the 7th inning stretch.
Twenty-Nine: “Panic at the Playground”
Back when I was in kindergarten, I had the morning schedule for school. We’d get there around 7 or 8 am and then be out by 12:30. At lunch, the kids would get picked up and then everyone would be on their way. It was regular — day in and day out. We operated like tiny little elves working on Santa’s itinerary, but with fewer toys and more finger painting.
My dad was pretty consistent with pick ups/drop offs and being punctual. Showing up to school and leaving on time were never a problem. I think I won the perfect attendance award that year as well. I was always used to the repetition of meeting him outside of our classroom. From there, we’d walk together to my dad’s car — then a 1992 candy red Firebird.
The one afternoon that I didn’t see him promptly at 12:30, I felt something was wrong. I waited around with my teacher as the minutes elapsed. The brick walls of our building looked more and more like they belonged to a prison. Students were all headed home and the empty playgrounds felt like a lockdown. The next thing I knew it was 12:45 and no word about where my dad was. The teacher had to go and get started with the afternoon kids, so I was left alone in front of the classroom door. The paranoia finally shifted into high gear. I was panicking and felt hysterical. I began to cry and feel abandoned and hopeless even though it was only twenty or so minutes. I remember gripping the shoulders of my backpack tightly to shield me from the loneliness I felt.
Close to one o’clock , I saw my dad’s Firebird pull up to the curb. I heard the V6 engine die and the heavy door slam shut. He got out and walked to me laughing. I was so upset at that point. Everything in my body felt tense, surging with emotion. I tried to kick him for leaving me at school without knowing what was going on. I wanted him to feel how I felt. The young child that I was reacted like a brat, but it felt so justified. “How could he just leave me there?!” I thought.
When I settled down and we started walking to his car, he explained why he was laughing when he saw me.
“I left the stove on. I didn’t want to burn down the house,” he said. He continued chuckling at my reaction and held it together enough for me to be convinced that he was serious. He broke out into giggles and I believed him. It worked to change my mood by then. I never noticed how easy it was for him to get me to laugh back then. I weighed the options and realized that picking me up later than expected was better than coming back home to a burnt down house.
Thirty: “No Beard”
The first time my mom and I saw my dad with a shaved face, we couldn’t help but crack up. The decades of feeling like “I wonder what he looks like without a beard” exploded into reactions of fits and howls. Despite being in the hospital for weeks at that time and knowing we’d have to stay there through the holidays, we found a moment’s worth of joy.
Keep in mind, there were no photos at all in existence of my dad with a baby face. Even being back in the Philippines and seeing old family photos, nothing documented had him without facial hair. The least amount that was pictured was a goatee — even then it was pretty substantial. It was more surprising that he was only around 20 at the time. I didn’t get to max out my Beard Level until I was a few years older; I was 24 when I reached my final form.
Our first glimpse was seeing him on the hospital bed and cracking a grin when he saw us stroll in. Lying there in his half-gown and tiny blanket covering him, he looked like a total stranger. The little hair he had left on his head was also stark white compared to his usual painted black. I keeled over feeling the tightening of my torso and the muscles in my face tensing. It was like I was shot with a bullet of humor and bleeding out right then and there.
My mom was more composed, but still reacting in a similar way. She chuckled a bit, but out of common courtesy, kept it to a minimum. During my laughing frenzy, she made a bold observation.
“You shaved!” she peeped.
I then ran out of breath and worried about passing out.