PASS IT ON

It’s the running joke in the family: I’m my dad’s favorite. Image

 

Though, I dunno. Maybe not now that one of my brothers is a Medical Doctor (in my dad’s eyes, “a real doctor” unlike the multiple other doctorate degrees in my sibling gene-pool). But, definitely growing up, I was my dad’s favorite.

 

Perhaps it’s a product of being the middle child — the girl sandwiched between two older sisters and two younger brothers. My dad let me do the “girl thing” by going shopping with my mom, getting my hair permed, getting all dressed up for dances and parties. But, he also made sure I wasn’t afraid to change my own oil in my car, stick my hand into the back of a toilet to replace the inner workings of the flusher mechanism, nor figure out how to jump start my car or even use Duct Tape for a variety of repair jobs. Every summer, I shadowed him in his medical practice, sat and watched video tapes of eye surgeries to fix cataracts, and mowed the lawn. My other summer job of working in a swimming pool store also meant I was now the primary caretaker of the family pool, which meant vacuuming the algae, cleaning out the filters, and handling the chemicals.

 

When the weather was nice, my dad called me outside to dive for softballs, shoot hoops, or practice my tennis serve. 

 

But, my dad is a man of few words. And, whenever he called me out to fix something, clean something, re-wire something, or take a ride with him to the town landfill, I knew that was his way of talking to me. We never actually talked, though, but just working together was how he passed on his love for me.

 

I inherited my mom’s superwoman determination and motivation. And, I also inherited her hot temper. But, when I felt myself getting worked up, I thought of my dad. His patience. His silence. His life experiencing knowing that he had seen, heard, and experienced much worse as a child growing up in the rural Philippines than whatever he was going through at that moment. At an early age, my father only knew a distant type of love. And, with every ounce of his self, he tried to show more than he, himself,  was shown. He was going to pass on love to his family, as hard as it was for him to express it, he was going to do better than his own father.

 

My father taught me a lot of hard lessons — about family, about respect, about hard work. I imagine him carefully calculating this all out. He taught me how to drive, how to study, and how to appreciate the relatively easy life he (and my mom) had given us. We were, after all, living a much different life than he had known back overseas.

 

But it was what my father did not plan on passing on that has truly shaped me. He has passed on the BRCA gene, a genetic mutation that would lead to my oldest sister’s breast cancer, and preventative mastectomies for my older sister and me. He would pass on an 90% chance of developing breast cancer and a 60% chance of developing ovarian cancer, a cancer that likely took the life of his own mother. He would pass on the need for me and my sisters to go through ovarian screening every 3 months, breast exams, and worry that our own children might have the gene, too. 

 

He had never planned that lesson.

 

Yet, while I am thankful for the solid foundation my father has given me, it was the BRCA earthquake that shook the house that proved his strength. Still unable to talk about it, I know that my dad knows we made the right decisions — to do whatever it took to save our lives. He left the Philippines, came to the United States, to create a better life for himself, my mom, and his growing family. And, discovering we were BRCA positive was just another life fact to embrace, use, and move beyond. He taught us to use adversity as a way to build character, gratitude, and awareness. He taught us that life is hard, but inevitably, someone has it harder than you do. 

 

And, now, as a mother, I am proud to pass it on. 

 

Peace, love, and happy fathers day to all types of people who shape the lives of others,

Liza

 

 

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