My name is Jessica Joan and I come from a broken home.
No my parents aren’t divorced. Yes they are still together and very much in love. I come from a broken home because I have two siblings I disowned myself from many years ago, and today I am finally ready to share the painful truth… Some could argue ‘my’ painful truth, about two family households and how they can be hard on kids, through my own experience.
There’s a whole back-story that I don’t need to share right now, maybe someday I will, but to be honest that isn’t really my story to share.
I was born and raised in The Philippines, my mother is Filipino, my father is English (his father is Welsh) and he was working abroad in Hong Kong (confused yet?) I won’t go through the details of how they met etc. Because that is a story for another time, but when I was born I was blessed to have my older sister Mhissy* who is my best friend and who I learnt so much from. I grew up in such a beautiful little house, just my mother, my sister and I but we had plenty of relatives, on my mother’s side, nearby and it’s pretty safe to say we never lacked in love and support. We felt so content that I never felt like our family dynamics was anything other than normal. My Dad would visit us on holidays, I remember getting a brand new Barbie every birthday, but it pains me to say that I didn’t really understand what a father was and that I didn’t grow up with one around until much later than I should have. It’s hard to explain but… let me try.
I knew my dad was my dad, but at the same time I didn’t really understand. I didn’t know that Dad’s usually lived with you, and to be honest I didn’t feel like I was missing anything when he wasn’t around. My earliest memories didn’t really include him, but at the same time I didn’t think his lack of presence made me feel bad or anything? I just thought we were normal.
I have to admit for the whole point of being 100% honest to you, I didn’t even know my Dad had children in Hong Kong, I don’t even know at what point I was told either, all I know is things from 5/6 years old onwards was a really confusing time of my life.
I grew up calling my Uncle ‘Tatay’ which is Dad in Tagalog, this didn’t seem strange to me because I called his wife ‘Nanay’ which means Mum in Tagalog and I didn’t think she was my mother, it was just a term of endearment that I grew up calling them and still continue to call them today.
I think growing up with my father abroad was completely normal to my sister and I because that was all we knew and we had so many family members around all the time that I never felt like anyone was missing.
When I think about my Dad, I remember being terrified of him, in my mind I used to see him as being ‘the foreign man’ because at 5 years old I didn’t all together understand the concept of ‘fathers’. I would say this was my earliest memory of my Dad, when he came over to visit us when we were living in Paranaque. I was playing with my sister and our friends and he came outside to watch us, he was smiling and holding a bottle of beer. He called me over; hearing him say my name struck something in me… It felt so strange and alien, I was so used to people calling me Jess, or Kangkang, and even if someone called me Jessica it would be said in a Filipino accent, so to hear it said in such a ‘British’ way didn’t feel normal. But still I ran over to him. He put his beer down on the ground and picked me up, in what I believe was meant to be a loving and playful way. To me it was absolutely terrifying and I tried to laugh (in my head I was trying to make him think I was having fun so that it would make him happy), I giggled and wriggled, pretending to be absolutely ecstatic but secretly just trying to get out of his grip. At one point my leg jerked out and I knocked his beer over. I held my breath as he put me down, I looked down at the ground waiting to be told off, before he could comment I ran away, a mixture of fear, embarrassment filling my body, I was scared that I would burst out crying in front of him so instead I ran away to my favourite tree and hid.
When my younger sister Kaycee* was born in 1996, I finally got a little sister to treat like a doll. I’ve never admitted this to anyone but this is when my memories of my father really start to kick in and I start seeing him more often in my memories than before. Whether or not he visited more often is completely beyond me but I feel like I became more conscious of him at this point.
I remember, and it’s like a dream to me whenever I think about it. My Mum gave birth whilst I was at school, the bus driver picked me up and took me to the hospital where in excitement, I ran up to the floor my mother was on and I pretty much opened every room to find my little sister. In a totally unrelated story, one of the rooms I opened up had an elderly person in bed with his family members holding his hand talking to him, it was quite a haunting moment in an otherwise life lesson moment.
Eventually I found my family and there on the bed was the tiniest, cutest baby I had ever seen. In that moment when I saw her wrapped up in her little blanket, I promised to protect her even if it killed me.
After that I felt like my dad visited more often. He features a lot more in my memory, and actually despite living with my Mum, I feel like after my baby sister was born I saw a lot more of her too.
My baby sister marked a big change in my life, I was no longer the baby, but I also feel like this was when my consciousness became more awake and I start to remember things more clearly at this point.
What I’m not entirely clear on is when I was told that I had a brother and sister in Hong Kong.
All I remember was being told that I was going to be leaving school and moving away. I remember my mother finally buying me the paint set (IN A TIN!!!) and how proud I was to bring it to class. I accidentally left my book bag in my tray and I cried hysterically that I would never be able to get it back. It was a big deal to me, but I was comforted by the fact that maybe another kid would find it and be able to enjoy the brand new paint set that I never could.
I remember begging my mother not to take me away from my Lolo (granddad) and promised her I would be good. To my naïve 6 year old self, I was convinced that moving away was my fault and that it was because I was naughty. In reality it was because my father and mother wanted our ‘family’ to finally be together and that involved moving to England. Away from my family, friends and life as I knew it.
When I reached a point where I could no longer protest and convince my mother to let me stay, I finally got excited at the prospect of having an older brother and another older sister.
I allowed myself to fantasise about having these children who were biologically suppose to love us. I thought about all the new cool hairstyles my big sister would teach me, I wondered whether my big brother would teach me to ride a bike? I dreamt of all the family holidays we would go on, and whether they would allow me to call them Ate (Big sister) and Kuya (Big brother). Of all the things I thought about, it never occurred to me to think about how I would feel if they completely rejected us. In my head they couldn’t hate us, they couldn’t because I already loved them so much.
In my life in the Philippines I don’t recall a time when I ever felt unloved or rejected. I never felt hatred; in fact I didn’t even understand that concept. I had nothing but happiness and love at welcoming my brother and sister into our family, by that I mean, into the family unit that consisted of my mother, my sisters and I. You see to me, it wasn’t us going into their life, it was them coming into ours. How naïve I was to think it would be that easy.
When we got to England, I remember seeing Friesian cows which sparked of my lifelong love for them (I’m a proud collector of many cow plush toys.) I remember seeing the green fields, the sun was shining and I thought to myself, I couldn’t wait to see my new home with my new family.
But my newfound happiness began and ended there.
Fast forward to being in the new English life that I had (in my eyes) cruelly been forced into. The happy family that I had envisioned felt like a lie.
Instead of a welcoming brother and sister, we had two strangers who didn’t want us. I would go so far as to say that they wished we had never been born.
I witnessed the vile abuse they threw at my mother, who took it all in her stride. It’s painful to think about, but my confused 7 year old self didn’t understand where their anger was coming from. Didn’t they know my mother? Everyone loved her where we lived, in fact she did so much good for her family and friends and hell even strangers. People were grateful for her existence and because of that they automatically loved us.
My first few years in England involved a lot of screaming, fighting and slamming of doors. Sometimes I’m thankful I didn’t understand English for a long time because I think it protected me from a lot of hurt.
My Dad and Mum tried their hardest to integrate our family into the community but they weren’t successful in merging us as one unit. I lived in silent fear but great ignorance. I played dumb to a lot of the things that were going on but I know my heart carried a lot of burden and pain, how do I know this? Well years of therapy couldn’t heal that pain and to this day I can find myself crying about things I cannot change.
I’m going to finally say what I have never been able to say out loud. My father’s side of the family… my family… well they were not the kindest to us when we arrived in England. I will give credit, where credit is due, there were a select few that were truly kind and loving and I thank them for that, because if any more people showed us the kind of hate that so many did then I don’t know if I’d be here sharing this with you today. Some of those kind family members helped fill the void that I had from loosing so many loved ones.
I felt angry and sad and I didn’t even know whom I could blame, so instead I continued the blame I had for myself.
In my head there was no way my mother would bring us to such a horrible world if there wasn’t a good reason for it.
I had to learn a new language, I had to meet new people, I grew distant from those I loved but yet I was not getting close to those who were near me.
As far as I was concerned, it was my mother, my father and my sisters and those were the only beings in this world I could love.
I felt tremendous pain that my brother and sister, who I insisted (and still insist) to call my stepsiblings if ever I should mention them.
There was no love there from the beginning so there was no love lost, and yet as a kid I just couldn’t understand, so that lack of understanding turned into resentment and hate.
My parents who are both intelligent people, probably never counted on us warring. They probably thought as I did, that we were family by blood therefore would be okay at this sudden change, if they didn’t think that then they probably just hoped for the best.
Looking back on it now, it wasn’t the easiest change and I feel like none of us were supported through it. The Step Siblings were clearly in pain too but for a different reason.
With a little back-story to explain to you the situation, it turns out my sisters and I had known about the steps a lot longer than they had known about us.
So in that respect, we had about 5 days longer to get used to the idea of having much older siblings than they did. In fact none of us had much time to get used to anything before we were all thrown into one house to live like big brother. Well you’ve watched big brother before right? You don’t watch it because there’s a bunch of strangers drinking tea, playing nice with each other.
But how was I to know? How was I to know that I had caused a great in discretion just by being born? How was it fair to be blamed by an ‘error’ my parents made, the ‘error’ being that they fell in love. I was heavily punished for two people falling in love. My life became a punishment that I had unknowingly accepted by not putting up a good enough fight to remain with my Lolo.
This fact hurt me most as a child, because my parents were so loving, so kind and yet I felt like an unclean and disgusting bastard child who no longer belonged to the Filipino community but definitely did not feel connected to my English life either.
The war in my household continued until the steps moved out. Finally we were able to live as a normal family, but the damage had already been done. I was no longer the innocent free spirited kid I was. I learnt a lot about family and life as a 7 year old, and I decided I would never, ever get married for love.
You’d think being 23 the pain of that childhood would get better. But actually as adults that we are all now, the memories are just awkward. I remember Christmas 2012 being the worst.
I came home for Christmas, but suddenly the steps were back in the picture. This would be the first Christmas in a long time that we were all meant to spend together. I began to suffer from anxiety attacks on the lead up to it. One night I tearfully confronted my mother. Never had I had the nerve to tell her about my feelings about the steps until that night. But it all came out like verbal/emotional diarrhoea. I cried and she talked but one thing she said to me angered me “We should feel grateful they want to spend Christmas with us.” I felt guilty for being so angry but I argued with her, why would any of us feel grateful for anything they did? And even so, it was 13 years too late as far as I was concerned. I was hurt that Christmas was MY favourite time of the year and they were going to ruin it, I was filled with so much hate that I didn’t even realise I was the one ruining it. My mother continued “I’m thankful to have them want to be around me, we should ask them for forgiveness Jess” she said in her best ‘pretend calm, passive aggressive’ tone she has. This made me more mad but this time I was at a loss for words. I was so upset by how completely stupid it all sounded and felt like my mother who suffered the worst of all the anger and fighting and the attacks on her, had completely forgotten all that pain. Like she suddenly had to plead for forgiveness to two people who made it their life mission to make us all completely miserable. It took me years to accept that they didn’t love us and would never consider us family, and now my mother was asking me to play nice and pretend we were one happy family. But I couldn’t help think about the fact that were the secret family, and they never let us forget it, we came last, they reminded us of this, and to this day I feel like I’ve been branded with insecurity and shame all because two kids couldn’t put our parents actions aside and acknowledge us for who we were…blood relatives.
There’s a lot of forgiveness I’ve had to learn in life, but the adult me, cannot forgive them, for the sake of my deeply hurt and emotionally scarred little self.
Because of them I instantly hated myself, because of them I hated being in England and didn’t give myself the right chance to embrace my English heritage. Because of them I wasn’t able to establish a normal father – daughter relationship straight away and because of them I felt anger at my mother for bringing us into this world.
2012 I felt that way.
2015… well I don’t know. I owe my emotional growth a lot down to University, being given that chance to meet people with different and scarily similar backgrounds/stories as me, I owe my partner who helped me learn to make those childhood tears subside… and of course my parents, who loved me unconditionally, who understood. I could no longer blame my parents for falling in love like the steps did. I could no longer be angry because they did what they did in order to give us all a chance to be happy.
I’m no longer the 6 year old who constantly needs approval, I no longer crave their love or acceptance, and I feel like that helped me move forward.
I feel like divorce nowadays is so common and more people are having (how do I word this?) multiple family households? I’ve heard of stories were it works out, and I will applaud the families who can make that work, but ours just didn’t…it hasn’t and won’t. And I feel like if people could hear stories of the bad things that happen then they can be better equipped if it were to happen to them.
Because falling in love isn’t a crime, but forcing anyone into anything without the right support should be.
Love shouldn’t stop you, but if people are going to be hurt then you need to truly understand the kind of damage it can cause.
People need to be prepared, because two family households can be hard on kids, especially if there is a lot of confusion and hurt.
Parents need to speak to their children, they need to make them feel involved, because what you’re doing really affects them and you want them to feel like they have a say in it tool.
Hopefully in time, words, acceptance and love can fill the darkness, and for your family I pray for you.
Love is a powerful thing, so make sure you do good with it.
Do something to make your parents proud today, your kids proud someday but most importantly, you proud everyday!
Peace and Love