Dear ten-year-old me,
It’s going to be okay.
No, really, it is. I know that your entire worldview has just been irrevocably altered. I know that, for you, the illusion of a happy family has been forever shattered. I know that you’re thinking you’ll never trust men again, that you’ll never get married if this all that it leads to. I know that you’re angry and tired and much too young for all this. But I want to let you know, it’s going to be okay.
You’re going to see a wonderful example of womanhood in your mother, who rose magnificently to the occasion of raising three children on her own. You will fight with her – oh good Lord, you will fight – but at the end of the day, you will realize that she’s all you have, and you will cry, and make up, and eventually laugh about the incident that led to you screaming at each other. You will hear your friends remark on your mother’s strength, and you will subtly preen as they tell you that they want to become like her when they grow up. You will be asked who your hero is and without a second thought you will say, “My mom,” the woman who despite climbing the corporate ladder and being a kickass boardroom bitch was always there for you and your siblings.
You’re going to grow up strong. Oh, little girl, you’re gonna be so strong. You’re going to be totally unfazed when people ask you where your dad is. You’re going to yawn when the playground bully mocks you for not having a complete family, you’re going to walk away and leave him staring at you because no one has ever not reacted to his jibes before. You’re going to learn how to say, “My parents are separated,” without a single crack in your voice or tears coming to your eyes. Make no mistake, you will feel pain. You will cry and scream and wonder how everything could go so wrong. But you’re gonna figure out how to pick yourself up and put yourself back together. And in the end, that’s what matters.
You’ll learn how to be independent. As the eldest child of a single-parent household, you’ll often be the one Mom turns to when she needs help. You’ll learn early on how to pay bills, how to budget money, how to unclog a sink, how to fix the garage door. You’ll learn how to drive, and drive aggressively, because Mom’s the only one around to teach you how and she drives like a taxi driver who needs to pee. You’ll learn how to cook, sew, do laundry, do minor maintenance on a car, and climb up a roof to clean out the gutters. You’ll learn how to deal with various government offices on your own – LTO, DFA, BIR – and you’ll learn how to make a doctor’s appointment. You’ll learn not to take sexist shit from men, because you’ve seen firsthand just how independent a woman can be, and you won’t be tolerating any “make me a sandwich” jokes from anyone.
You’ll be more accepting of “different” families. That friend of yours who wants to raise children with her girlfriend? Big deal. A cousin who wants to have IVF and doesn’t have a husband? Nothing wrong with that. An old college roommate with a baby who’s no longer on speaking terms with the father? That’s her business, and it’s not your place to judge. Growing up in a single-parent household will teach you tolerance like nothing else. It’ll teach you that not every family is a traditional nuclear family, and that’s okay. It’ll teach you that as long the children are loved, healthy, and happy, there’s no such thing as a “broken family”, not really.
You’re going to learn how to deal with conflict in a healthy way. You’ve seen how bottling up anger and sadness can blow up in your face, and you don’t want to happen to you or anyone else you care about. You don’t shy away from confrontation. You step up to the plate and speak your mind in a loud, clear voice. Your mom once tried keeping her mouth shut and it turned out ugly and awful, and so you’ll never make the same mistake.
And if the worst happens and the person you’re in conflict with walks away, so fucking what? You’ve already lived through the worst heartbreak of your life. Your father – the one man who should’ve been there for you always, who should have loved you unconditionally – walked away from you when you and your siblings needed him the most, and you survived. If you can stay strong through that, you can stay strong through anything.
My darling little girl, you’re going to fall in love. Little by little the walls around your heart are going to come down and you’ll let someone in again. He’s just like you, you know – scarred by a family that split apart when he was much too young to understand. You’ll help each other heal. You’ll realize that being strong and independent and self-reliant doesn’t preclude giving your heart to someone else. Trust yourself, little girl. Trust yourself that you know what you don’t want, a man who could leave his daughter when she was not done needing him. Trust yourself that you know what to look for, and trust yourself when that tiny voice whispers in your head that this person you fall in love with is nothing like him.
Five years into your relationship with this person, you’re going to think, I could marry him.
It’s gonna be a long and hard journey. I’m not gonna lie to you, I’m not gonna sugarcoat things. You’re going to go through a lot of tough and hard times before you can look people in the eye and honestly say you’re okay. But don’t lose heart, my darling. Never lose hope. Because you’ll make it. Somehow, you’ll get through all the pain and confusion and heartache and you’ll emerge victorious. Be brave. You’ll stand tall and proud, the girl without a dad and didn’t care. The girl from a single-parent household who knows that having only one parent around isn’t a guarantee that a person will end up totally and irrevocably fucked. The girl who people will nod at admiringly and say, “She’s the strongest person I know.”
And one day, the Facebook posts and Tweets on Father’s Day aren’t going to make you feel sad or lonely. You won’t look at your friends’ pictures of their beaming fathers and feel bitter. Instead, you’ll smile, put your phone down, go find your mom, and greet her Happy Father’s Day. God knows she deserves it.
Your 22-year-old self