Bumbai You Learn – Stories From My Dad
My Dad is a Filipino-American who immigrated to Hawai’i in the ’70s, when many other Asians were immigrating to work on the pineapple fields and sugar cane plantations. My Dad is a simple man. He doesn’t care for fancy things or going out. His favorite pastime is sitting in the garage and “talking story” with his friends. If you visited my parents house in Honolulu today, there’s an old double door fridge in the garage full of beer — Heineken, Michelob, Corona, & Bud Light (his favorite). As soon as you arrive, he’ll offer you a beer. Kasla mayora, my mom says. (As if he’s running for mayor.) If you sit and talk with him a while, he’ll talk your ear off. He can speak perfect English, but when he’s talking story, he has a heavy Filipino/pidgin accent. He has so many random life stories. Stories I’ve heard so many times it used to make me roll my eyes, but now that I’m older, listening him retell them makes me smile.
Growing up, I’d get annoyed listening to him ramble on and on, going from one story to the next. You can tell when he’s excited about a story — his voice gets louder, his actions more animated. He’s always telling the same ones over and over again, I never understood why until I got older and lived through some of my own.
A lot of the things I learned about my Dad, I overheard while he was talking story with my Uncles or his friends. Some of his stories were about life in the Philippines. How difficult life was, how he survived. Others were about his immigration to Hawai’i. How he came here with nothing, how he had to work hard and how he faced difficulties as an immigrant. And of course there were the crazy drunk stories. “One day me and your Unko…” — those were my favorite.
But there were specific stories that he directed at me and my sister — the life lesson stories. He never framed them that way, but he would say, “Bumbai you learn.” ‘Bumbai,’ pronounced buhm-bye, is a pidgin word that translates to later on. ‘Bumbai you learn’ loosely translates to, ‘maybe later, you’ll understand.’ He told us about the mistakes he made, the things he wished he could’ve done. The opportunities that he never got to have because “it wasn’t in the cards.”
My parents, especially my Dad, always encouraged us to go after what we wanted. Growing up, we didn’t have a lot, but they managed to make things happen. When my sister and I wanted to take dance classes, we danced. When I wanted to play piano, I got lessons. When I wanted a computer, we got an old hand me down desktop. When I wanted to leave Hawai’i for college, he convinced my mom to let me go.
“You can do aaanything you like,” he’d say. “But whatever you do, do your best.”
I inherited a lot of things from my dad. His tan complexion and affinity for alcohol. His carefree attitude, his love of people, and his steadfast confidence that everything will work out. But had my dad not pushed me when I was scared and scolded me when I doubted myself, I would have never taken the risks that I have or made the moves that I did.
I can still hear my dad sighing in frustration every time my lack of self confidence held me back. I know now, it was because he always saw in me the things that would take years for me to see myself. I moved away from Hawai’i when I was 17 and years later when I was home visiting, he talked about what it was like raising me and my sister. In what may be one of the most raw moments we’ve had, he said, “You know, we never knew what we were doing, but we tried our best.”
Well Daddy, I just want you to know, you and Mom did good. We turned out okay and . Happy Father’s Day.