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Life lessons I learned from my dad

Growing up, my dad has given me many a long talk about everything I need to know about life. My dad knows something about everything, and unfortunately I have to sit there and listen to him impart his wisdom to me.

Although these talks nearly put me to sleep at the time (sorry Dad — I love you!), as I get older I realize how hard my dad worked to give me a life better than his, while he was the age I am now. I barely know what the hell I’m doing, so I’m glad my dad had more sense than I do now, and was able to raise me into a decent person.

I can attribute a lot of my decent-ness as an adult to my dad’s guidance throughout my life. He’s taught me everything I know (good and bad).

For his birthday, I’ve written down a few of them:

  1. Don’t spend what you don’t have. I’ve never gotten into debt — because I’ve been fortunate enough to have parents who can take care of me financially, but I’ve also never spent beyond my means because my dad drilled that into my head for years.
  2. Look at things from the other person’s perspective. I’m still working on this.
  3. Clean as you go while cooking. Less of a mess left by the time you’re done!
  4. Don’t accept anything for free as a journalist. Be safe and cover your own ass.
  5. “None of your beeswax” During the 1998 Guam gubernatorial election, I asked my dad who he voted for as we walked through the elementary school parking lot. “None of your beeswax,” he said. (This story isn’t that interesting but it stuck with me for more than 20 years so it must be worth something)
  6. Making illegal U-turns is fine, as long as you do it safely and with no cops around.
  7. You can get better at anything if you work on it a little every day. My dad has gotten my family to do 30 day challenges for different skills: sketching, push-ups, reading. Each time I do these challenges I find myself struggle a bit, especially during the beginning. By the end of the month, I’m so impressed with my progress that I can’t help but post all my pro sketches on Instagram. My dad shows me through his own example of perseverance that you can improve significantly at any skill, as long as you practice it daily.
  8. Start out small and have compassion for yourself if you don’t meet your own expectations. I can be a perfectionist, but my dad has taught me (through his own experiments and his example) that it’s okay to fail at first. You just have to try again tomorrow, and the days after that.
  9. Learn the love languages of your loved ones, and speak to them. My dad (and Eva) asked me and my siblings to take a quiz (more than once, it’s that important) to see what our love languages are. We each shared what our love languages were and thought about how it made sense or taught us something new about everyone. I naturally want to love in the love language I speak best, but this taught me to think about how I can show love in the way that will best serve the person.
  10. Trying something is never a waste of time. Dad taught me you’ll always be better off trying and learning from your mistakes than if you didn’t try at all. This mentality helps me put my best into the projects I work on in the present, to pursue an area fully if I’m drawn to it, and not worry so much about the future. He says that closing a business is never a failure — you can always build on your experience with what you’ll do after. What I explore now will give me the skills and direction to pursue what will come next.
  11. Set boundaries. And have the difficult conversations. Living back on Guam as an adult, I got overwhelmed within the first few weeks with all the family functions and obligations. I talked to my parents about this a lot, and my dad told me about how he had to say no to family members and set boundaries for how others should treat him and what to expect of him. It’s hard sticking up for myself sometimes, but my dad showed me by example that I should claim the time and space I need for rest, solitude, and freedom.
  12. Do whatever the hell you want. During my junior year of high school, my classmate told me she thought she saw a homeless man walking barefoot by the Hagåtña Pool, but it turned out to be my dad. Leo has also, on many occasions, walked barefoot down the nasty streets of San Francisco. If my dad can live with such abandon, so can I.
  13. Speak up for what’s right. Use your voice for good. Another story about my junior year! My dad wrote in a letter to the editor to PDN about how the local community needs to treat their gay family, friends, and community members with respect. He wrote it in opposition to the archbishop’s recent condemnation of gay people. I remember the principal at my all-girls Catholic school told me she read my dad’s published letter and how it went against the church. My heart burned with pride that he wrote it.
  14. A parent’s job is to support their child’s dreams and help them get there. My siblings and I all have “untraditional” life paths as adults. E.g. my stepsister is studying in Japan to be a manga/anime artist. I’m 26 and still figuring out what I’m good at. My dad is always the first to get on board with our craziest life decisions, I think because he knows we’ll grow a lot from going out of our comfort zones.  
  15. Have fun! Some of my favorite memories with my dad are the times we’d play fight him as Bruce Leo, nerf gun fights, walked around dorkily in new cities around the world. My dad always makes time to have fun with us, no matter how old he is or how old we are.
  16. For the past year or two, my dad has been doing consistent work on self-healing inner wounds. We didn’t talk about it in depth while I was growing up, but my dad had a rough upbringing. This is heavy to write. None of us in my family want to disrespect my grandpa (especially now that he’s gone) but we all are dealing with residual trauma passed down from him (passed down to him from generations, the war, abuse). The cycle of abuse and generational trauma is hard to break. It takes incredible strength and resolve to undo damage and to change yourself. It takes humility to sit down with people you’ve hurt and ask them to tell you their side of the story and about how you wronged them. It takes love to go through all this work, because you’re not just doing it for you — you’re doing it for your kids and for generations to come, so they don’t have to go through it too. My dad does all this, and the work he does to fight toxic masculinity and empower all of us in my family (and helping others through the work he does) is a net good that will spread for generations. Assuming our bloodline doesn’t die off sooner due to climate change.
  17. I wrote a blog post before about my eating disorder, and how the “bad” voice inside tells me I’m unworthy of love and always thinks I will fail. A year of therapy, and lots of conversations with my dad, have taught me that the “bad” voice is actually the wounded child inside that needs love. Caring for my inner child has made me happier, more secure in myself, and so much better to everyone in my life. My dad also tells me affectionately when he sees glimpses of my child self in my current self. That helps me feel more connected to my inner child, and reminds me how important it is to take care of her and show her love.
  18. How to make thoughtful gifts
    My dad created our family tradition of making the most heartfelt over-the-top gifts for birthdays, Mother’s Day — and we reciprocate on his birthday and Father’s Day. I get so excited thinking about how someday I’ll teach my own kids how to make such thoughtful gifts (now that I think about it, this idea is even better because those gifts are going to be for me!)
  19. How to be romantic
    On top of making days special for the kids, my dad is seriously the most grand gesture-y person I know in real life. His example has shown me most men in the real world are a lot more disappointing when it comes to thoughtful surprises (I swear I’m not trying to be passive aggressive it’s just true!)
  20. Your reality is a reflection of the narrative you tell yourself.
  21. Importance of introspection
    My dad is always looking for new ways to improve himself, and always questioning himself internally. I find myself doing the same and love talking to him about our own internal journeys.
  22. Taught me about socialism/anarchy
    And the anarchist cookbook cookies are the best.
  23. You can change and reinvent yourself as many times and whenever you want in life. Just during my lifetime, I’ve seen my dad grow into so many different things: a reporter, a senator staffer, a blogger, a marathon runner, and a guy so famous that strangers come up to him on the street in different countries.
  24. I can do anything!!! (see above)
  25. Compassion for living things / importance of veganism. Just by living by example, my dad shows me it’s completely doable (and enjoyable/tasty) to eat without harming living beings.
  26. When I was in college, I spent a lot of my young energy getting irritated with everyone around me. As an anxious and also very sensitive person, I also got hurt a lot by reading into other people’s actions. I complained a lot to my dad and he told me to try thinking about other people’s actions as completely unrelated to me, like logs drifting through a river, occasionally bumping but unintentionally.

    At first, I was annoyed and thought why couldn’t he just give me normal people advice and not this zen stuff again! Then I grew five years and realized this (along with most of what my dad tells me) is great advice and I am grateful I have a dad who loves me enough to always talk my ear off, hoping something will stick eventually (and it is).