Old school cool: How my parents taught me to survive adulthood

Art by Ina Jacobe

The older I get the easier it becomes for me to look up to my parents.

My dad was born the youngest of six children. Having lost both of his parents in his teens, he spent a part of his adolescence and young adulthood in borderline poverty while his brothers and sisters, years ahead in career and experience, brought the bacon home. To help with expenses, my dad would work as a student assistant and sing and play at a folkhouse. Eventually he’d forego a philosophy degree for a business education to work for his kuya. I remember days when he’d comes into my room to fiddle with my six-string, crooning James Taylor and Seals & Crofts while I went through the readings only a humanities education could give me — an education he paid for.

My mom was the youngest in her family. She’d tell me about how stingy our lola was, dismissing extracurricular activities for academic excellence. One of my favorite stories to tell about my mom is how she kinda sorta ran away from home. She told her dad not to tell her mom, she was going to Cebu to work, there was nothing that woman could do about it. I don’t know which came first — the running away, or my mom using egg whites to make hair gel for her mohawk. Some years after that my mom would go on to have her eyeliner tattooed on. For, y’know, convenience.

These were impressions of my parents I formed through anecdotes, and for a while, that’s all you have — stories. As a child, your first role models for navigating the world of adulthood are your parents, and through them, you form a rough picture of what the real world is like, and how to live in it as a self-sustaining human being. As a child, or as a teenager, you don’t really give a crap about that sort of stuff. I’m in my early twenties now, and certain questions come out of my mouth more frequently than before: How the hell do you do it, guys? How do you keep doing this?

They never lost their vigor… How the hell? Or I guess the question is, now that I’m looking at my parents as the role models they are, “How can I be like you?”

In my college years my parents quit their jobs. My dad left first, for reasons of workplace toxicity. My mom left later on, citing an unreasonable boss and the long drives to and from home. (Read: two and a half hours, if it was a good day). So for a while there was this weird period of time shortly after I graduated, in which I was the one with a full-time job earning an entry-level salary, while my parents were working freelance (after years of toughing it out in the corporate arena), earning enough for us to afford certain luxuries. It was amusing, my parents looking more millennial than I did — dreamin’, hustlin’, that whole Gen Y shebang. That is to say, they never lost their vigor. I remember, shortly after my mom quit her old job, she got her hair cut and angel wings tattooed on her back. My dad got an Affliction-looking eagle on his right bicep. Pops eventually found another full-time job and my mom now makes money on the side through marketing consultancy. Again, how the hell? Or I guess the question is, now that I’m looking at my parents as the role models they are, “How can I be like you?”

I think what happened was, I inherited my mother’s rebellious streak and my father’s ability to convert frustration into good work. That s***’s coiled into my double helixes, and has gotten me through the gauntlet of living in more ways than I care to recount. I’m working in my second job now with 24 just around the corner, and I think I have a better idea of what virtues I want to emulate that I saw in my folks first. My mother’s patience and fastidious approach to money. My father’s orderliness and attention to detail. The drive to survive, and thrive while you’re at it. How do you do it, guys? I know the answer before they say it. You gotta work, kid. You gotta work.

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