Category Archives: family

My story about my dad

My sister started collecting stories for my dad months before his death so that he could read them. I posted this on Facebook so that my family could easily include it in their collection (which they did), but I forgot to put it on my blog too. So here it is.

From September 21, 2017:

Our visit home is almost done. I’m not sure when we’ll be back and how long my parents have, especially with my dad’s current health challenges. I’ve been preparing for this moment for years. Maybe I’ll have years more, or maybe not.

It’s good to write now, choosing the memories I want to treasure and the lessons I want to keep. My sisters have great memories of wild adventures with my dad. I’ve always been the quieter sort, happier at home than on the road or in the air. It means, perhaps, that I get to remember a different side to him than most people focus on.

I’ve been thinking about how my dad manages to make such outsized differences in the world. Banaue, advertising photography, RC flying, ultralight flying, the zoo, Photography with a Difference… Even now, he’s planning a national exhibit and an enduring celebration of heritage in Ifugao schools. He can do more in a month than many people do in a lifetime.

The obvious factors: tremendous energy and resourcefulness; playfulness; generosity; persistence almost to the point of stubbornness; constant learning; the skills of photography, editing, and storytelling; the support of my mom and people around them; larger-than-life ideas that spark other people’s enthusiasm; a charismatic personality; a sense for theatre and how to set things up; building relationships through teaching; the savviest use of social media that I’ve seen. I’m not sure. I’m piecing this together from stories and from watching my parents behind the scenes.

And this factor, the one that shines through in the quiet moments my parents share: empathy. My dad lets himself be moved, and he moves others. Not all causes, and not always successfully, but there is a bigness of heart to him, and I think people respond to that as much as they respond to the cheerful audacity of his ideas.

“Will you remember me?” he asks my toddler. I think of all the stories I’ve heard, the videos and front-page news articles he’s been featured in, the people who tell their own tales of encounters with him and were inspired by his example. I’ll share those with her, of course.

More than that, I hope to share the lessons we can learn about making our own differences. We don’t have to follow in his footsteps. I’m not sure anyone can. But we can practice the resourcefulness and resilience that helped him find ways around so many challenges. We can practice the constant learning that helped him hone his skills and the constant teaching that helped him build communities. We can practice the empathy and generosity that helped him move mountains.

And besides, he gave my toddler her first camera and her first Swiss knife. Who knows where those will take us, if we can learn how to use those two tools and what they represent, all the way to their fullest potential?

As for what he gave me… If I can face uncertainties with clear eyes and steady hands, planning for different scenarios and doing what needs to be done, it’s because I learned that from my parents. If I can feel lucky and excited, even now, it’s because of them.

Here are the four things I want to say:

We’re okay. Thank you. I love you. Let’s see.

Post-mortem post-mortem

Random, incomplete list of lessons learned:

  • My dad lived such an incredible life. That made it so much easier to celebrate his awesomeness than to feel regret. We had time for all the things that mattered, and we had those serious conversations throughout life.
  • He was very clear on what he wanted regarding advance directives, cremation followed by viewing, what to do about the business, what he wanted to wear, and so on. That made tough decisions easier, because we could follow his wishes.
  • Cremation before viewing made it easier for people to focus on the stories and pictures people shared instead of remembering my dad lying so still. We should make sure the mortuary knows it’s a closed casket and post someone to enforce that, since people can be curious.
  • It was really helpful to have staff members taking care of organizing all sorts of details.
  • Drawing up a five-day meal plan could help increase variety. It’s good to offer meals that have a lot of choices: chicken, beef, vegetables, etc. Packaged meals are good for flexibility because you can order based on the numbers you see, and then order more as you run low. Catering the last night was a good idea, though, since it made it feel more like a party.
  • It would probably have been worth it to get proper coffee set up every morning. That would make people happier than instant coffee. Tea and chocolate would be good to offer too.
  • The pre-need memorial plan and the memorial plot that my parents purchased didn’t end up getting used because my parents decided to go with cremation issued, but they can be transferred.

  • We should have posted visiting hours in the initial announcement, since people who stayed overnight hardly slept.

  • It helps to think of significant pictures or moments that you want to have, and who should be in it.
  • Insurance companies want original forms.
  • Line up birth certificates and marriage contracts beforehand. One per insurance company, one for estate tax, plus extras for various paperwork requirements.

  • Official receipts for funeral expenses should be in the name of one of the heirs so that they can be claimed as part of the estate tax deduction.

  • The first paperwork deadline is the BIR notice of death, which can be handled by registering for a TIN for the estate. The deadline is two months after the date of death.

  • The Roman Catholic Church prefers burials over cremation, and forbids the division of ashes or keeping ashes at home. We should probably have looked up customs and updated rules before death, as that could have saved us a little money.

  • It was a great idea to collect stories even before death, and to collect and print more stories during the wake. Kathy did an amazing job collecting, formatting, and printing all those stories. It was good to have a printer there, a couple of Autopoles, clotheslines, and clothespins.

  • You can never have too many pens.

  • Light-coloured envelopes are easier to label than dark ones.

  • It’s hard to organize papers with a curious toddler, so it’s good to keep expectations low.

  • Uber drivers assume you’re already standing outside, and might cancel if they don’t see you.

  • Korean Air let me extend my trip without a change fee, since we found a seat in the same fare class and with no fare increase. Travel insurance cost a bit more to extend, but that’s okay.

  • It’s good to have a large picture, a digital copy, and a slideshow ready to go. It can also help to bring a laptop, or at least an OTG cable and a USB drive.

  • It’s good to plan the mementos to be placed inside the niche. That would avoid last-minute scrambling for prints or frames.

  • It would have been helpful to decide on the columbarium before arranging for cremation or the wake.

  • I should remember to ask about all payment methods. Sometimes Visa debit or MasterCard debit can be treated as cash.

  • I should remember to verify actual location, chair setup, and ventilation of a site before giving the okay. It would have also been good to always bring someone else along – more questions, and backup in case A- needs my attention.

  • I’m happy with how our priorities worked out: people before paperwork.

Our trip to the Philippines

Because my dad was in poor health and it was possibly the last Christmas that my sister and her kids would spend in the Philippines, we decided to all go despite the chaos and expense of flying over the Christmas holidays. It turned out to be an excellent decision. We got to spend lots of time with everyone, and we had lots of conversations that helped us prepare for what happened.

We initially planned to be away from Dec 17 to Jan 10. When my dad was scheduled for potential surgery on Jan 8, I extended my trip until Jan 26, while W- kept his original itinerary. It was a good thing I extended my stay. My dad died on January 6. We had a wonderful wake for him until Jan 11, and I had a couple of weeks to spend time with family and help with paperwork.

I’m feeling surprisingly okay with the whole thing. We prepared a lot for this scenario, and I know we can get through it. In fact, this trip has helped me develop an even deeper appreciation of my family.

A- had a marvelous time. She played with her cousins, who were both enamoured with her. She took to asking her Lola to read to her, which my mom did with delight. She learned many new words and names. She liked following the household staff around so that she could help with washing the dishes or sweeping the floor. She started experimenting with establishing her boundaries (“No grab. This mine!”) She stopped being anxious around dolls. She often sought out her cousins to play with them. At the wake, it was delightful to hear the kids bouncing around and being their usual cheerful selves.

There’s more paperwork to be done, of course. My next priorities are:

  • Take care of A- and figure out new routines considering the travel we’re planning for the year
  • Handle all the medical appointments and other things we planned for this phase in Canada
  • Keep track of work in progress and coordinate paperwork as we go in and out of the country
  • Help check on my mom as she deals with the transition
  • Invest in little improvements

We might experiment with a cycle of two months in Canada and one month in the Philippines, at least for this year’s transition period. It’s going to take a lot of money and effort, but I think it might be worth it in terms of relationships and paperwork. I’ll scale it back if we get too disrupted by the changes in environment and routine, but maybe we’ll be able to take it in stride. We’ll see!

Thoughts on getting a membership to the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM)

I’ve been building up a small opportunity fund for A- so that it’s easy to take chances on memberships, classes, books, and other good things. After some consideration, I decided to use some of it for a membership to the Royal Ontario Museum. We’ve been working on animal names and sounds, so I figured it would be good to point to animals in addition to pictures in books, Duplo pieces, and small models at the early years centres.

The ROM turned out to be a nice quiet place to walk around and contemplate the vastness of history, A-‘s thirteen months of existence a blink contrasted with millennia. I picked up all sorts of tidbits as I tag along on tours, too, and I’m working on getting better at identifying animals myself. (I could probably spend a few years in the bird section!)

What do I want from the ROM?

  • I want to develop a deeper appreciation of our place in history and nature, and I want to be able to share that with A- as she grows.
  • I want to train my eye to recognize and differentiate various things.
  • I want to pick up more words and share them with A-.
  • I want to learn stories and tidbits that I can share with A- and W-.
  • I want a quiet, sheltered, spacious place to walk with A- or hang out with friends. I want to have interesting things to look at and chat about.
  • I want to expose A- to different sights, sounds, and textures. Sometimes they have smellable exhibits, too.
  • I want A- to feel at home in the museum instead of it being just a destination for school field trips.
  • I want to have something to offer to other parents and friends.
  • I want to support culture.

The benefits are mostly for me at the moment, but I hope this will pay off when A- starts asking questions about the world or learning about history. It might be handy for helping her increase her vocabulary and see how the world is connected. I’m still going to prioritize hands-on learning for her, since she needs to exercise all her senses, but I think the museum might add something useful to the mix. That means I should take notes (and perhaps photos) so that I can jog my memory, and I should slow down and point to things while naming them multiple times, paying special attention to exhibits at her eye level. I’d like to make it out to the museum at least once a week, ideally inviting other people along.

Now is a good time to bring A-, actually. It’s still a bit cold and rainy, so it’s better to be indoors than at a park or playground. She’s not walking independently yet, so she usually doesn’t mind hanging out in the carrier and nursing on the go. That gives me an opportunity to join tours or read labels, and then I can think about those things when she gets antsy and wants to walk around while I hold her hand. She toddled around the Ancient Egypt exhibit quite happily, and I could still hear some of the tour guide’s stories even though A- sometimes took me around corners. Come to think of it, A- seemed to warm up to the place faster than she usually does at the early years centres. Maybe she prefers to be more reserved when there are lots of active kids. She’s still a bit hesitant to touch strange things, but that might pass in time.

The math: The curator’s circle membership I signed up for lets me take three guests and four kids, includes free coat check, and costs $189. The social level of membership allows one guest and costs $149, so +$40 gets you free coat check and the ability to bring two additional guests and four children (4 <= age <= 17). Half of a two-year solo membership is $86, so +$63 gets you the ability to bring in one guest each time you come. An adult ticket is $20 (+$10 for the special exhibition), so the solo membership breaks even after one visit that includes the special exhibition plus three visits without. The premium for the social membership works after three guest visits including the special exhibition, and the premium for the curator’s circle membership works after two extra guests including the special exhibition, or lots of coat check use. (The member price of $1 per item would’ve added up quite a bit given all these coats and diaper bags!) Yay math! And now it’s a sunk cost, so I can just treat it as an investment in cultural knowledge and potential social interaction.

Among the things I learned this week:

  • Blue whales are huge! Standing next to the skeleton of one is a great way to realize how tiny you are.
  • Noise pollution is a challenge for whales.
  • Whales have really big poop flumes which can be seen from airplanes. The poop is bright orange because they eat krill, and krill is bright orange.
  • Bootlace worms are very long.
  • Researchers solve interesting puzzles with incomplete pieces. I liked how they pieced together the evolutionary history for whales with the help of Pakicetus. They also have to deal with weird one-off fossils like the Toronto subway deer – cool stuff!
  • You can differentiate between mastodon and mammoth skeletons by looking at the lower tusks, the curvature of the big tusks, at whether the teeth are cusp-shaped or smooth.
  • Cartonnage (linen and plaster) gave the Egyptians an alternative way to encase their mummies, since wood was scarce.
  • Chinese roof tiles could be quite elaborate and well-preserved. The designs were strictly regulated in some places and more free-form in others.

I’d like to go again on Tuesday and/or Friday, depending on A-. More to learn!

Helping with physics

J-‘s grade 12 physics exam is tomorrow. She’s been working through the exam review sheets that her teacher gave the class: forces, friction, gravity, relativity. The review sheets give the expected answers, so she can check her work. She asks for help when she can’t figure out how to solve the problems, or when her solution doesn’t match up with the provided answer.

I’m usually the one to help with homework, since I can speed-read tutorials to refresh my memory or dig into a new topic. Sometimes it’s just a matter of nudging her towards one equation or another, or pointing out where she forgot to square a number or change a sign.

Sometimes we’re both stumped, when my calculations show her math looks reasonable and I don’t see why the answer should be different. This has happened a number of times in Physics. We’ve asked her to talk to her teacher and ask him to help her step-by-step, but she hasn’t gone yet. Maybe she feels a little intimidated, or maybe lunch break is too crowded, or maybe he’s hard to track down?

Fortunately, her physics teacher seems to be in the habit of reusing material posted online. When I search for the text of the question, I can sometimes find other people who have asked for help with the same problem, or a review sheet from a different school.

For example, we were getting stuck on a problem that started with “A fuzzy Velcro ball of mass 200 g strikes and sticks to a Velcro block (100 g)…” We solved it in a way that made sense to us, but our answer didn’t agree with the one provided by her physics teacher. The only search result on Google was this sheet of practice questions. It didn’t contain any solutions, though, so I nearly gave up there.

After making some headway on other problems, though, I thought I’d come back to that one and see if we could turn up additional resources. You can sometimes get to interesting places when you start playing around with URLs. The file’s top-level domain is a public wiki for Rosedale Heights School of the Arts. The exam review on the sidebar didn’t match the exam practice document we were looking at, but a search through the Pages and Files section for June 2014 (which I picked up from the practice questions filename) turned up worked-out solutions. It confirmed that our answers and our methods were correct, and that the answer provided by J-‘s teacher was wrong. Maybe it was a typo, maybe he made a mistake, whatever. I can sympathize; I’ve made my share of mistakes as a teacher! Anyway, I’m glad J- asked for help and that we could clear up that mystery.

2016-01-25d Helping with physics exam review -- index card #studying #tutoring #family #school

We should probably bring it to the attention of J-‘s teacher at some point. Incorrect review answers can lead to lots of frustration, second-guessing, and a lack of confidence. Maybe W- can mention it at the next parent-teacher interview, or J- can talk to her teacher after the exam. Anyway, I guess it’s a good lesson in dealing with fallability, being resourceful, double-checking, and sometimes just trusting yourself anyway.

Shopping for clothes

We took J- shopping for clothes on Friday afternoon, going through the stores in the Eaton Centre at a leisurely pace. Her mom takes her shopping from time to time, but neither W- nor I are into shopping aside from the occasional drop-off-and-browse at the thrift store, so J-‘s wardrobe updates at our house had been mostly what she could get at the thrift store or on her shopping trips with friends. But it is good to spend time together and take more interest in her life, so here we are.

It’s not that bad – actually all right, even. I’m wearing comfortable shoes, I have my phone, and I like hanging out with W- and J-. If I had planned a little better, I would have left my laptop at home, but it’s not that heavy.

W- and I mostly stay in the background, offering the occasional comment or drawing J-‘s attention to the kinds of things she’s looking for. She’s better at choosing clothes than I was at her age (or am, even at mine!) – she has some idea of what she wants, and can shop around to find things that could work. In the meantime, W- and I are happy to trail behind, helping her learn to ask for assistance and explore her options.

Hmm. This must be one of those moments that help people see the passage of time and notice the differences that are hard to notice day by day. I can see how people might reflect on that while trying to find clothes that fit changing lengths and widths. I think I understand a little bit more now. Kinda nice, just helping J- shop. I remember how my parents used to take us to the mall for the things we needed or wanted. I think I’m starting to understand them better. How wonderful!