I always thought that the way I grew up was abnormal. I was an only child, my Filipino mom was the hardworking breadwinner of the family, and my Caucasian father was the stay-at-home “dad”. I was one of the only multi-racial girls in the school.
I was jealous of my friends and their family adventures. I was embarrassed to only talk about my mom, I worried friends would notice my father was absent from these stories. My conversations felt unfinished. I was young, but I could only think back about the fighting and how uncomfortable it was being at home. Seeing how my dad and mom interacted always made me wonder why? Was it that pungent liquid he drank every night? Every time he drank he was a different person: someone angry, someone confused, some- one frustrated at my mom for working too hard to support our family.
I knew my friends wondered where my dad was. My mom was always the one who attended parent-teacher conferences, Sunday mass, etc. When friends had the courage to ask about his absence, I always took a deep breathe, and said simply, “He’s not in the picture.”
The fights got worse as the years went on. By the beginning of middle school, my mom and I would spend most of our days and nights away from him -- eating out, spending time with friends, keeping ourselves busy. At home we began hanging out in my mom’s room. My mom remembers this time negatively, like we were trapped, but I remember it as oddly positive, watching TV snuggled up next to each other under a blanket, and just being able talk to my busy mom. My mom made the executive decision to move when I was eleven. My dad has never contacted me since the move.
One night, when I was twelve, my mom and I were watching the news, when I heard that the company my father used to work for was shut down for be- ing a “hazard to public safety.” That’s when I found out the secret my mom had kept from me. A few years earlier, the night before my First Communion, my dad had been arrested for operating under the influence while working. I’ll never forget seeing my father’s mug shot on live television that night as the news anchor talked about the company and learning what he had done. I never thought he would put innocent lives in danger. I knew my mom was looking at me. When the segment finished, I was speechless, appalled, confused. Tears just streamed down my blank face. I didn’t know how to process the information.
That night, my mom explained that I wouldn’t have been able to handle the information at the time. She explained how people at church had seen the news, and had confronted her the next morning at church. Not in a negative way. They sympathized. They wanted to help. I can’t imagine what my mom was going through during my First Communion, walking into the church with my dad, all eyes on her. And yet she was able to conceal her emotions so well for me, that I had no idea anything was wrong.
For so long I wanted a father-figure. So I went out and chose role models, like my coaches, uncles, family friends; and now I have six father-figures who I consider father-like. But I realize now that I wouldn’t be who I am today without the strength and courage of my mom. She is the one who raised me and it’s nothing to be embarrassed about -- it’s beautiful, it’s powerful, it’s unfathomable. She had a full time job, she alone worked hard to pay for my years in private school, and on top of this every night she made home cooked meals - like spaghetti and meat sauce, which was my favorite. I cannot imagine everything she went through, but my mom is the most incredible person I know. I am proud to say I was raised by a single mother.