I always believed my dad wasn’t raised well. Once, he told me about his father waking him up at four in the morning—when it was still dark out—to deliver a package of some sort via bicycle. The provincial roads weren’t lit at all, and he wiped out and fell by the roadside, unable to find his bike or the package until daybreak. His father never expressed love or care or tenderness, would leave him the worst parts of the chicken, and beat him for playing jackstone with his sisters, saying it was a girl’s game. My dad never failed to tell me how much he feared his father. And I hated lolo for that. I never met him. He was no one to me—only a man who hurt my dad.
But one day I just thought: History.
My dad was born in 1950, and he is the 9th of 11 children. During the Japanese occupation, our ancestral home was occupied by Japanese soldiers, and my grandparents had to move to a nearby cave. My lolo built furniture and did other work to make it a habitable cave. I can only imagine the Flintstones. My lola tells me a Japanese officer inspected their cave, and told her: Your husband did very well with this.
Lolo was born before 1910, lola in the 1910s. To them, the Spanish-American War was as recent as the EDSA Revolution for the 20-year-olds of today. This was followed by the Philippine-American War and the U.S. Occupation. Of course, Lolo fled China less than a decade after the Boxer Rebellion. In 1914, the first World War broke out. In 1917, the Russian Revolution. In 1927, the Chinese Civil War between Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai Shek (lolo was hardcore KMT). In 1941, the Second World War.
My father recalls lolo reading the paper during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Lolo shook his head, made a disappointed sound, and told himself: “It looks like war again.” In other words, how much right do I have to blame them for how they brought up their kids to be tough—to never need affection, to respond to emotional hurt not with sadness, but with anger? What do I know of the ruthlessness required of us during worse times? And how offended do I get to be when older Filipinos are suspicious of anyone Japanese?
Is it wrong to do more than accept my grandparents? To admire them, even? My lolo had no five-step plan to quit drinking. He locked himself in a room for a week and got sober. When the police raided an illegal gambling den he frequented, he jumped from the second floor and ran away. My lola never ate the biscuits she received. They always ended up expired—because she would store them in cabinets forever. “Wartime mentality,” my dad would call it.
They did their best. Which is maybe all you can ask from parents in extraordinary times.
The world is ending over and over again these days. I do believe that we’re moving too slow to address and mitigate the effects of climate change. I think we have the worst government in Philippine history. Geopolitical tides are turning, and we are certainly on the brink of a new and terrifying century of human awfulness. I’d like to be woke about these things, but I like to think that—when the time comes—many of us will have it in us to survive. That it’s still in our blood. That we might all find our bicycles at daybreak.