I had my first real conversation with my Dad when I was 7 years old.
I know you’re probably thinking how?
You see I couldn’t understand or speak English until I was around the age of 6-7. I had spoken to my Dad before that time but it was never meaningful or sweet, maybe I told him I loved him, or that I missed him, but there was no real emotion behind them, I just didn’t understand the words I was saying because they were being dictated by my Mother and for the first 6-7 years of my life I was only speaking Tagalog, our native language in the Philippines.
My Dad is English and spoke English and Cantonese, as a second language I was learning Mandarin in Kindergarten, it’s safe to say the language barrier was a big problem for us, not that I actually realized, being young and naive I was oblivious to how it wasn’t normal to not talk to your father.
My Dad was not a dead beat Dad, it wasn’t that he didn’t want to see us or be with us, it’s just he worked in Hong Kong whilst we were living in the Philippines, I don’t really remember much about him at this point but my Mum would always say that he would come as often as he could.
At the early stages of my life I only knew my Dad as one thing, the man who brought presents and chocolates.
Again I didn’t think that was weird, I mean I didn’t really understand the concept of what a father was, I had spent my early years without one present so I don’t think my Dads absence emotionally scarred me or anything.
What I do remember is how disrupted I would feel when this strange man, my father would come along and spend time with us, I would wonder why my Mum would kiss him and why he would want to take so many pictures with us. When he scolded me for being naughty, I would cry to my Mama and I couldn’t understand why he felt he had a place to tell me what to do.
As a kid I just couldn’t get my head around this situation, and yet everyone would be fascinated when my Father, a white man would come to visit. Secretly I dreaded them.
Whilst we lived in the Philippines my Mum was considered a single parent. I don’t know if it was because she felt guilty or felt like maybe we needed to have more male authority and a father figure but we were basically raised with my cousins, my Uncle (my Mum’s brother) we affectionately called Tatay, Dad in Tagalog, and his wife, Nanay (Mum). This was our family dynamics for a long time and even though we called my uncle Tatay, I knew deep down he wasn’t my Tatay the way he was the Tatay of my cousins.
Then in 1997 we moved to the UK and I was suddenly living full time with the man I later learnt to be my father, I was 6/7 years old and I had already lived a significant amount of time without him.
Overtime we did establish a close relationship, but I couldn’t help think that I had missed out on a lot of father daughter bonding that was critical during my much earlier years, things that didn’t seem important now, but being 24 and re-looking at my childhood I realize, I feel like I was almost cheated at having this relationship with my Dad.
There are 10 main things I missed out on growing up without my Dad.
- Riding a bike.
I know, I know, you’re probably thinking, well, your Dad doesn’t need to be the one to teach you how to ride a bike, but I felt like there wasn’t a whole lot of people around who took the time to teach me. My older sister learnt but I’m not sure how, my younger sister was taught by my Dad, and me being the middle child, well, I guess I slipped through the cracks. My childhood wasn’t filled with family trips and afternoon bike rides during the summer. I remember that I often watched people riding bikes and I would feel a little left out just wondering when it would be my turn to learn, or when my Mum would buy me my first bike. It was tough for my Mum, raising 3 young girls basically on her own, there wasn’t a whole lot of time to be doing each big milestone for individual girls so it was like I was growing up as one of a triplet with my sisters. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it, but sometimes it was easy to get overlooked and my learning to ride a bike wasn’t really a big deal anymore. Even after we moved to the UK, I didn’t learn to ride, I guess it was because we moved her when I had passed that time to learn and people just assumed that I already knew how. So I continued to miss out on those afternoon bike rides, and pretended it never interested me. In 2016, now, I still don’t know how to ride, and to be honest I’ve never actively tried to learn, I think I’m past that now, and I’m too embarrassed to ask someone to teach me. Last summer a group of friends and I hired some bikes in London to ride around the park, I was the only one who didn’t, well…I did but I leant it to my friend because I just couldn’t do it, I had somehow convinced myself that I could ‘fake it till I make it’ but riding a bike is just not that easy. Maybe I’ll learn someday, maybe I won’t…I just hope that I remember this moment forever so that when I have kids, I remember that learning to ride a bike is a big and important milestone, that I am there for, and if not me, then I need to make sure that my child has a parent or loved one to celebrate in their joy of riding without stabilizers.
- Learning to swim.
Learning to swim when I was younger was perhaps one of the worst experiences of my young life. When we still lived in the Philippines we went to water parks a lot, but it never really involved swimming. I have always been a short kid so I would frequent baby pools with the small but fun slides, I’d never go into the adult sections where the water would be deep. Whenever my Dad would come to the Philippines for holiday, he would take us on a mini-vacation and we’d go to the beach. Part of my Dad bonding with us would involve him ‘teaching’ us to swim. This would involve him taking my sister and I on his back, swimming us out so far that I remember looking down and it was like a well and I couldn’t even see the bottom of the ocean. Then my Dad would drop us off and he would swim back to the beach and tell us to swim back. I remember being convinced that he was trying to drown us, but it did work, my sister and I would somehow miraculously end up back on the beach, exhausted, panting and with bellies full of salt water. I never learnt how to properly swim but I learnt how to float and manage to get back to the beach if needs be. My Dad’s visits weren’t often so these swimming lessons were often endured a couple of times a year, but they were traumatizing enough that I was put off swimming properly, even in pools with arm bands on. Much like learning to ride a bike, there weren’t a whole lot of opportunities to really properly learn. My Dad enrolled my younger sister to swim classes and would then take her to the pool after school a lot when she was younger, but I had reached the age where everyone just assumed I knew how to swim properly so never got the opportunity to improve my skills. It’s not like I don’t know how to swim, I can, but I’m not a strong or confident swimmer. I think I would have liked the opportunity to learn properly so that I could swim leisurely and not just doggy paddle like an idiot. If I’d had my Dad around a bit more I think we could have had a great opportunity to bond through him teaching me how to swim and he would have had the time to teach me like a teacher rather than be in such a rush to impart some skills on to me that he thought his best way to teach me was to basically drown me (I mean that with the most respect I can, I love my Dad but I don’t agree with his swim teaching skills).
- First day of school.
There’s not much to this, I just wish I had my Dad during my first day of school. Such a nerve racking and scary time for me and I am grateful to have had my mother, but once again this was a moment where everyone else had their Mum and Dad’s, and I had my Mum, and never did it matter before, because my Mum was always enough for me, but times and occasions like these were the only time I ever really felt a longing to having a Dad. My Dad’s absence during this time would prove difficult much later on when I was subject to some minor bullying from a stupid little kindergartener and her group of minions, for not having a father. Who knew kids could be so cruel?
Whilst my Dad tried his best to be there for special occasions, he was away for a lot of special moments, we weren’t able to share some important times and so looking through my childhood photos the absence of my father is quite clear. I know he didn’t mean it and I know that if he could have, he would have been there for every moment of mine and my sisters childhoods, I don’t resent him for being absent because at least he wasn’t a dead beat Dad. But as much as I am grateful for having adulthood to enlighten me and give me understanding, I will point out my Dad did miss a lot when he was working abroad and we were living in the Philippines. He was great at getting us the newest Barbie’s, cool clothes and sweet treats, but sometimes I do feel sad when I look through photos and he’s hardly in them, aside from family vacations, and some baby pictures where he’s holding us, there is barely any family Christmas photos, birthday photos, special occasion photos and unfortunately those moments cannot be re-created.
Much like the Birthday’s, I don’t recall spending Christmas, actual Christmas with my Dad. Now in the Philippines, the whole Christmas and New Year celebration is a big deal and a massive occasion that lasts for quite a while, we don’t just celebrate those days but it’s like a month long celebration. I’ve always been lucky because I had a huge family so my Dad’s absence wasn’t a huge deal. The problem was more when I got older and thought about all those things I missed out and we didn’t really have a whole family Christmas until we moved to the UK and by then it was really too late and I much preferred and missed having such a big celebration with lots of people rather than an intimate day with more strangers than family.
- Father’s Day.
I wouldn’t say Father’s Day is a huge deal, I mean even now, Mother’s day seems to be a far bigger occasion than Father’s Day, that’s probably not the case for people with two fathers etc. but for my household, Father’s Day was almost non-existent and if we were to celebrate, it would have been for my Lolo or uncles. My Dad has played the role of Dutiful Dad by keeping every memento, trophy and horrible gifts that my sisters and I have given him over the years, but he’s never really received anything from us, until we moved to the UK, so on my part, he hasn’t got any keep sakes from me from before I was 7 years old. I wonder if he ever feels like he missed out on knowing me as a person and an individual during my first 6/7 years old my life. I feel like I missed out on yet another family occasion, and even now I struggle to find true pleasure on it because I’m so negative, I guess a lot of things about my childhood still affects me, and feeling forced to celebrate this singular event brings back those sad childhood memories. Like, why was I one of few (if not ONLY) kid making Father’s Day cards during art class, that I never took home because…well…why bother? Who was I going to give it to, one of my most evil thoughts as a kid boarded on me bitterly thinking, I’ll give it to him next year when I next see him. If truth were told, I don’t remember much of it because I didn’t really understand what was going on in my young life, and I feel like I blocked a lot of it out.
- School Plays.
This I would say is difficult, because once we moved to the UK my Dad was in each and every school play and activity, my sisters and myself were involved in, even when we didn’t have big parts, or were simply part of the chorus. My Dad made a huge deal of taking photos and cheering us on. But before that, we had a life in the Philippines that involved performing, knowing that we didn’t have our Dad in the crowd. I remembering playing the crucial part of a tree (in the Nativity!) seeing my Mum so happy, and not even feeling sad about my Dad not being there to see me in my starring role (because, seriously not feeling bitter, but why was I always a Tree and my sister was always an Angel? I mean don’t get me wrong, I played some stellar trees, a Christmas tree one year, and when I was given my role, I would act the hell out of it, want me to be a regular tree? I’ll sway the fuck out of it and trick you into thinking you’re in a forest). I guess I just felt like having that extra body in the crowd for support would have made a difference, but my Dad make up for it later on in life.
- Playing rough.
I didn’t actually know how to word this but let me explain. I am a girly girl; I hate dirt, bugs, rough activities that could potentially hurt me. And I guess this excuse is much more invalid now than it was back then. Because I grew up in a time where there were clear ‘boy games’ and ‘girl games’. Boy games were a lot rougher and tumble where as girls are more calm and pretty. Growing up in a female dominated family meant that my sense of adventure only really reached a certain level. When we were around my Uncles and Grandfather, my sisters and I would go fishing, climb trees, run around without shoes on and get dirty, but those occasions weren’t often and I found myself much more frightened by those ‘boy activities’ because I was raised to feel like a princess who was afraid to get down and dirty. I think had I had my Dad around more maybe I could have learnt to appreciate those things and maybe I wouldn’t be so girly and my Dad and maybe I would have more ‘manly skills’ now, maybe we’d have even had more in common.
- Having a main male figure.
Because I had such a large family it meant that I had a huge pool of influence from people who had different experiences and wisdom to pass down to me. There was never a shortage of love and there was always someone that I could talk to, but it also meant that I was admiring and aspiring to be many people rather than having one main male and female role model. A lot of daughters who have the privilege of having a close relationship with their father often say how their Dad is their best friend and the best man in their life. I feel that way about my Dad now, but I don’t think we’ll ever be as close as we could have been. I guess that’s because at the critical time of my life, where your father becomes your ‘Daddy’ my Dad was abroad with his other family and not having him there to impart male wisdom into my young life meant that I was learning life lessons from other men who perhaps didn’t hold the same values and morals as my Father did. My lifestyle and lessons changed majorly when my Father became more prominent in my life and as a kid it was confusing, it made it hard to adjust because of the constant changes and I felt like maybe, if my Dad had been there from the beginning then maybe I wouldn’t have had to struggle with my identity because those lessons and challenges would have been a little clearer without having the extra issue of having to deal with having all those men I used to look up to, taken away and them being replaced by my Dad, the only other male, a perfect stranger at that time.
10. Having a normal relationship with my Dad.
I feel like because I had spent the majority of my initial 6/7 years without my Father it hindered our ability to have a normal relationship. We struggled a lot more than other Father and Daughters to establish a close, or even civil relationship in the beginning. As a kid you form this bond and a level or respect for your Dad early on, you learn to trust them when they’re teaching you how to walk, talk etc. But my Dad wasn’t really around for those moments so I never had that chance to establish this with him. It meant that when we moved to the UK my Dad expected and demanded this respect, loyalty and trust whereas being 6 years old I felt he had to earn this. I already had firm beliefs, my own morals and certain level of understanding, with that came frustration too because here was a man who had taken us away from everything we knew and loved, he placed us in a home where we were unwanted, in an unloving and unsafe environment and he expected me to just do what he wanted, what he said and be happy about it. We had a challenging few years together, and even in my teen years we were still unable to understand each other. We faced a lot of ups and downs and even when I had learnt to love him, I was still so resentful for his presence. I think we may have missed a crucial part of bonding, almost like, because we didn’t establish that bond right away, it meant that we couldn’t have a normal relationship, if we wanted that chance to become close and loving to each other then we needed to work harder, and that created more frustrations because that should come so naturally right? Well no, because we were experiencing a lot of Father, Daughter first times much later than other people. Sometimes I still feel this way, like we are still in the process of building this relationship. I know he’s my Dad, I look up to him so all the important components to creating and maintaining a strong and healthy relationship is there, but then there’s this tiny piece of sadness I feel when I think about being a kid and all those missed memories, and I revert back to being a kid and feeling almost abandoned. I want so badly to shake it off and years of therapy has made me realize one of my biggest enemies is my unwavering determination to hang on to the childhood hurt, I used to think it was because it stopped me from getting hurt again, but really it’s just because I can’t seem to let myself move on, forward…Now is the time to let myself heal, I know it sounds so late, but better late than never. You’ve just got to understand that writing this down is easy thinking about it is hard. It’s easy to say, well I’ll let go and move on, but to actually do that is going to be difficult, and that will be another challenge that my Dad and I will have to endure together, I’m just glad he is so willing to accompany me in our journey to recovery, I think that I need him for that, I need him to hold my hand through it, so that that 6 year old girl performing to a bunch of strangers, not seeing her Daddy in the crowd can finally feel like, her Dad finally made it. Daddy wasn’t absent he was just stuck in traffic a little late. I don’t care what anyone says, you’re never too old to need your Dad and I may be doing this much later than healthy but I needed to wait until I was ready to revisit these childhood memories.
Despite my saying so often that my Father wasn’t there during critical periods of my life, I am grateful he is here now. I am grateful for everyday that I have with him. I am grateful that he calls me every Sunday to catch up about our weeks; I love how he drives to London to pick me up every time I’ve felt homesick. I appreciate how he’s always one phone call away when I need advice and how easy it is to talk to him about anything and everything. My Dad is my whole world and we managed to overcome some of life’s greatest battles. Despite a tumultuous start to our relationship, beginning from end of age 6, we endured, we loved and we learnt to understand each other. I am so glad I’ve been given a second chance to love and get to know my Father when I know there are so many who doesn’t have that same privilege. Someday my Daddy will walk me down the aisle, he will hold my baby in his arms when they’ve just been born, he will be first to pop champagne at my wedding, and he will someday be picking me up after some silly argument with my husband whilst trying to convince me that men are stupid but that’s why we need to love them more. Someday all those sad childhood memories will be nothing but memories and my Dad would have done a lot more than those old memories are worth. Soon they’ll be no big deal and my Dad and I would have shared way more memories to fill up our ‘memory bank’. I’m so happy to say that we can sit down together and share happy times rather than have those awkward silences we used to have, my glad to say my Daddy is my hero, my life and my biggest male role model. It wasn’t an easy road but we got there and isn’t that the most important thing of all? I’m so grateful that my father and I persevered through our ups and downs to get us to this wonderful place in our relationship. I may have missed out on an opportunity to have those bike rides with my Dad, but he sure did eat every cake I tried and failed to bake, even the ones where I forgot to put the sugar in it and they ended up baking till they were rock solid. My Dad may not have taught me to read and write, but my Dad would read us bedtime stories every night after we moved to the UK. He may have missed all those plays, Birthday’s and special occasions, but from 7 years onwards, he never once missed an award ceremony, he stayed up until I got home after my first night out, he watched me from the driveway as I pulled out on my first driving lesson, he watched me walk across the stage at my graduation and is always the first to text and call me on my Birthday. My Dad may not have taught me to climb a tree, but he taught me how to cross country run, he may not have kissed my scratches from falling but my Dad slept in my room every night during my recovery from surgery. My Dad may not have been there to receive our father’s day treasures but he hangs every card, picture and sculpture with pride as if those 7 – 13 year old scrawls were the most precious art he owns. My Dad tries to be the best father can be each and every night, and now with some time and wisdom I can see that every decision he has made was to try and bring our family together, whole, not every choice may have been very smart or good but he made it with love. The trust, loyalty and respect my Dad so badly wanted from me? Well he earned that and so much more, thanks to him, I developed an idea of what kind of man I would love to marry, thanks to him, I learnt to trust men, thanks to him, I have a happy life with my family. Someday my Dad will experience some of the things he missed in my childhood but with my Kids, and I know they will be grateful to have a grandfather like him; they’re going to be pretty lucky to be loved by him.
Do something to make your parents proud today, your kids proud someday, and you proud everyday!
Peace and Love,