looking back

sometimes, i still can’t believe that we are where we are right now.

this wasn’t where i saw myself 21 years ago, because at that time, i was essentially a bum. i was wasting money i had no business wasting. no degree. no job. i was drinking, smoking, and spending my days playing collectible card games, chatting on IRC, replaying Fallout 1 or 2 depending on my mood, maybe chess, maybe a little basketball when we could muster up enough players on a half-court and if there was anything remotely interesting on TV, watch a movie or read a book when i could find something worth reading. i had no idea what my future might bring, but i wasn’t optimistic. i had no idea what i wanted to do. heck, i had no idea what i could do.

i got so much flak from my family then – they knew about my vices, and my seeming inability to get off that downward spiral. i never told them the truth about my getting kicked out of school for both academic and disciplinary reasons (they only knew about the academics, because if they found out my old school would never issue a certificate of good moral character, they’d probably hate me even more) and that made it even tougher for me to face the prospect of never finding a school that would accept me without such a certification.

i reached that point. i don’t remember when i hit rock bottom – it probably wasn’t for other people’s standards, but for my life, i knew i somewhat hit it. i wasn’t good for anything, and essentially was just free loading. somehow, i knew this wasn’t what i wanted for the rest of my life. i didn’t want to end up finding some way to further fuck up this mess i made of the chances i had.

i chanced upon the ad for Asia Pacific College on our newspaper. i called them and i got the requirements together to fill up an application for admission. i asked my mom for money to pay for the application and she probably thought i was scamming her but she took the chance. i took the entrance exam and i got in, but what i feared the most came to fruition – when i sent in my transcripts from my old school, the new school was puzzled why the old school won’t give me a certification for my good moral character. the dean set up a one on one with me to find out from me first-hand what’s up with that and i told her the whole story; she probably knew it already if she had talked to the old school about it, i guess i just rolled the dice that my honesty (the same honesty i used to admit to my wrongdoings at the old school, rolling the dice in the hope that being honest and up front would at least get me a shot of getting a good moral character certification) would sway her to forego the requirement of the certification on my character and banked on my determination to return to college to get a degree. if i remember correctly, i offered to put myself on disciplinary probation to start so that i’d be able to motivate myself to keep myself out of trouble to prove that by taking a chance with me, i’d make it worth their time.

the next four years was a blur. i made the dean’s list. i got to become an academic scholar. i learned from industry trained professors, and in my opinion, the coolest set of mentors a student could ever have. i met my lifelong friends there. i had help of course, starting from the dean that gave me a shot, to the registrar who credited a lot of my basic completed subjects that allowed me to finish my degree a full year early and gave me a lot of flexibility with enrolling and scheduling to maximize my first year back from being out of school for more than a year.

nothing was given though. i had to earn my family’s trust back. i had a limited allowance to rein in the temptation to blow off classes. i had to move in with my aunt, who was strict about my schedule, who i had to work for to earn my keep, and comply with her house rules. they were skeptical about my sincerity to finish my education until i ended up in the dean’s list all year for that first year back, earning me an academic scholarship that whittled down my tuition to just 40% of its original cost, which was a big help since my college fund was running low.

i chose a commerce course because i was trying to be safe, with a major on information systems management. enough technology classes to probably prepare me for an IT job, but probably not enough to make it attractive for top tier companies at that point in time like Chevron, IBM, P&G or Accenture, but i didn’t care. all i wanted was a shot to be able to start somewhere. APC gave me an educational foundation that made me ready more than in terms of skill – a mindset that what you learn here isn’t the end of the learning – it prepares you for the industry, but it is in the industry where the actual shaping of who you want to be in your career happens, and a lot of it lies in what you do with what you learned.

five months after my last day in school, and three months into my first job, i was finally able to make it on-stage to receive my diploma.

there is a whole lot more between then and now, but during this reflection, i realize that i could have easily given up. i could have easily despaired. i could have easily chosen the easy way – to be a burden, to be fearful that i can never be acceptable to other people’s standards, to be afraid not to be accepted as a worthy employee, family member or lover. i could have easily fallen prey for the darkness within that is our worst enemy. i could have easily forgotten what hope was. i could have given in to the desire to end it all because i didn’t feel i had any worth. so many i could haves.

all i can say is this – if you believe in hope, use that belief to do something you know you want. when the fear of failing hits you, hit back with the hope of success, and then back it up with tremendous effort. that way, if failure happens, you know you gave it your absolute best. of course winning in live isn’t about just hoping. we need to do something. find that something you want to do, and do all it takes to be successful in it.

finally, it is we who define our own limits. our limits are bounded by fear. when we stop believing in dreams because of our fear they may never come true, we lose hope. just believe in what you can do, and put everything into it. at some point, when we are challenged, doubts creep in, and that’s natural. just don’t let doubt consume you or your belief in yourself.

so if you are down in the dumps, feeling like a failure and worthless and not worth a damn in this life, do not despair. fight the darkness. find the light. see the hope. open your mind to learning. reject not, especially if you do not want to be rejected. appreciate the value of a different mindset. do small things that make you happy. learn something new. list down your goals. fight the obstacles. pray for your dreams, because we need all the help we can get, and God knows we can’t do it just by ourselves.

2019

2018 started on a high. A dream was coming true, a prayer answered just when we were at the brink of surrender and despair.

We planned 2018 to be our “get away” year in 2017 – we wanted to see the rest of America’s beauty, cross off things we needed to do/see while we could, while it was just the two of us. And while the news of our coming child was a welcome surprise, we decided to go on a “babymoon” of sorts, whittling down our list to the must-sees before our little one came that coming summer.

Then came one of the toughest weeks of my life. I was so unprepared, shock overpowered the grief; I was at a loss for words and in moments that I can never have again, I don’t believe I said the most meaningful things to say for the last time to my sister.

It was a challenge to remain optimistic, to remain wholly committed to seeing the good, the silver lining. It was a challenge to keep the gloom at bay when something you’ve waited for for the longest time was slowly coming true. It was a challenge to keep myself from my own personal darkness, my weaknesses, fighting them off, living with the loss and helping my wife with the challenges of being with child and catering to her growing needs and preparing ourselves for the coming of our little miracle.

Then came another challenge – the closure of the Alameda office meant I’d have to be working out of our San Jose office – 47 miles away. Getting there wasn’t the challenge – getting home after work was. At worst, it’s a > 2 hour drive. At best, 90 minutes or so, but meant leaving the office at around 3 p.m. It also formed a lot of questions in my head – will people be laid off? Will they still need me around and give me a chance to live here for good? Will we be sent home while our child was waiting for her birth? So many questions, and the uncertainty caused me some real anxiety and unrest.

Things worked out okay – my manager gave me a really favorable work arrangement that allows me to spend my workdays mostly at home, with few drives between Alameda and San Jose limited to 2x a week on most times, 3x a week if there were any management alignments with our team.

Our little one came in the summer – but not without a little bit of an anxious moment that led her to spending a few hours of her first day of life in the NICU. She was back with us just a little past midnight of her second day, and all I can say is when you are right there, hand in hand with your wife delivering your child, you can never be in more awe at the strength and resilience that our Creator has put into a woman’s body. It changes you. For me, it made me appreciate her more, and I tell her every day that the next most amazing thing than marrying her was seeing her give birth to our child. From that day, we transcended from being a married couple to a family of three and parents of one. It amazes me to see how life grows and to have front row seats as how our child grows from that little bundle.

Then came news of my grandfather’s passing. It was something I couldn’t go home for and it pained me to not be able to say a proper goodbye. In my mind, I said good bye years ago when I left to move here, and again when we visited him after my sister’s passing, only this time, I can only muster a prayer to say thank you.

And now, we are here – another year older. Surely this year will be filled with good and bad. As we grow older, we realize how unselfish life is when it gives you all its bountiful provision, and at the same time we realize how easy it can also take away from us, without any thought to our preparedness for moments or realities. All we can really do is just live this new journey around our yellow star and make the most out of the moments, make our brief time on this earth worth remembering by those who we spend our days and nights on this earth with.

Happy new year.

all saints day

the last time i went through loss and bereavement, it was for losing a grandparent. it’s tough, but at the very least, you kind of digest it a bit more immediately as a fact of life, especially as they grow older.

this year, it’s tougher. it’s tougher when you lose someone closer to you. it’s tougher when you don’t expect it. it’s tougher because even though your mind and heart tells you that given the illness she suffered, she’s in a better place now.

but it’s hard. it’s hard when you’ve got so much to share. it’s hard when you’ve realized so many things, but you can’t apply what you’ve learned because it’s too late.

i think i’ve been able to move on from the fact that you’re no longer with us dear sister. the only thing i really haven’t been able to get over is wishing that you were here for all the good things that has happened since then – i know you are, quietly watching over us, we may not feel or notice it, but i know you do. i know that every good thing we got going for all of us is you letting us know that you’ve got our backs, things like that.

i miss you, anna.

we remember you today, but frankly, we don’t need a day like today to remember. we think of you a lot. on good days to smile and laugh about and celebrate. on bad days to forget and just know that we’re not alone in having bad days.

“she is dead. you are alive. so live.”

easier said than done, Morpheus. But i’ll keep trying.

+++

P.S. – I decided to make things a little brighter in here. Anyway. Not like anyone would notice.

The Birth

Dearest Hannah Rose,

Twenty days ago, you were born – while no one ever remembers themselves being born into this world, I hope that when you get to read this, it helps you learn about this very special day – I’d prefer that you hear it from my lips, with all the feelings that went along with every moment we had; this is here, so that in case you want to keep coming back and read about it, you’ll know where to go, and you know that I wrote it down not just for me, but also for you. But I would really prefer to be the one to tell you.

Tell you how I broke into tears as I heard your first cry, and how your mother shed tears when your nurse put you on top of her chest to be with you for the first time.

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Tell you how worried we were that you had to be taken into the NICU due to respiratory distress, despite the best attempts of your nurses to tell us that it was purely for precautionary reasons to help you acclimatize to your new surroundings.

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Tell you how painful it was for me to watch them try and put in IV lines on your hands and feet, and how painful your cries were at each attempt.

Tell you how each visit your mother and I had to your room at the NICU gave us the perspective of how lucky we were that you only needed a few hours there, seeing how dire and precarious the conditions of other newborns in the NICU were.

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Tell you how each and every doctor, nurse, respiratory therapist, and support staff cared for you and helped us be prepared to take care of you when you were finally brought out of the NICU and over to our postpartum room.

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I’ll do my best to hold on to the details of this special, special day – the day you made our family complete.

This was the day that your mother and I fell in love again – we loved you from the very moment we knew we were going to have you, but that love takes off to a whole different level when you’re there for us to have and hold.

Love,

Daddy

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P.S. – Thank you, Kaiser Permanente, for preparing us for the whole childbirth experience – for preparing me enough in your classes to be in that room the whole time, to be able to hold my wife’s hand with every contraction, count up her pushes with every contraction, see the slow but steady progress of our little one come into our world, and to cut the cord.

I’ll always be thankful for this experience as I know it further enriches our marriage, being the one there for my beautiful one in her time of pain, to help her manage her anxiety and fears. I truly believe that my right to be called a father was earned not just during our little one’s creation, or in our child’s care after birth, but in the whole process being my wife’s support during pregnancy, preparation for delivery, actual delivery and postpartum. To be a father and a husband means to care for both mother and child and not just provide for them materially.

34 Weeks

I’ve felt your hiccups. I’ve chased your hand all over Moomie’s tummy, with my lips. I’ve put my ear on her belly and heard that sweet, pulsing sound of your heart beating. I’ve read aloud stories to you and felt your kicks of approval. We played some of the songs we love and felt either your thumb stick up or down. I’ve played some songs on the guitar that you got wild about. I’ve told you a few things about your late aunt, saving some more for when you’re here with us.

I learned a few things along the way – putting a crib together and gambling that Amazon’s definition of “extra crib screws” would fit the crib we inherited from your cousin Kaelyn when I lost the screws that came with it; moving our heavy mattress to make room for your crib; installing a car seat base on our reliable Swan (our 06 white Accord, because all the two cars I’ve owned have been named after Jennifer Morrison characters); taking the fabric parts out of the car seat and the Pack-N-Play bassinet so they can go into the washing machine so you can sleep on clean sheets when we take you home; make space in our horribly cluttered hall closet (damn proud of the finished product); massage Moomie’s feet and legs as you grew in her belly, as we come home from nearly nightly walks to help her manage her GD.

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Oh, we’re halfway there. @perpetuallybz

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The last 34 weeks have seen a mix of ups and downs. More ups than downs, with the downs really tough to swallow and get over. But knowing you’ll be coming around soon makes each and every down worth trudging and powering through. Knowing you’re going to be our pride and joy makes every single thing wrong with the world worth fighting against so you can live in a world less wrong than the one we lived in. Knowing you’ll be here makes us want to take the chances we used to never entertain because you’re worth every chance and risk.

I think I’ve learned so much about life in the past 34 weeks, my love. Maybe not as much as Moomie, as she was just a machine about learning all about what would be best for you and it’s hard to keep up. I won’t be perfect, but I’ll make sure I’m only yours. Well, yours and Moomie’s.  I know there are at most 6 more weeks to go, but I am already so excited to welcome you to our crazy, beautiful world, Hannah Rose.

Much love,

Your Daddy-to-be.

the dreaming

i’ll never see you again in the flesh, but i know i’ll see you in my dreams. and i’ve been hoping just to catch a glimpse of you in my dreams, just to see if you’re ever able to hear or listen to the things my heart wishes for.

and i did today, just for a moment. it seemed like a family dinner of sorts, and there you were, in a blue floral pajama top with a pink glove on your left hand, just looking pensive, even seeming to be just looking at what’s going on around you.

until i called for a waiter to ask for a drink. maybe for me. maybe for us.

then he started asking questions. what was this gathering for? what were we celebrating?

i did not remember what I answered, but suddenly he asked me who was it in the room who passed away? and then my look went to your direction and at the same time you slowly faded away (no, not like in The Avengers: Infinity War – please stop) and your seat at the table was empty. And right about then I slowly feel a tight embrace from behind. maybe it was the waiter trying to take me, or maybe it was you trying to protect me from anyway harmful.

when i woke, there was a smile in my lips. you knew what was in my heart.

because if there was one other place i knew where i could see you and still be alive. it was in dreams.