When I was a kid, my father almost always worked until very late every day. It baffled me to think that I never had a good, long, conversation with him until I hit puberty—not because we didn’t want to, but because he was never around, to begin with.
After all, he always went to work before I even woke up, and returned home after I fell asleep. And to be perfectly honest, I think there was a little part of me that resented him for that—for not being around when I wanted to talk to him about my day, or anything.
“I don’t have a choice,” he said one day, during one of the rare moments when he actually got to go home early. I remember it clear as day—the sky was dark, curtains were closed, and my mom had stored all our food in the fridge because that’s what she always did after I finished dinner; my dad never ate at home.
“What do you mean, you don’t have a choice?” I remember myself asking.
“No matter how tough the going gets, I need to work for this family. For you,” my dad replied.
“You mean for the money,” I retorted.
He didn’t deny anything. Instead, he looked at me, let out a long sigh, and gazed at our half-dilapidated, leaking ceilings for a good second or two, before continuing our conversation with a lower tone to his voice that almost resembled a whisper. “Yes, I do this for the money. But you have to remember where the money goes. It goes to our food. It goes to electricity so you can sleep comfortably with the AC on every night. It goes to your school tuition. It goes to our family—hence I do this for the family.”
“But families don’t run on money… right?” I remember my younger self asked him.
To be honest, I don’t really remember what he told me that night. Even after I asked my dad about it, he simply said that he already forgot, and proceeded to bombard me with other questions about how my life went, how was work, and so on. But as I try my hardest to paint a picture of that sliver of memory, I imagine my dad would most likely reply with something out of his wisdom bag—something that only a man who worked for money, and worked for a family, could ever have spoken.
The years passed by, and now I am a full-fledged, working adult myself. Looking back, I am now almost the same age as my dad when I asked that question to him. Granted, I don’t have a family of my own right now, but I’d like to think that I understand a little bit of what my dad was going through at that moment.
As innocent as I was, I could definitely see how my dad found it difficult to answer my question. After all, I have experienced it myself; the sleepless nights I’ve spent working on a project from my day job, the time I’ve spent alone in the restroom to hide my crying self from everyone else, and all the hardships I’ve endured during this whole adulting process.
What can I say? I am only human. I get excited, happy, sad, disappointed, and distraught. My heart fumes with joy whenever I find a colleague I could relate myself with—whenever a professional relationship bloomed from simple work-related banters into lunchtime together, and eventually, steadfast friendships.
My heart also breaks into pieces whenever I feel disappointed with myself. Whenever I thought I could nail something, but reality intends otherwise. Whenever I had to give 120% just to achieve what others can seemingly achieve with their 80%. It wasn’t until at this point in time did I realize that being an adult simply means living with this roller-coaster ride—a series of combustions of emotions that brings you from all the bright places in your heart, right to the burnt cinders; the very pit of despair over and over again.
And what do we have? What kind of self-defense mechanism are we equipped with to counteract such a terrible thing?
I look back at my dad, and thought to myself—he must also have experienced all those things himself.
I was just having a very rough week at work myself. My self-worth and contribution to the team were put to a trial when we had a major reshuffling of organization structure. Suffice to say that not everyone was happy with their new assignments, myself included.
If I was still in fifth grade, I would probably be able to get away with feigning sick for several days whenever I have a problem at school. But not now. Not as an adult with a responsibility to do my job properly. Not when I’m being paid to do this—to feel uncomfortable and deal with it on a daily basis until I could somehow turn it around and make a better place for myself, or eventually give up and find a new place for me to settle.
During the moments when I was about to break, I found myself collapsing with a horrible fever. I holed up in my room all day, almost not moving an inch. My phone was vibrating almost non-stop for all the work-related notifications I’ve received, and God knows how many messages I had skipped. But I couldn’t bring myself to start my day as usual.
The fever might be one of the reasons. But I’d wager a bet that it was most likely because my heart—my mind, was exhausted. It is never a pleasant feeling to be let down multiple times. To sincerely believe that you have found your place, and have that dream torn from you and shred to pieces because things just happen, and we have to adapt, again and again. There’s no such thing as a comfort zone. Or if there was, it would never be an object of permanence.
Around 5 PM in the afternoon, I found myself sitting on my bed—my phone still untouched. I don’t know what I was thinking at the time—probably turbulence of negative thoughts and worst-case scenarios that I inevitably concoct in my mind whenever I reach a boiling point of disappointments and stress.
Yet, my hand unconsciously reached for my phone, and I started recording.
Recording what, exactly? Not the scenery, I can tell you that much. There was nothing flattering about my room at that time. I hadn’t taken out the trash, I hadn’t done the laundry, my cables, and water bottles, and eating utensils were a scattered mess on the table. I even left a smudge of ice cream on the floor—my body too lazy to even move to clean anything.
I also couldn’t bring myself to record myself speaking. You know—like recording a monologue to get stuff out from my system. Or even, since most people know me as a writer, to write things down on my morning pages, or evening journal to feel better. No—those things did cross my mind, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do any of them.
All I did, was I started singing. Or humming perhaps would be the better term.
I started humming to the melodies of “Moon River”. You know, the song from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. At first, I could only form disjointed, squeaking sounds. Yet as I continued humming, the disjointed notes intertwined themselves. Whispers of melody becoming stronger. And before long, I started singing the lyrics too.
After the third or fourth time repeatedly singing the same song over and over, I found myself singing almost properly, save for it sounding really weak because I had skipped meals and hadn’t slept all night.
And you know what? After singing the song, I somehow felt better.
I can’t explain it myself, but my heart felt lighter. And my numb fingers started reaching for my phone. My heart was dreading all the notification and angry messages because I had skipped work. But I didn’t find them.
There was not one message that was angry. What I found, was my closest friends—who somehow knew I wasn’t feeling okay, even though I never told them about it. I only said that I was down with fever—yet these people saw through my lies, and my notification was full of frantic messages from them asking if I was okay; if I needed to talk about it; if I needed company.
And just like that, like being afflicted by magic, I instantly felt better.
I called my dad after that. I told him about all my problems.
He didn’t say any words until I finished my story.
“How are you feeling right now?” He finally asked after I paused for too long.
I told him about my “Moon River” moment, and that I was feeling better.
“Do you remember when I told you I had to do my job—no matter how rough the going gets, for the family?” My dad asked me through the phone. I instinctively nodded, but recalling that he couldn’t see me, let out an affirmative sound.
“I’ve always thought you were invincible,” I told him. “You never showed any signs that you’re facing trouble at work. But now that I’m an adult, I know that it’s impossible to do anything in this world without failing. So I’ve always wondered how you managed to do it.”
“To do what?”
“Working late every day. Not seeing your family. Working to feed your wife and children, even during the weekends. Never once did you complain in front of us. Not once. Believe me, I’ve tried to count.”
“That’s nonsense, of course I’ve failed. Multiple times. Bruised up—even fell to the depths of hell, figuratively speaking.” My dad let out another long sigh. “But you already know why. You’ve experienced it yourself. We don’t quit just because of setbacks.”
I stayed silent.
“Just like how singing “Moon River” and reading messages from your friends—and knowing that there are hands outstretched to pull you out from the darkness, helping you overcome your despair, I had my own ways, too.”
I groaned impatiently. “But how?”
“By knowing that my family lives—that your mom, you, and your sister can go about and live your lives to the fullest because of me—because I don’t give up,” he said. “You’re right, I never really had the time to be with my family. But your mom sent me pictures of your first day at school. She told me early in the morning how you learned to cook. How you had a friend coming over for a study group. How you cried after failing your biology test. I was never around physically for you, but I can endure everything because of you.”
I was taken aback. I didn’t want to let out any sound, lest it would give away the fact that I was holding my tears.
“Remember,” my dad said. “Whenever life gets too hard—whenever you feel like giving up; remember what you’re fighting for.”
You know, this whole experience still feels surreal for me, even as I am writing this right now. But I checked my phone again and again—the phone log showed that the conversation with my dad was real. The recording app has my pathetic “Moon River” cover stored safely. And my messaging app was still flooded by messages from my closest friends.
Being an adult still feels like a roller-coaster ride for me. It brings you to all the brightest places and hurls you down to the pits of darkness without you knowing what’s around the next turn. And it still sucks to always be let down by life—to work your hardest only to find yourself facing new problems every single time.
It still sucks to feel helpless. To feel like the whole world is conspiring against you. To feel like you’re a failure—as if whatever you do, you would never succeed.
But that is wrong. No matter how tempting it might be, we shouldn’t ever let ourselves believe that we’re destroyed. That we’re beyond salvation. That we have spent everything we have and we have no chance of fighting back at whatever life throws at us.
Your jobs will always have problems to solve. Your newfound relationship might take a turn for the worse, and even your most trusted confidant might one day betray your trust. At any given moment in time, there will always be something out there wanting to bring you down—something that you may not know now, but will eventually get acquainted with.
I talked about not having a self-defense mechanism against such overwhelming odds. And I think I was right—we don’t really have a self-defense mechanism. We can’t ever be totally immune to failures and setbacks.
But maybe—as my dad had put it perfectly—we don’t have to dread the moment failure greets us. If we can’t avoid it, why stress over it? We might as well embrace our failures wholeheartedly, and learn from them. That way, no matter how many times we are brought to our knees by our failures, we could rise up again.
Easier said than done, I know.
But as I scrolled through all the supportive messages from my friends and family, and as I recalled my dad’s message to me—I’m feeling better already.
I’m still wounded inside, and I don’t think the bruises life give me would ever disappear completely. But knowing that there are people who are rooting for me—knowing what I am fighting for, gives me just enough strength to live for another day.
And most of the time, that is exactly what we need; the fortitude and strength to live and face another day. Not another week; not a month; not a year—but a day at a time.
wider than a mile/
I’m crossing you in style someday/
Oh dream maker/
You heart breaker/
Wherever you’re going, I’m going your way/
Off to see the world/
There’s such a lot of world to see/
We’re after the same rainbow’s end/
Waiting round the bend/
My huckleberry friend/
Moon river and me.
Where to find