It was 2009. My divorce in 2007 had taken its course, yet our deep wounds were held under a thin layer of scar tissue. The slightest hint of opposition or indifference with my son’s well being usually sent us back into the courtroom. How does one manage to master the craft of fatherhood when your livelihood and projected goals are interrupted? The chances I had to cultivate a family’s future had been derailed. Being in court demoralized any fortitude I had for optimism.
In May, my mother and I were headed to
Northern California to attend my son’s graduation of Head Start Preschool. This marked the first time I set foot back in the reservation after my messy divorce. We opted to fly to Arcata and rented a car to avoid the 12 hour drive up north. While exiting the plane, our nasal passages couldn’t warm and humidify the chilly air right away; acclimation for us took a little getting used to. The notion of driving there made me uneasy. We had to engage the winding and dangerous roads of the 299 Highway. We encountered logging trucks, water tankers and oversized vehicles in a narrow road with singular lanes. Aside from the vehicles, animals like bears, deer, and the like posed a potential for accidents as well. Rocks that rolled off the mountainous terrains fell onto the roads which required reflexive maneuvers. I can recall my mother saying, “oh my gahd, dis is wan windy road! I’m getting a headache!” in her endearing and slight Filipina accent. Sporadic signs of life revealed themselves every twenty to thirty miles: a gas station here, a diner there, a corroded vehicle next to an occupied home with a chained pit-bull and nothing but forestry-like surroundings in between.
The town’s welcome sign presented itself as the road veered left. Bonny and I had discussed that I would pick him up from school that day. As we entered the school, my son was accompanied by his mother and two cousins, Brandon and Elijah.
, now ten years old, established himself a place in my heart. When he was a year old, this blond haired and green-eyed lady killer attacked my face with baby scratches and bites on our first meet. He called me dad a few times at the age of two and three. Though it was embarrassing for his mother, I found it flattering that he looked up to me as a father figure. He let out a high pitched yelp trying to sound out the word “hello” as I was parking. His big smile transitioned into a frown then a cry. “Why don’t you come around anymore?” he says as he whimpers and slowly tries to gather himself. “Auntie just decided to be here, and I have to be down there, come here and give me hug little man,” I said after stepping out of the car. “Hey, Marcus! You must have gained so much weight, you’re getting heavy!” I exclaimed as I picked him up. “Hey dad, are we going to your house?” Marcus asked. “No sir, I came to see you graduate. I’m so proud of you!” Brandon
My mother and Bonny exchanged hugs and both of them held back tears through glassy eyes. “How are you honey?” asked my mother. “I’m good. It’s great to see you Brenda” said Bonny. She turned to me and said “Marcus can stay the night if you’d like, I have a bag packed” and I said, “Thanks. I actually bought new clothes that he’ll keep here once we leave. So, see you guys at the graduation?” Bonny replied with “yea.”
Lynn, Bonny’s mother, invited me and my mother to her home before the ceremony.
has always been fond of me and my mother. They found the topic of single motherhood as commonplace and built a relationship from there. We entered the home and I noticed that the place was altered; some familiar things caught my attention. My couch when I was married replaced the old couch Bonny’s mother had amongst other belongings that reminded me of the time I was married. What surprised me the most was a photo of me on her wall with Bonny and of Marcus at the age of four months. “It’s great to see you Brenda” says Lynn as she hugged my mother’s petite frame. “Would you like to sit together when we’re all there?” she adds. My mother replies “I would love to Lynn .” Lynn tugs on my hand from the side and asks, “Can I ride with you uncle Noi?” and without hesitation I said “Of course!” Brandon
We made our way into the auditorium and were the only non Native Americans there. One can only imagine how rare it is to see someone of my ethnicity outside of
Southern California and the Bay area. The flashing of cameras flooded the room as the new graduates walked onto the stage one by one. My son walked through the pathway holding an octopus stuffed toy. “Is he your child? He looks so cute, he looks just like you!” a lady says. I responded with a thank you and she interjects, “Are you Noi?” I said, “Yes, why?” then she said “Oh nothing, I heard you were coming.” I thought to myself that the whole town must’ve known we were coming. That was creepy at the least…
The children were introduced before being handed their diploma, and I must say I was impressed with my son Marcus’ abstract creativity. As they were called one by one to receive their diploma, their introductions entailed their aspirations of what they would want to be when they grew up.
“Angie says she would like to work at the shop like her mom when she grows up…”
“Robert says he’d like to be fisherman like his dad when he grows up…”
“Marcus Xavier says that when he grows up, he wants to be a sea monster…”
While I basked in my profound paternal moment, I looked over and saw that
had not left my side. He kept looking up towards me and analyzing my every move. It dawned on me that it wasn’t just my marriage that collapsed when Bonny and I embarked on our divorce. My son was affected, Brandon was affected, Lynn and my mother were both affected as well. Have we been so consumed in fighting for parental rights that we neglected to practice being parents and family members ourselves? Brandon
At the end of the graduation, Amber, Bonny’s sister, invited us over for a pizza dinner along with her clan. Uncle Jack, a man of large stature approached my mother, introduced himself and said, “Hi I’m Jack. Now that we both shook hands, I want you to know that means we’re married…” This sent quite the laughter throughout the household. I felt a hand on me during this time and as I looked, I saw Violet (Marcus’ younger step sister). I picked this Cabbage-Patch doll up and I felt her chubby baby torso envelop my fingers with her baby fat. “She’s so cute! I just want to pinch her!” my mother says.
At the end of our trip, my mother and I had a long conversation about our stay. The unexpected connection our families had took me aback, but it was definitely reassuring to know we were past the unpleasant period of severance. I had come to the conclusion that we were now working on a common goal which is to look past our differences to help each other nurture Marcus’ future. I had felt ashamed for allowing Bonny to get the best of me (and vice-a-versa) on our most vulnerable states, and even more ashamed to allow my son to witness those events as they took place.