Untethered

The other day, I was flipping through my journal and ran across an old entry from almost seven years ago. (Hey, this journal has been neglected. What can I say?) Reading through it made me somewhat wistful, but nowhere near as sad as it used to. I think, quite possibly, it is because I finally have closure. My father is no longer in my life due to my choosing and I am glad of it.

I no longer have to live this particular lie of pretending our family is fine nor force my children into that lie’s bondage. We are free and all the better for it. It takes an entry like this one to remind me of the hold and sway he used to have over me.

Good riddance.

September 22, 2008

I avoid thinking about Dad. He’s coming home for a few days on Saturday.

Truthfully, I forget he exists. It’s easier that way. Otherwise, the tacit acknowledgment of his absence is too painful. And even though I know it has everything to do with him, it cannot help but feel as if it is about us.

Every time he comes home, I feel such intense pressure. I feel as if I have to make his time here spectacular or make him feel like a king – otherwise, he may never come home again. I always feel as if I have to make him miss us. And if I stop playing to his ego, he’ll forget us.

After all, isn’t that what’s already happened? He used to call/IM me much more. But ever since I confronted him about the kids in the background, he’s stopped. And ever since then, I’ve cut the “Poor Daddy” act. Because quite frankly, I’m mad and I cannot force myself to be sweet and cute anymore. I want to smack him and be confrontational. I am angry at him. I am terribly disappointed in him. How time after time, he chooses himself.

I am incredibly angry. How dare he come back, waltz into our lives and expect that we should fawn all over him? How dare he come home, acting like the martyr, this suffering servant. As if we’re just ingrates, treating him like shit. Poor Daddy. So misunderstood. Bullshit.

What a selfish bastard.

I am also incredibly afraid. Afraid that he won’t come back. That I will never see him again. That I may not want to. That sometimes, I wish he were dead – so that things could be simpler. That we could have closure and just move on with our lives. That we could be free.

Because we are tethered to him. It may be a tether that is halfway across the world, but we are still tied. Even if they divorced, it’d still be there. But if he died? Perhaps that pull would disappear. We could start over.

Does this make me a bad person?

He makes me so terribly sad. Fine. He can’t make me do anything. But I feel so terribly sad. So, so sad. Sad seems too weak a word. My heart is broken.

Every time he leaves, he re-breaks my heart.

I feel the ache of uncried sobs in the back of my throat, the prick of unwet tears in my eyes. I tamp it down – for what good would it bring to weep?

I do not have enough imagination to think of – to hope for – something different. It hurts too much.

Sometimes, I think I have no father. And though I hope prayer works, clearly, I don’t believe it. For if I did, I’d be praying for him every day.

Instead, I am resigned. Why stir up false hope? God will not force his hand. And he doesn’t want to change.

What a fucking shame.

How Does Sia Know Me?

Sometimes, there just aren’t enough words to adequately describe how I feel inside. (This sentence, for one, is so trite. Sorry.) I just can’t quite convey (and I suppose, I’m not really sure I want to) the actual physical changes my body goes through when I start freaking out. Mostly, I feel sweaty. But my chest feels tight. My heart feels about to burst and I am afraid. I am so terribly afraid to cry. I am afraid that once I start, I won’t be able to stop, and that I will weep myself hollow. That I will turn inside out.

What comforts me is that at least one person understands out there. At least, whoever choreographs her videos does.

Sia’s series of videos for her last three singles have utterly destroyed me. (In a good way.) The dancing is not only just beautiful, it captures and expresses what I cannot manage to describe in words. So, without further ado, today, I bring you four of her videos.

The first time I saw Chandelier, I think I watched the video at least ten times. I know I cried.

Recently, I found Big Girls Cry and it was so hard to watch that I’ve only managed to watch it twice total. It is too painful and skims a little too beneath the surface for me.

And finally, Elastic Heart is a little less painful for me to watch, that is until you get to the end, and protracted ending in silence is unbearable. I’ve only managed to make it through that once.

As a bonus, here is the Grammy performance of Chandelier. I want to say it is almost better than the original video.

You’re welcome.

Despicable Me

My thoughts are slippery, refusing to be pinned down. Every time I try to peer into myself head on, I catch my real feelings in my peripheral vision, already slinking back into the recesses of my secret, dark heart. When I still myself, a rising panic sits heavy in my chest; overwhelming.

I twitch.

It’s that feeling you get when you want to wail and gnash your teeth and weep but you are afraid to start. Or maybe, you do let some tears gasp out because they can no longer be contained, spillover water in a lock and key, but you don’t dare to really let it out. Even while sobbing into your hands in the nursery and your baby boy is toddling around, somewhat confused at what his mommy is doing, you don’t dare let yourself go.

What if you can’t stop? What if you cry yourself hollow? What if you cry so much that your insides are sucked out and then what are you going to do with yourself now that your insides are on the outside and your outside is stretched and gaping and loose and no longer tightly wrapped and ill-fitting and totally useless?

What are you going to do now if you are completely undone?

So you stop.

You stuff everything back into your too small chest and you wait it out. You breathe. You think of something else. You look at your baby boy and smile through the burning in your lungs. You check your phone. Facebook will rescue you. It always does.

That thick, dense boulder is no longer laying siege to your chest.

You get up and close the door.

There is a reason I keep dithering while writing this post. It’s been brewing in my psyche for months now, and coming to the forefront especially this past week.

It is an ugly thing to see your own sin laid bare.

Every so often, when we are discussing my father and my paternal grandmother, my mother mentions that my grandmother acted as if other people weren’t “people” (人家不是人). That in my grandmother’s eyes, only she and my father were “people” and everyone else was contemptible and stupid and worthy only of their disregard. And that is the reason my father never accepts responsibility for his actions, always blaming other people for “forcing” him to act in reprehensible ways. The reason why my father is always seething when other people, even his friends, succeed and surpass him. How could it be possible that people, who are so much stupider and less talented than he, have a better business/career/house/bank account/family when he is clearly far more deserving?

There is a Chinese phrase, “看不起 (kan bu qi)” which means “despise.” Literally, “can’t look upon.” Personally, I think the literal translation is far better at capturing its contempt and scorn.

“You have no idea how you sound, do you? The way you speak to me. To your mother. To your grand aunt. To my mother. To everybody. How you make everyone feel like they’re so unbelievably fucking stupid. Do you think so little of us that we can’t tell? That it isn’t obvious with every word out of your mouth? How dare you? How dare you?

I drown in shame.

When Cookie Monster was first starting to walk, he would often stumble and fall. I remember one of the first times he fell, I ran to his side and I hit the floor with my hand saying, “Bad floor! Bad floor!”

I froze.

A memory popped into my mind, crystal clear, of my grandmother doing the exact same thing when I was a child.

I never did that again.

This past week, a thought has been floating in and out of my mind. Occasionally, I catch a full glimpse of it before I banish it to the nether regions of my soul. Sometimes, I chase the thought down, trying to grasp it before it wisps out like smoke through my closing fist. Usually, I just change the song on the radio.

But it whispers back, sleek and seductive.

Other people aren’t ‘people’ to me until I hurt them.

The thought terrifies me. But it is not a surprise.

“Why are you being so mean to her? Can’t you try to imagine how she must be feeling? To meet you and Mom for the first time? As if meeting Mom weren’t intimidating enough, you’re being an asshole. Stop it. I care about her a lot. And if you’re going to be this way, I won’t want to come home anymore. So stop. Give her a chance. Be nice.”

Until that moment, I had only seen her as someone who wasn’t good enough for my brother (whatever that means and incidentally, is not true) and not as a person. Until my brother pulled me aside to rip me a new one, she wasn’t real. Only when I realized that I hurt her did I consider her a person in her own right.

This was not an isolated occurrence. To her or to other people.

Well here it is then. My not-so-secret confession: I believe that other people aren’t “people.” Only I am human. Only am a person.

At times, if I am feeling generous, I see my friends and family as extensions of myself so they are lent “person” status. Their injuries are my injuries. Their joys my joys.

But left to my default state, other people are obstacles. Roadblocks to getting what I want. If people aren’t interfering with my objectives, then I am easy going and pleasant. But as soon as we are in conflict, I suit up. And I play to win.

I get mine.

And then, if I hurt someone (as is inevitable), I am never quite sure if I feel bad because I hurt someone or because I don’t want to be seen as the type of person who hurts others.

You would think that I would at least consider my immediate family “people.” But alas, no. In true fact, I am worst to my family. After all, there are social consequences if I am a complete asshole to my friends and other people. That, at least, keeps me in check. Who, except those who have no choice, would put up with that shit from me?

It is hard to be my children. My husband. My mother. I am a hard person to be with.

I am a fucking two year old.

When I look back on my childhood memories, I have few of my mother. I’m not sure if it was because she wasn’t there, or if my father’s presence was so large, so looming, so hard, that he squeezed her out. I adored my father. His betrayal broke me. It isn’t until this past decade that I feel as if my mother has slowly, ever so slowly, emerged as a person in my mind.

The thought of this makes me weep.

I have no soft memories of my mother. No memories of her love, of her kindness. I mostly just see her, slightly out of focus, hovering in the background. Weak, unable to protect herself – let alone me. Steamrolled by my father.

You would think that now that I am a mother, I would be able to understand or empathize with my own mother better. That I would somehow grasp how my mother feels about me. How she must love me. I mean, if she loves me even a fraction of how I love my children, her love must be vast and unending. She has thirty-six years of loving me compared to my five of loving Cookie Monster. How much more must she love me.

And yet, when we fight, she is my enemy. I cannot fathom her coming at me from a place of love and concern. That she says things out of love and not as an attack.

I remember once, when I was particularly vicious, her pleading with me. Begging. Why did I think she was always attacking me? How could I even think that of her? That she only ever wanted to love me and would never dream of saying things to hurt me.

It is healing to watch her adore my children. Every now and then, it occurs to me that she must have loved me in the same way. Or at least, wanted to.

I don’t know. I can’t remember.

After witnessing years of my father crushing my mother, beating her down, I vowed to myself that I would never let anyone treat me this way. Ever.

And so, instead of turning into my mother, I am become my father.

My therapist says I do this because this was how I protected myself from my father when I was a child. That it is appropriate Hapa Papa says I “suit up” or “gear up for battle” (often with my children) because that’s what I am doing. I am putting on a suit of armor, this inability to see other people as human, in order to protect myself because no one protected me when I was small. And that this defense mechanism has worked for awhile, but now no longer fits. That I now see everyone as an enemy – even my children. That it is time to let some parts of this armor go.

I am terrified.

Jesus, have mercy.

Grieving The Living

The trouble with grief is that it sidelines you at the oddest moments. You think you’re having a normal Monday night decompressing after the children have gone to bed and you click on a friend’s latest blog post about mourning the third anniversary of her father’s passing. At most, you expect to tear up and be moved by a post of this nature. After all, you’re not a robot. You care about your friend and her words. You can understand a person’s grief at the loss of her father even if your own is still alive.

And yet, what ends up happening is you not being able to finish the article without sobbing your brains out for a few minutes, chest heaving, gut clenching, heart aching.

I was surprised.

Let me clarify. I am aware of how grief works. That when you lose someone, sorrow and pain and loss can creep up on a person and stab you in the sides, catching you unaware. A random song on the radio or joke or a smell triggering a memory. A situation with your children reminding you of your own childhood. So, in the sense that I expected heartache to strike during unexpected moments, I wasn’t surprised at all. However, theory and practice are altogether different animals.

As many of you know, my father and I are estranged. I have not spoken or contacted him in three years. He has never met Gamera or Glow Worm and as far as I can predict or control, he will never do so.

He will never know the singular joy of being a grandfather to my beloved babies. He will never play and laugh and joke with my beautiful, silly children. He will never cuddle and cozy and tell stories and pass on his life experiences. He will never know. And I don’t know what is sadder to me: that he will never know these things, or that he doesn’t even care that he’s missing them.

I am angry.

Angry that my children will never know the comfort and joy of having a grandfather. Angry that my kids are robbed of one more person who should be in their corner, one more support in a world that can all too easily tear down. Angry that my father has robbed not only himself, but me and my children as well.

I am angry that I am still so, so sad. That my grief, which is normally dormant, has come to the fore, all hot and wet and full of snot.

I am angry that even years later, I feel as if my heart has been ripped from my chest, luridly beating, pumping out my life’s blood.

I am angry for all that could be, all that will never, and all that was.

I am angry that my father’s abuse and actions reverberate from my history into my present and my children’s future.

I am angry that I miss my daddy and that I still love him and that he still has the power to make me weep.

I am angry that all my tears are wasted on a man who has thrown us all away, like a pair of old, broken shoes.

I am so angry. And so very sad. And I can’t seem to stop crying.

That is all for tonight. Thank you for reading.

Will You Still Love Me When I’m No Longer Young and Beautiful?

I’m not gonna lie to you, Marge. I think I’m beautiful. It sounds so wrong to say it, but I have eyes. I can look in the mirror. (I won’t kid myself and say what I really mean is that I’m beautiful on the inside. We all know I am the vain, flighty sort.) Sure, I’d look much better if I made any sort of remote effort to dress well or wear makeup, but I am really far too lazy and practical.

I used to tell Hapa Papa all the time that I was the better looking half of the relationship. He would retort, “For now…

Don ‘t all fight for him at once, ladies. He’s all mine.

Because although it may not be objectively true, it certainly is culturally true. (The only thing I’ve got going for me is that I’m Asian so I should age well. But Hapa Papa is half Asian, so it really could be a toss up.) After all, men allegedly just get better looking and more attractive as they grow older. (Personally, I think the thicker bank account has more to do with this “attractiveness,” but I digress.) Women, on the other hand, do not. Apparently we shrivel up and turn into desiccated old-lady husks as soon as we hit twenty-five.

Sometimes, I really despise American beauty standards.

Anyhow, I bring this up because a few weeks ago, I heard Lana Del Rey’s song, Young and Beautiful, on So You Think You Can Dance. I know I’m the leaky sort anyway, (from many parts of my body – but I blame that on babies and hormones. Too much?) but I teared up. I found the chorus particularly sad, lonely, and true to the insecurities we all have from time to time.

Will you still love me
When I’m no longer young and beautiful?
Will you still love me
When I got nothing but my aching soul?
I know you will, I know you will
I know that you will
Will you still love me when I’m no longer beautiful?

– Young and Beautitful, Lana Del Rey
(You can find the full lyrics here.)

I initially heard it as more of a woman desperately trying to convince herself that the person she loves will still love her. But perhaps it is more the quiet declaration of a woman confident in her lover’s long-spanning love. I don’t know. Personally, I tend towards the cynical, but that’s a different topic for another day.

What this song really does, though, is make me feel sad and melancholy.

I think of Fiddler On the Roof’s song, Do You Love Me?

I remember the vows people make when they marry – to love and cherish the other person for better or worse, until death do they part – and that these vows are supposed to be the answer to the poignant question, “Will you still love me?” And yet, the question still has to be asked because in our American culture, people are disposable and vows aren’t really all what they used to be. 

I think about infidelity and how people always ask if the other woman is younger and more beautiful as if that’s a valid reason to leave a wife. 

I think of Hapa Papa and how I was a little dismayed after having Cookie Monster because my stomach got all poochy and my body was a little lumpier than before and how Hapa Papa told me he thought I was beautiful because my body grew and birthed Cookie Monster and wasn’t it worth it to have him even if my body had changed?

So is it any wonder that the song stirred up a longing to be loved that deeply and steadfastly? I’m just so grateful that I am.

Here’s the song for you to enjoy. I’ve also included the video for the dance. I won’t tell if you get something in your eyes.

“They look like good, strong hands”

There has yet to be a dead horse that Hapa Papa won’t beat and this quote from The NeverEnding Story is merely one of them in his repertoire. He takes secret (well, not so secret anymore) delight in making me cry just from saying these six little words, “They look like good, strong hands.”

GAH.

I can’t even fully articulate WHY hearing these words from Rockbiter chokes me up. Before Hapa Papa is even halfway done saying it, I am already yelling at him to stop it already. It’s just. I can’t. Blergh.

It’s just so sad. I think of my kids and failing them utterly regardless of how hard I try and them slipping away. I think of all the horrible tragedies that could befall them and I feel so small. So powerless.

It perfectly encapsulates my terror at all the things in the world that I cannot (and perhaps, should not) protect them from. It’s the saddest scene in the whole movie.

Oh wait, it’s not the saddest scene in the movie after all. It’s tied with Artax in the Swamp of Sadness! GAH^2!!

Now leave me be. My entire face is leaking.

Protecting Your Family: Money Series Pt 3

Sometimes, in the midst of nursing Baby3 or holding Gamera or staring at Cookie Monster, an insidious sliver of fear sneaks in and attempts mightily to dampen and ruin the joy of having my children. Sometimes, it is a nameless, general fear of suffering such as thoughts of my kids getting cancer, or getting hit by a car, or abused, etc. Other times, it’s a fear of my own death or Hapa Papa’s and that our demise will cause suffering to our children. (Yes, I know. My brain can be my own worst torture device.)

Once, when Cookie Monster was around fifteen months old and we were re-sleep-training him, he was crying super hard from his room. As any parent who has sleep-trained before knows, listening to your precious baby scream bloody murder is utterly horrible. Of course, I let him cry but my sadistic brain forced this scenario into my head: What if someone came into our house and murdered Hapa Papa and I and it was a weekend so my mom wouldn’t swing by our house until Monday and Cookie Monster was stuck in his room because of the gate and we were dead and covered in blood and he’d be crying and starving and thirsty and surrounded by our dead bodies for at least three days until my mom came by and it warped his brain and he turned into Dexter?

Hapa Papa woke up to me weeping in bed and Cookie Monster crying in his room. He thought something horrible had happened (something horrible did happen – albeit fictionally) and when he found out why I was weeping, he just shook his head sadly. I told you. I’m crazy.

Anyhow, two things bring me comfort as I teeter on the brink of hysteria obsessing over such happy occasions.

1) Statistically speaking, the odds of something happening to my kids or my husband and I are very slim. After all, the majority of people that I know of made it through childhood mostly in tact and live relatively normal, normally allotted suffering-type lives. So, just playing the odds, everything will be fine.

2) I beg God to be merciful and ask for more faith that no matter what happens, to believe and cling to the hope that God is good and will take care of me and my family and loved ones regardless of circumstances. This is very difficult so often, after praying, I resort to Method One of playing the odds. I know. I have such little faith.

These two courses of action are all mental and usually helpful in the middle of the night (which is when these fears sideswipe me the most). However, they are very impractical in terms of daily living. Thankfully, I am a financial advisor and though I am slow to take my own advice in the more morbid areas of my profession, at least I know what to do.

So, here are some steps I’ve taken to financially protect my family in case something happens.

Disclaimer: I am a financial advisor and own a financial advising firm with my mother. I am not being compensated by any entity or company for the following information. I am ONLY explaining what I do for my own family. If you should so choose to take this advice, please realize that it is not customized nor tailored for your specific situation. I am not dispensing personalized advice for you or your family. I am not responsible in any way, shape, or form if your investments rise or fall due to market conditions. YMMV. You have been warned.

1) Get enough life insurance. What amount is enough? That depends on whether you have kids (and how many), a spouse who works or stays at home, your spend rate, etc. For us, we took out approximately 10x Hapa Papa’s earnings on his life and 5x his earnings for my life in a combination of term and permanent insurance. We took out insurance on me even though I don’t work because while I may not bring in income, I do provide a service of monetary value (eg: childcare, house cleaning, etc.).

We got a combination of term and permanent insurance because although it is cheaper to just have it all be term insurance, we realized that term insurance is like car insurance: once you stop paying, you have nothing. Now, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have term insurance (or car insurance), it just means that you’re paying for something that admittedly, you never want to use, but once the need for it passes, you have no actual asset. So, the permanent insurance, although it is more costly, at least builds up as a monetary asset. Plus, if the need ever arises, we can “borrow” from the asset.

We also split up the total amount insured on Hapa Papa into several chunks. (eg: Instead of buying one policy of a million dollars, you buy two policies of $500,000.) We did that for two reasons.

a) In case we can no longer afford the payments on insurance, we can drop one or more of the policy amounts but still be covered with life insurance – albeit at a lesser amount. This is particularly important because we are young and healthy now, so our premiums are much lower. If we only had ONE large policy and could no longer afford the payments, we would have to drop the entire policy, then re-apply when we are older and perhaps LESS healthy – thereby, having higher premiums for less insurance.

b) In the case that we get older and no longer need as much insurance because the kids are grown or no longer under our care, we can drop one or more policies without having to re-apply for a smaller amount (for the same reason as above).

2) Get a will and living trust (as well as Power of Attorney, Health proxy, etc.). The living trust will help prevent our assets from going into probate (as long as they are titled in the name of the trust) and being tied up by the courts. It will also help us avoid some taxes and make the management and division of our assets clear and well delineated. The trust provides for the guardianship and financial assets for our children in case we both die. This seems MOST important to me since my children are young. However, obviously, the document will still be useful when they are grown.

One of the most important aspects of our trust were the disinheriting instructions. I wanted to make sure under NO circumstances was my father, his mistress, or their children could have any possibility at inheriting our assets or children. I realize that in order for there to be any chance of my dad getting my assets or kids, multiple branches of both my and Hapa Papa’s families would have to be wiped out, in which case, we have bigger problems than inheritance issues, but I believe in being prepared.

3) Get adequate umbrella insurance coverage. If you own a business or home, it helps to have this just in case some litigious-happy person gets injured (physically, mentally, emotionally, psychically) while on your property. While one can hope the people you invite into your space aren’t the suing type, as they say, “Hope is not a course of action.” Indeed, that is good advice in most life situations.

4) Get disability insurance. Whether through your work/employer or through  a company like Aflac, it’s a good idea to have some sort of disability insurance. You are more likely to be disabled than to die so, you know, it’s good policy to have it. (See what I did there?) That way, you’re not just running down your savings, you have 60-80% of your income coming in.

5) Make sure all your beneficiaries are up to date. This is pretty important. I am embarrassed to say that until we finally got our living trust done last month (it took me three years and three kids to finally get this taken care of!!), I hadn’t reviewed our beneficiaries since I opened our accounts. Hapa Papa had some of his IRAs going to his father – who passed away almost four years ago! I had some of my accounts benefiting my brother and my mother. Needless to say, I changed that RIGHT AWAY. (It’s all going to be mine, MINE, MINE!)

Anyhow, these are the things that we are doing to protect ourselves financially. Please note that most of these processes are time intensive (eg: getting health exams for life insurance, noting all your assets and accounts for the living trusts, etc.) but totally worth doing. You don’t want to have your family hung out to dry just because you were too lazy to carve out a few hours to get your financial house in order.

Incidentally, because I was so freaked out about the possibility of Hapa Papa and I dying while Cookie Monster was trapped in his room by himself, I began to run through scenarios of how we could prevent it from happening. I thought, perhaps I could call/text and check in with my mother every morning and evening so she would know we were still alive and didn’t have to run to our house and check on Cookie Monster.

I know this sounds entirely insane – and rightly so. However, if we didn’t have life insurance, living trusts, and etc., I really would be insane. If you don’t have this stuff squared away yet – get to it (even if you don’t have kids). Don’t leave a financial mess for your loved ones to navigate through. Do every one a big favor and get your shit together.