Doomsday comes and I am anxious. I don’t want my parents to think Toney is ghetto and be quick to disapprove. He walks in wearing a nice blue dress shirt. He greets my mom with a kiss on the cheek, a custom in our culture, and my dad with a firm handshake. I am surprised that I’ve never seen this side of him before. He walks into our dining area with such poise and sits himself at the table. My mom offers him some food, which he politely declines. That makes me a little nervous because often in a Filipino household, it’s disrespectful to decline food. But I’m sure he already knows that. They talk for a little bit before my dad has to take my mom to work.
“He’s a gentleman,” Mom says, as I walk her out the door. “And he’s really tall.”
“He’s a nice guy,” Dad adds.
That is all the approval I need: multiple brownie points!
From that day on, I decide to screw the Filipino rules and do what I want to do — of course, while still trying to be respectful toward my parents. I move to Long Beach right out of high school and constantly go out with my friends. It ends up lasting for only ten days before I get homesick.
I used to think that if I did everything on my parents’ list, I would be successful while also making them happy. But whenever I mention journalism or business as my big-picture career choice, they respond with “It’ll be hard for you to get a job! Pick something practical!” I don’t care what they say. I do what I want.
One day my sister announces, “I think I’m going to go into nursing.”
“Oh, good!” Mom says happily.
Typical, I think, taking a seat on a nearby couch and turning on the TV. Great way to kiss ass!
“Grossmont has a good nursing program,” my sister explains as she takes a seat at the table.
“Oh, yeah?” says Dad. “How long will it take?”
My dad is always curious about when we’ll graduate from college. He and my mom have talked about moving back to the Philippines after they retire. That’s what most native Filipinos do. Make plenty of cash money in America, then move back to PI to live luxuriously in a big house with a maid. But my parents can’t think about leaving if they know we are going to be in school still or if we don’t have a career started before they retire.
My sister applies for the LVN program. She doesn’t get in. She’s disappointed for about a day, until she gains perspective on what she really wants to do with her life: public health.
“Why’d you change your mind?” I ask.
“Nursing isn’t for me. It’s too much pressure.”
“Then why’d you choose it in the first place?” Maybe, I think, to make me look bad for wanting to do journalism or business?
“Because that’s what we do. It’s what makes Mom and Dad happy. Plus, I’d get to help people, like I want to.”
“But you didn’t even like it. You wasted your time.”
“Yeah, that’s why I’m changing it to public health! Duh, Mae! It’s still in the medical field, so Mom and Dad will be happy. And I don’t completely have to start over.”
My sister’s current boyfriend of five years is going to be a chemical engineer. That equals big money. My parents dare not question his future. Their main focus is on my boyfriend Toney.
Because of how intimidating my dad is, Toney and I spend our quality time at his mom’s house. His family does all they can to make me feel at home, whereas, after all this time, my parents make Toney feel only somewhat welcome.
“I can’t really be myself at your pad,” Toney says when I ask him to come over. “I constantly have to try and impress your Ps and feed them what they want to hear. I can’t lie to them, so if I tell them something they don’t want to hear, I got to watch my words. My family makes you feel comfortable at my pad. I don’t feel comfortable at your house.”
“You can’t just come here for a little bit?”
I spend some minutes trying to convince him. Finally, Toney agrees to stop by.
I’m on my way to meet him at the door when I notice my dad outside, watering plants. Toney usually approaches Dad first, to be respectful, even though he knows Dad will use the opportunity to lecture him or give a speech of some kind. I pretend to have to do something in the house while they talk.
“What’s up, Uncle?” Toney says. He calls my dad Uncle. In our culture, that shows respect.
“Oh, hey, Toney. I’m all right.” Then Dad skips the small talk and gets straight to the point. “What are you doing now? Do you have a job yet?”
“Oh, no, not right now.” Toney sways from side to side, while Dad walks around.
“How ’bout school?”
“Oh, no, not yet.”
Dad is always trying to convince Toney to join the military, so he knows I’ll be in good hands if we were to marry. But reading Toney’s face, I can tell he is thinking of a way to end the conversation.
“Just join the Navy!” Dad says. “I was in it for 13 years.” He starts to get excited. “They got good benefits. Think ’bout it — 42, 43 you can retire!”
“I’m not really military material, Uncle. Plus, I didn’t like moving from place to place when my parents were in the military, so I wouldn’t want to do that when I have kids.” Toney spits it out, then attempts to end the conversation by laughing. “So, uh, Uncle, you’re watering the plants?”
“Yeah, they’re drying up.” My dad starts to water the brown spots in the grass.
“Oh, all right then, Uncle.” Toney moves toward the front door. “I’m gonna see what’s up with Maecel.”