The Orphan Series
1. How old are you?
I am 32 years old.
2. Did you lose your dad? Your mom? Both?
I lost my dad.
3. How old were you when you lost your dad?
I was 5 years old when my dad passed away.
4. Do you have any memories of him/her?
I do. The most vivid one that I can remember is our morning daily routine, which was my dad putting my hair in a ponytail. I would cry every morning because my ponytail would be slightly off and not centered on my head. He would have to redo it until I was happy.
Reflecting back, I'm surprised I can remember many things about my dad and how he made me feel. I was very loved by him. My mom would tell me stories of how much my dad loved me and tell me stories of him and I, and surprisingly, I remember exactly how I felt during those examples she provided.
5. What was it like to grow up without him/her?
I often wonder how much easier life would be if my dad were still alive. Growing up without a dad in the Hmong community was hard. Many people looked down on my siblings and I, and we weren't invited to events or thought of. My mom worked from dusk until dawn every day to provide for us kids and never got to spend quality time with us. I remember spending most of my days at the strawberry farms where she picked berries for money.
I had to grow up fast. To ensure that my mom can pay for all the utilities and had enough for food, I started working at the age of 14 and 90% of my income would go directly to my mom to help her. After the first year of attending a community college, I stopped going to school and instead worked fulltime to help my mom support the family due to her illness.
Though my mom remarried, she was often alone and doing things on her own, so I've always felt the need to be better and do better for my younger siblings and for her. Before my boyfriend and I got married, I saved for a whole year and purchased my mom and younger siblings a new television, couch set, washer and dryers, and beds. I felt bad for getting married and leaving because I knew they wouldn't have anyone else to take care of them. I felt like I abandoned them.
6. Because you didn't have a dad, how do you think people treated you differently?
There was no doubt that I was treated differently. I was blamed for other people's bad behaviors - it was because they hung out with me that they all of sudden started sneaking out at night or that their daughter/son was now talking back. I got all the blame. My aunts, uncles and cousins from my dad's side would always tell me that I would never find a husband who loves me because "kuv ncauj liab dhua" (red lip) or that no one would want me because I have no father. They would tell me that because my mom was poor, I would be worthless.
The negative things people would say about my siblings and I and my mom were so mean and unnecessary. My mom was always and still is so kind when people say mean things about her. She's always so patient and though she said it doesn't bother her, I know it does. She'd cried about it to her sisters all the time.
As I have gotten older and found my voice, whenever I hear people say things about my mom or my siblings that is untrue, I would always say something back. After a while, my sisters-in-laws, aunts and uncles from my father's side of the family won't say anything anymore if I'm around, but the name calling still occurs. I've just learned to not let it bother me so much anymore.
7. How did your siblings handle your mom getting remarried? Do you all ever talk about your dad?
I don't know how they handled my mom getting remarried at the time, but as of right now, we all hate it. It was the biggest mistake of her life to stay married to him. Outside of having my siblings, her marriage to my stepdad wasn't much of anything. He never cared for her or my younger siblings. He never had her back. He only called her when he needed her to do something for him.
I talked about my dad often when talking to my uncle (my dad's younger brother). My uncle looks so much like my dad it's crazy. My uncle tells me all the time of how proud he is of me and how proud my dad would be of the woman I've become. He has a memory problem so he repeats a lot of things to me. Outside of my uncle, my siblings and I don't talk much about my dad. If we do, it's a small and quick conversation only.
8. Does your mom talk about your dad?
My mom doesn't talk about my dad often. She typically is very sad when it comes to accomplishments of mine. She would shed tears and say, "naim thov txim koj tsis ua neeg nyob, nws tsis pom koj txoj kev mob siab kawm ntawv. Naim paub tias koj tsix yuav zoo siab heev."
9. How old were you when your mom remarried? What is your relationship with your stepfather and step siblings?
My dad had passed away just three years after arriving to the United States and all of his relatives were still very traditional so my mom couldn't remarry outside of my dad's family. They wanted to make sure my siblings and I stay in the clan and disallowed my mom from marrying someone else. She remarried one of my dad's distant younger cousin and became his second wife. I was probably 7 when she married my stepdad.
When I was younger, my relationship was great with my stepdad and step siblings, and it could be because I didn't know any better. My step sisters and I would always play together and I had great memories growing up with them. But, as we got older, jealousy became prominent. My step siblings started hating my mom for marrying their dad so their hate extended to my siblings and I. Hateful letters were written to my mom, hurtful statements made their way to my siblings and I, and before I knew it, I was an outcast and my mom was all alone doing things by herself. She was for us, one part mom and one part dad.
To this day, my step siblings are still blaming my mom and their hate is stronger than ever. Because of how I was raised and what I endured, I'm always in defense mode when it comes to my dad's family, and because I speak up, my relationship with my step family is strained.
10. Do you have children? If so, what do you do differently because of your loss?
I have three children. I wouldn't do anything differently in raising my kids. My mom has done a wonderful job raising us with what she had and taught us to be patient, brave, kind and to have compassion.
I can't change what others do, but I can control what I do. How we treat people regardless if they are an orphan or not matters. A child who've lost a parent is at a vulnerable state and does not deserve to be treated badly and talked to as if they were a piece of nothing. I will pass on to my children what my mom has taught me:
- To be patient: people who are patient always wins
- To be brave: be brave enough to be courageous and take on anything and keep the things that will add value to you and your life
- To be kind: God is always good to those who are kind and the reward for being kind will out beat anything
- To have compassion: to be able to have compassion for those who are vulnerable and treat others with kindness will go a long way
Being inclusive and building each other up is vital to the success of our Hmong people regardless if you are an orphan or not. EVERY PERSON MATTERS. I WILL NOT be what my step-family is to me and I WILL NOT allow my children to treat others how my step-family treated my siblings, mom and me.
11. What do you wish you can say or do for him?
I love you. Even with the little memory I have of you, I know you loved me deeply. Thank you for saving me from my first car accident and then coming to my dream to let me know you were there and have been watching over me. I've not seen you in over 18 years, so for you to come into my dream to let me see you and hug you must've been a hard decision. Hugging you in my dream felt so real and was short-lived but know that I will forever miss your hugs and kisses.
I have been with my best friend for 19 years. I married him 12 years ago, and we have three strong, smart, courageous and beautiful children. I have the best husband and family-in-law anyone could ever ask for. With their support, I was able to achieve higher education and have a career that I love. I live every day making sure that you live on and that others would only say positive things about you. I want to make sure that I impact others and leave a blueprint of positivity and love for the both of us. I can only hope that I've made you proud.
If we were to meet again, I would love to take you to dinner and listen to the adventures you've been on. Until we meet again, take the best care of yourself and always remember that I love you and miss you every day.
Your baby girl