My dad loves three things: Craigslist, buffets, and fixing things.
Before there was MacGyver, there was my dad. I’d like to think MacGyver was inspired by my dad’s creative antics for fixing things, substituting things, and tinkering with things. And, while Dad never made anything blow up — yet — he certainly was able to patch any object that was broken. Sometimes my dad created an entirely new, amazing invention. There were so many of Dad’s Inventions that he should have patented long ago because, years later, items As Seen On TV are making a whole mess of people rich.
Here are few of my favorite examples of Dad’s Inventions:
- When our old Chevy wouldn’t start, Dad rigged a “flip switch” that he mounted just to the right of the ignition. Rather than put a key in the car, you simply flipped this switch and the car started. This was long before automatic starters hit the scene. Dangerous, yes? Imagine leaving a small, curious child in a car (which, admit it, people did back in the days before seat belts and car seats) and hearing the roaarrr of the engine. Not saying that happened or anything…
- When my Ford Tempo car that I had in high school lost the capacity to have a honking horn, my Dad drilled into the stick shift between the two seats and fashioned a large white button — much like the dimmer switch in an old school dining room — that I could press to honk the horn. I have no idea how he did it, but he did.
- When a piece of the white casing of the tail light cracked and broke off from the car, Dad took an old cassette tape cover, cut it to size, and then hot glued it in place of the hole. “Good as new!” he’d proclaim.
- In an attempt to both get some chores done and watch the growing brood of children, Dad built a “go cart” that could be attached to the back of the riding lawn mower so that we could all go for a ride — three at a time — and he could finish his Saturday to-do list.
My siblings, I’m sure, could keep this list going. These were simply a few things that my dad did for me, personally.
My dad immigrated to the United States just a year before I was born. And, though he became a well known doctor and holds an esteemed position at the hospital, my dad never let us live a life of wealth. He always held on to his immigrant practices: “Liza, we don’t throw anything away. Every thing has value. And, there are some things just worth keeping until you can find a way to make them work.”
Though Dad is always the butt of our Pack Rat jokes, there are always a few occasions when one of us comes running to him, desperate for an item, and he produces it within minutes. Before handing it off to us, though, Dad always says, “What did I tell you? Never throw anything away. Ever. You never know when you’ll need it.” Thanks Dad. Extend hand. Turn head. Roll eyes. Walk away.
The other day, I walked into my Dad’s garage after work. He was tinkering, yet again, with something on his workbench. “Dad, what the heck is that?” I said looking at the strange, red and black contraption. It looked like something I had seen before, something from my early childhood. “It’s the old Dirt Devil. I think it’s about 20 years old.”
“Dad, that’s older that all of your grandkids’ ages combined. Step away, Dad. Step away.”
“I’m just fixing it,” said Dad. “I’m not sure why. I’m just fixing it.”
“Dad, you know we have, like 3 vacuum cleaners in the house. Why the heck are you fixing that? Just throw it away. I don’t even think they make that thing anymore.” My voice sounded more bratty, righteous kid than mature adult.
“It’s fun to fix things, Liza. And, some things just need fixing.”
I walked away, knowing there was no way I was going to convince my dad that it wasn’t going to work, nor that it was worth even making it work.
I went upstairs to say hi to my Mom and help her prepare dinner. After about an hour, my dad came upstairs. Beaming. Glowing. Joyous.
“Dad, you’re freaking me out, dude. What’s with the happy face?” I said giggling, having seen this expression many times in my life.
“I fixed it, Liza. I fixed it. It works.” I’ll never be able to prove this, but I’m pretty sure my dad had tears in his eyes.
Throughout his life, Dad has taken a beating. My sister, Grace, writes often about my father’s experiences growing up in the Philippines. I grow sad and anxious when I hear about my dad’s childhood. Through many sacrifices — both personal and familial — Dad is now a successful doctor, father, husband, and grandfather. It’s hard for me to picture him in the Philippines, knowing that the luxuries he enjoys now were unimaginable just 50 years ago. I don’t think my dad ever pictured his life now would look like this, smell like this, feel like this. And, for some of his family, they still live a life of poverty, have minimal access to basic needs, and experience painful work conditions. Yet, my Dad has never forgotten where he came from, and he has instilled a sense of humility in us; perhaps that is the gift he feels he can best pass on in his lifetime.
Just before falling asleep, I pray. Over the years, prayer has taken on different shapes for me. In my early childhood, I prayed the Rosary every night, a tradition my mother’s mom, Mama Lola, set for me. We prayed together, alternating call-and-response, and listening to the clacking of the wooden rosary beads against themselves as we moved throughout each “Hail, Mary.” When I met my husband, I began to read passages from the Bible every night in an attempt to understand his family and their deep faith. As a teacher in a Quaker school, I soon began to use this time as silence, reflecting on the day passing and the day ahead.
Through each incarnation of religion and prayer, however, I always asked God to Bless my family. God Bless Mom, Dad, Mary, Grace, Paul, Jon, and Me. When I got married, I added Jorge and his family. When I had kids, I added them. When Joli got sick, I added a special ending for her. Many in-laws and babies later, the list goes on for a good few minutes .
But, even today, the order has always started with my family.
Growing up, my family experienced great personal pain. My sister Grace has always been at the forefront of expressing and exploring the deep hurt that penetrated the very innocence of who we are and the bond that has linked us. And, while the pain was not just contained within our own tiny family, my Dad and Mom made sure that they protected us. In a very deep way, my Dad chose us. Our family. Over his own. In a very meaningful way, my Dad chose being a Father over being a Son.
Despite the pain, my dad has always loved his siblings. My most fond memories are of piling into our family van — all 7 of us — and driving half way across the country to see his siblings. We drove to Canada, down to Florida, to Baltimore and to back out to Chicago. As people moved, the van trips became plane rides. As we grew older, my mom and dad took some of us half way around the world to see their families.
Throughout the years, I have watched my Dad reach out, time and again, to his family. Humbly putting himself before them to reconnect, to heal, and to accept the pain and the hurt that has touched us all. He has brought us all to family weddings, reunions, and visits; each time, all of us feeling like we were never really wanted there. But, my Dad loves his siblings. Even knowing the emotional beat down that would commence, he still encouraged us to know them, love them, and seek a common forgiveness with them.
And, for their own personal reasons, my Dad has never been fully invited back into his own family. I can only imagine they are angry with him, for choosing to protect his children and his wife, and for, essentially, making a decision — a very difficult decision — to be the Father he has been called to be, above being a son. I know that my Dad loves his siblings deeply, and yet I am forever grateful for him showing me and my siblings that being a Father means protecting your children.
My Dad can’t fix the past. I imagine him tinkering at the workshop of his family. I hope one day, I can see my dad walk up the stairs, eyes glistening, smile beaming, and soul shining having made his relationship with his siblings work. “I fixed it. I fixed it, Liza. It works.” My Dad’s family is going through a rough time right now, with some of the stories of the past resurfacing. I feel angry by how they are treating him, by how they are treating my sister, and I want to tell him to just give them up. Walk away. Let it go. “Liza, we don’t throw anything away. Every thing has value. And, there are some things just worth keeping until you can find a way to make them work.”
There are so many gifts my Father has given me, none of them are tangible.
He gave me humility and a strong work ethic. My dad taught me that every one can be taught something, even when they don’t think they are capable. But, they can also be taught something when they don’t think they are interested. He taught me there is no such thing as a “better person.” We are all people. We are all equal. We are all, at any given time, doing the best we can to be the best we can be.
The emotional lessons my dad taught me were all intentional. They all came from a place of experience and observation. But, my dad also gave me something unintentional. My dad gave me the hereditary risk of cancer. It is from my Dad, my father’s side, that I must deal with the effects of the BRCA gene. Passed down from my Dad is my journey towards a mastectomy and oopherectomy. Given to me is the risk of cancer. And, inspired within me is the fight to be alive.
This gift of genetics, my dad cannot fix.
He can’t tinker on his work bench. He can’t rummage through boxes with faded Sharpie labels to find a patch, a substitute, nor a new invention. My Dad can’t relate to the pre-diagnostic testing, the surgeries, nor the emotional struggle of losing a piece of your body. No matter how much time he spends in his garage, my dad can’t fix me.
When my sister Mary was recovering from chemotherapy, laying close to death in my parent’s house, my Dad would walk up the stairs to see her. Though he was paying for her treatment, financially supporting her and her family, and even hiring a woman to help my sister with her basic physical needs, my Dad couldn’t fix her. I saw the pain in his eyes and could feel the heaviness of his heart when he saw her. Because of my sister’s cancer, we found out, as a family, that my Dad passed this gene on to my sister. Soon after, we discovered he had passed it on to my other sister; then, to me. In his lifetime, we will also find out whether or not this gene was passed on to his grandchildren.
When my daughter, Joli, was sick, I know that my Dad felt incredible guilt. As an ophthalmologist, he should have been the first one to catch the cancer that invaded and destroyed her retina. After her enucleation, I sat down with my Dad to tell him that Joli needed chemotherapy. My dad threw up. Right there. And, he began to cry. He should have been able to fix her — to avoid all of this — and he couldn’t do it. He refused to visit her in the hospital. Avoided going to her appointments with his colleague, a retina specialist. He never inquired about her eye nor her treatment. But, he was always there, always present. I had never seen my Dad cry as much as when my daughter was sick. I know he carries the guilt with him that he could have fixed this, in a way.
Many people write about their parents, their loved ones, after they have died. In memory. In reflection. In consolation and condolence. My Dad is alive. I know he is in great pain, especially these past few years, and yet I hope, I pray, he knows that we all love him so dearly, so deeply. He has taught me so many important lessons about life, love, and forgiveness; none of them were done in any single sit-down conversation. Rather, these are all lessons in his actions.
My dad is not perfect. Throughout his life, he has made mistakes, made bad choices. Yet, for me, his decision to choose his family, his children, and choose to believe in who we are completely surpasses all of his minor digressions.
My dad is not perfect. And, he would be the last to say he was even close in the running. And, yet, I have no desire to fix him. No desire to tinker with who he is nor the choices he has made. No wish to invent something new nor piece together objects from a old box to patch his cracks, dents, and brokenness.
My dad is my hero. Not for the man he was nor the man he is. He is my hero for showing me what it means to believe in, stand by, and stand for your children, unconditionally.
Dad, you’ll likely never read this, given that you spend more time shopping around for junk on Craiglist to add to your garage. But, you are loved. Thank you for being so supportive to me and my family, my sisters and brothers, and my mom. I know there are times in your life that are difficult, and I can’t thank you enough for believing in all of us, and unconditionally supporting our lives and our pursuits of happiness.
Peace, love, and fixing,