My dad was born in Ormoc, a coastal city in the Filipino province of Leyte, but he spent most of his adolescence in Honolulu, HI. He never met his father, but he spent a lot of time with a wealthy uncle who owned major property in Oahu. He grew up doing competitive gymnastics, and taught himself to play guitar as a teenager. He majored in Forensic Science at university, until they brought in actual human cadavers his second year and he realized it wasn't for him. His Uncle kicked him out of the house for dropping out of school, and my dad spent a summer living on the beach, surfing, playing guitar, and cooking fresh caught fish over a fire at night.
Dad's early 20's were mostly spent touring parts of Asia and the US with a band/musical comedy troupe called The Laughing Kahunas. He sang, played multiple instruments, and dressed in everything from Elvis pantsuits to full-out drag. The Laughing Kahunas started out in the Waikiki hotel circuit, eventually branching out. He showed me a picture once of Eric Clapton from backstage... they opened for him in the 60's before Clapton became a stadium-only superstar. They also recorded an album in 1970, in Dallas. It was mostly musical theatre covers!
*I literally just found these album cover images in the process of typing this blog. I also found an online archive of their album and a dozen live performance recordings here. Definitely can hear my dad's voice in the mix. Wild!
The band broke up in 1980. One of its frontmen, Tim DeNeeves, passed away shortly after testing positive for HIV, and many other band members were ready to settle down. My dad had two short marriages before he met my mom at a solo gig in Whitecourt, AB.
I've heard a few stories from the few years they spent together before I was born, including the time my grandpa had to bail my dad out of jail for working in Canada without proper immigration papers, and the many years my mom and dad worked in restaurants and pubs in Red Deer (where I was born). My mom bartended and made epic cheesecakes. My dad sang and played guitar.
From preschool to Grade 2 or 3, my Dad would arrange once or twice a year to show up at my classroom and sing for the afternoon. We would do the limbo and shimmy to Twist and Shout. We belted the Elephant Show song, and the Unicorn Song, complete with hand motions I won't soon forget. Josh and I used to crawl around in his fur-lined guitar cases. My Dad sang and played and supported our family (with help from Grandpa) for 13 years. He would come home for 2 weeks and leave for longer stints in Kelowna or Grand Prairie, Kamloops or Prince George, sometimes being gone for weeks at a time. He missed a lot of the minor details my mom took care of. I remember pretty early on that school lunches and parent-teacher correspondence were overwhelming to him. He wasn't as entrenched in our routines as we were. I remember fried egg sandwiches, and a lot of new technology we probably couldn't afford. Surround sound, packed 300-CD towers, giant headphones... my Dad had the first ever cellphone (that grey brick with the big rubberized antenna people make fun of), and bought us one of the first ever PC home computers in 1997--the start of many long hours of games on Shockwave, tunes on Napster/Limewire, and MSN chats.
I'm sure it was weird enough bringing up mixed, Anglophone kids in a tiny Alberta town, without much of a father figure in his own life to riff off. I'm sure the combination of distance relationships with all of us and never ending gig-life got old after a while. I don't want to delve too much into private detail, but over the years, especially since my parents' divorce (I was 13, Josh was 9), our relationship with my dad became estranged. My mom went back to work and began to support us herself (with Grandpa's ever-solid help in many forms, as we moved in with my grandparents), so she became our main provider on top of our main life correspondent. Dad continued to leave town for work, so our meet ups with him became a kind of diminished routine--he wanted to bond more with us and be a more confident father figure; we didn't feel like he knew us enough to let him into our lives beyond just the surface, sometimes not even at all. It's crazy to think: we've been dancing around this conundrum for 20 years or more.
This year, my dad and I have become friends again. It wasn't forced, and it still isn't perfect. The topics on which we really bond kind of just fell into our laps. He has started to open up about his life in the Philippines and his travels pre-marriages. We talk about music and food, and updates on some of the people I used to bring to his Edmonton pub gigs (free wings, shots, and Dad songs are things my Alberta peeps know well). The other day I tried to tell him about my Trader Joe's canned jackfruit in brine. He explained that he used to eat jackfruit everyday in the Philippines ("for dinner or dessert!"). He tells me his newest health tips (some are well known, some are definitely outliers), and I laugh to myself because I'm healthy as f**k and he still eats at McDonald's on "treat days". But he definitely knows enough to still be fully mobile and have his wits about him. He turned 72 yesterday. His singing voice and guitar playing haven't changed. He's given me some vocal warmups and karaoke tracks. He sends me recordings and videos of his favorite singers. He tells me I should play guitar--as more of a command than a suggestion. We'll see. I've managed to pick up a ukulele two days in a row so that's something.
Dad stuff has always been complicated for me. But as I dig through my past and acknowledge big and small details of my life, and as COVID-19 lockdown procedures shut me in with my thoughts, I start to glow with appreciation for the little things, and the intentions behind them. I'm opening up to the things my dad has to teach me, however difficult (or late).