My grandma entered the house, looking dazed. She sat herself on the couch, like she didn’t have the strength to hold herself upright on both legs. Hands to her chest, she kept muttering, “What are we going to do? What are we going to do?”
My aunt, the only one in the house with her at the time, was speechless. My grandma didn’t have to tell her what she was panicking about. In her bones, she knew: The secret they had kept for 24 years, the one they had thought would safely remain buried for eternity, has finally clawed its way to the surface.
It all started innocently enough. I got a new job, and one of the perks is a half-month long training in Australia. I had never been anywhere outside of the Philippines before, so this was huge for me. Our visa was approved in just two days, and it seemed like the only thing left to do was wait.
Unfortunately, since I had never been out of the country, I didn’t know about the “6-month validity rule”. Our flight was booked for February 2018, and my passport expired July the same year, leaving just 5 months validity by the time we were to depart. Thus, I had to hurriedly arrange for the renewal of my passport, with just 2 months left before our trip.
Now, that might seem like plenty of time, but here in the Philippines, it really is not. Appointments for passport application and renewal with our Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) tend to be fully booked for months in advance, and passports take 2 weeks on average to be released.
I asked my grandma to request a copy of my birth certificate from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), formerly the National Statistics Office (NSO). I already had an NSO copy of my birth certificate, but our company’s HR team told me that I needed one with the PSA stamp on it, as the logo has changed.
I didn’t think getting one would be a problem, since my grandma usually gets a copy almost as soon as she requests it, as senior citizens get priority in queues, especially in government offices.
Boy, was I ever wrong.
Through some stroke of luck, I managed to get an appointment for that very Saturday, albeit in a province roughly 6 hours away from the Metro. But still, lucky!
It was already Tuesday, so I messaged my aunt to ask if they can get my brother to bring my birth certificate to me before Friday (since I was renting a place near work). I was surprised when she said that they still haven’t been able to get the birth ccertificate.
What? But it’s been more than a week!
My aunt seemed extremely agitated, far more than what the situation warranted, I thought, and she kept telling me to just talk to my mother. I told her I don’t see how that would help in any way, since my mom was all the way out in Colorado.
Finally, my aunt told me that the reason they couldn’t get my birth certificate was because the system locked it. Apparently, in addition to changing its name, the PSA also switched systems, and the new system has locked mine because it was “Late Registration”.
For the first time, I looked at the registration date of my birth certificate and saw that it was registered THREE years after my birth. I thought, “Oh well, typical Mumsy to forget a thing as important as that for three whole years. Haha!”
Of course, it still didn’t make sense to me, so I kept asking my aunt questions, and she just told me that it was because I had two birth certificates, and the system would only release the first one, which had the “wrong details” in it, and that I should just go ask my mom about it. She seemed so stressed out that I just decided to do as she kept telling me to, though I still couldn’t for the life of me imagine how a chat with my mom would help.
That night, at around 10:00 pm PH time, my mom messaged me and asked me if it’s okay to video call. I said sure, so she rang me up. She was at work, and she looked very upset.
In her weird, kind of disjointed way, she began telling me the story of why I had two birth certificates.
“Anak (daughter),” she began, “the reason you have two birth certificates is that… I lied in the first one. You know how, back in the day, people judged you if you had a child but wasn’t married? I was a coward. I was so afraid of being ostracized, that I lied. I put in there that I was married.”
At this point, she was crying. But I was like, “Oh, okay. That’s not too bad. That’s perfectly understandable.”
But she wasn’t done.
“And… And it was a different guy there that I put down as your father.”
She was crying even harder, but I was laughing. Why was she so upset? I thought it was an amusing story! A teenage version of my mom, barely an adult, panicking and deciding to make up a guy to be her “husband”.
Chuckling, I asked her, “What was the name?”
“Seiji Ozawa,” she responded through tears. Then, she asked, “Anak, why are you laughing? You should be crying.”
I answered, “But the story is so funny! I can just imagine it! So who was this guy? Was the name completely made up? Or did you at least know the person?”
“Anak,” a pause, “he’s your real father.”
Abruptly, my laughter died.
Without warning, I burst into tears. It was the ugliest cry of my life. Loud. Big fat tears. Huge gulps. Face crumpled with all these emotions I still couldn’t process.
My first thought was, “So Mich (my younger brother) is only my half brother.”
“Can you forgive me, Anak? Do you love me less now?”
Wiping my tears, I hurried to reassure my Mom.
Of course not! Why would such a thing make me love her less? That’s stupid! Nothing’s really changed anyway.
Of course I don’t blame her, she was so young! If I had been in her place, I wouldn’t have known what to do either.
Whoever my real father was, good riddance to him! I never knew him, he disappeared before I was even born, he’s just a stranger for all I know.
I asked her to not tell my brother just yet, as I wanted to be the one to tell him.
I messaged him, asking if my grandma or aunt had talked to him that night. He asked me if I wanted him to call, so I immediately knew that he knew.
I called him, and was greeted by the sound of his sobs. I nearly broke down then. My 19 year old brother, whom I have never seen nor heard crying since puberty, was crying and sobbing in the most heartbroken way, and it was all I can do not to just do the same. But I knew I had to be strong for us. So I tried to make him laugh.
“Hey, at least now we can answer the mystery of why we look nothing alike.”
That earned a chuckle. He was still crying, but I knew he was starting to get a grip.
“Besides, this doesn’t really change anything. You’re still my brother. We still came out of the same vagina.”
Just earlier that night, before my call with my mom, before the “big reveal”, my brother messaged me, telling me that he was second highest in their final exam for his most difficult subject this term. I screen capped it and posted it on Facebook, saying what a proud Ate (big sister) I am.
He said that after my grandma and aunt told him, he went up to his room and cried, even throwing his phone out of some strong emotion. My grandma went after him and implored him not to blame our mom, that it was our grandparents’ fault for not giving her the support she needed. (Later, my grandma would tell me that he really wanted them all to go to where I was at that ungodly hour of the night. “Poor Ate, she has no one there with her.”)
He eventually calmed down, but he went on Facebook and saw my post, which set him off on a fresh round of crying.
They visited me the next night, carrying with them a very old picture of my real father.
My brother is the spitting image of Daddy (his father whom I thought was my father as well), while people always told me that I took after our mom.
Staring at that picture of my real dad, I exclaimed,
“Why does he look like Mich as well?”
We all laughed, but we all also knew that my mom has always had rather thin lips, while mine were thicker.
Very much like the lips of the man in the picture I held in my hands.
Almost exactly like his, in fact.
Everyone in my family had huge eyes, with the exception of me and my brother. We knew it was because we were half-Japanese, but we’ve also always noticed that while his eyes were slanted the exact same way Daddy’s was, mine have always been kind of cat-like in that they were slightly rounded, then titled at the corners. They always just told me that I got Daddy’s mother’s eyes.
Now, looking into this stranger’s eyes, I finally had the real answer.
Yes, I resembled this man I had never met, and it bothered me slightly, because I didn’t really want to. I wanted it to still be that I took after Mommy while Mich took after Daddy.
But at the same time, there was this sense of… completeness. Like puzzle pieces clicking into place.
I thought back to things from my childhood that finally make sense in light of this new knowledge.
Why there were no pictures of Daddy holding me when I was a baby… Why my brother and I were six years apart… Why we look nothing alike… Why the birthplace in my birth certificate had to be faked…
I talked to two of my uncles (my mom has four brothers and one sister) and they both apologized that they had to lie to me all these years. One of them said he even got into a fight with my mom and my grandma, because he thought long ago that I had the right to know, but in the end it wasn’t his secret to tell.
They told me what little they knew about my father.
That my mom said he was a genius with numbers, and that was one of the reasons she fell in love with him. Back in school, I was a mathlete, so now I know that I got that from him as well.
They told me that he was an accountant, which surprised me, because I am now an accountant by profession. My aunt said she was surprised when I chose my course, but of course she couldn’t say anything.
They told me that he was very tall, nearly six feet, and I cursed my fate that I just had to get my mom’s height. I could have been 5’6 at least! But no, I had to be stuck at 5 feet and fuck all inches.
My mom told me about how he was from a province in Japan, and that they fell in love, and by the time she got back to the Philippines, I was already growing in her belly.
My aunt told me of how back then, few people owned mobile phones, and they walked far just to get a pay phone so my mom could contact him.
My mom told me of how they would write each other back and forth, because the Internet wasn’t a thing yet, and it would be weeks in between each letter, and that was probably why it didn’t work out.
My uncle told me that he wasn’t a good person, that he disappeared as soon as my mom got pregnant with me.
My mother told me of how in love they were, and of how handsome and tall and smart he was.
My grandma spoke of how good-hearted Mich’s father was, that he would take me in and love me as his own child.
They told me that he wanted me to grow up knowing him as my father, and that he wanted to take the secret with him to his grave.
But in the end, even the most well-kept secret has a way of crawling towards the light.
It was a burden they carried for two dozen years, out of fear.
My mother feared my hate and anger. My grandmother feared rebellion, that I would stray from the right path, as kids from “broken families” were wont to do. My aunt feared that I would spiral down into depression. One uncle feared I wouldn’t understand, that I would not forgive them. Another refused to say anything on the subject, as he thought it was not his place. Only two believed I should have been told a long time ago, and only one of them said that I was tougher than what my family believed.
In the end, though, I believe that the Universe conspired for me to find out at exactly the right time.
Plot twist: It turned out that I didn’t need the birth certificate at all.
Our company’s HR called the DFA, and they said a government-issued ID would be enough.
It seemed that the string of events was just meant to lead me towards the truth, nothing more, nothing less.
I still have a lot of questions, most of which would probably never be answered.
But I do know the important things:
My family hid the truth from me out of love. In their minds, they were protecting me, and I am nothing but grateful.
My brother is my brother, no matter our parentage. I don’t love him any less, and he isn’t any less my brother because of this.
My biological father is only my father to that extent. In every other way that counts, my father is: Daddy, my uncles, even my grandparents, my aunt, and my mother.
The secret has been a heavier burden on my mother than on anyone else, and the fact that she willingly bore that all these years is testament to how great her love is for me and my brother, and I will forever marvel at how little we have done to deserve her love and yet she has given and continues to give it to us anyway.
I am loved, and I have a family that I love very much and that is all the truth I need to know.