If we all thought the same way, it’d be a boring world.
The dragon lady (my wife) and I came from completely different cultures, so, in the beginning, I really didn’t know what to expect, and neither did she. The only thing we felt sure of was that together, we would soon find our way. She was born and raised in Southeast Asia, specifically, the island of Cebu in the sunny Philippines. I was from the far chillier and cooler climate of the UK. Right from the start, the differences in our upbringing and cultures brought and kept us together and provided us with an ongoing interest in our marriage.
It soon became obvious we were very different in the way that we thought, as well as our expectations and ideas for life. The biggest problem we faced on an almost daily basis were cultural misunderstandings. Still to this day, she is quick to look for offence and armed with a twenty thousand voltage temper, and we suffered many misinterpretations of kind intentions. We soon learned that as two strong-willed characters, if our marriage was going to survive, we had to be prepared to compromise and listen carefully to the needs of the other. I embraced these facts and quickly implemented them into my into daily life, although the dragon lady could never quite come to terms with them.
We started out with many of the same traditional values and objectives, although as the years passed, we seem to develop a unique new set all of our own. The one desire that bonded us tightly together right from the start was our impulse to make a baby, which happened immediately. Five months after we were married, our beautiful little daughter appeared and began entertaining us. Nearly 5 years later, our second pet, our handsome son, joined the team.
What I have found most interesting is although we were very different, especially in the beginning. With every passing year we have become more alike, I don’t mean in looks or appearance, as after nearly 25 years she’s still statuesque, bad-tempered, and quite beautiful. While, by complete contrast, I remain rotund, laid-back, and according to her (undesirable). It’s our thinking and desires for the future which have changed the most, and in which we have become extremely congruent.
It started with religion!
The dragon lady, although she has always been very vocal in most aspects of her life, especially when it comes to getting her own way. She was always a quiet and reserved practitioner of Catholicism, and never once tried pushing her Catholic faith upon me. For that reason, as well as an attempt to play the part of the moral and virtuous husband, initially, I was supportive. Although I’m about as religious as a pork pie, I would often accompany her to mass and assume the role of babyminder. The Catholic church which she attended was quite enormous, and a wonderfully designed and engineered building. At first, I would use this time in spiritual contemplation. Later, and in between retrieving and entertaining our constantly escaping daughter, I would consider my life and what I wanted to make of it. Then, realising what a wonderful home this building had the potential of being and converted into. I happily spent my time mentally redesigning and imagining how the building would look after my conversions and alterations were complete.
I soon realised that to the dragon lady, the church service was very secondary. The primary function of Sunday morning church was as a meeting place for other (mainly) Anglo-Filipino couples and friends she had made. More importantly, for her, this was an intense weekly dose of Filipina chismosa (gossip) and the opportunity to catch up on events, and to eat a wide mixture of Philippine foods which are generally quite wonderful. No sooner had the mass concluded than a small horde of miniature, but fierily determined oriental women, and anyone else who wanted to join us, took over the church hall. It was a safe environment, and while our good-looking mixed-race children played together, trays and Tupperware full of strange Philippine foods appeared. Everyone brought something, and these were just as quickly consumed and far better than traditional UK Sunday lunches. This, or we would have been invited back to someone’s house for lunch or, even more likely, an afternoon barbecue which generally rotated around everyone’s house in turn, including ours. The men and women always entertained and ate separately, and for the women, it was a chance to speak in a mixture of their mother tongues, (the Philippines has many dialects) the men always spoke English, they generally had little choice.
As the years went by, she went to church less and less, and attending parties and barbecues became infrequent. The dragon lady had grown. She looked no bigger than the day we married, but mentally she had become bored with (chismosa). Gossip and small talk had been replaced by more important things, and suddenly she had become enthusiastic about expanding her mind and re-education. Now, she goes to church extremely rarely, and when she does, always arrives as the service is concluding. Her only interest is speaking with her friends immediately afterwards.
Some habits die hard, and this was true of the most obvious of visual habits, which for so many years identified her as an ardent Catholic, which was to cross herself every time she left home. However, for the last year or so, I haven’t seen her cross herself once highlighting her depth of belief is slowly diminishing.
As a child, my family celebrated Hanukkah (the festival of lights), and I was always given a Hanukkah present. Although, because it was there, and quite difficult to miss, we also sort of celebrated Christmas, although my mother would never admit to doing so. We would enjoy the seasonal holiday television, and other presents would appear, although they were NEVER referred to as Christmas presents. Best of all, my mother, (a domestic goddess in the kitchen) would cook and prepare a special meal whatever day of the week Christmas day fell upon. Stuffed to capacity, we sat around in a mild, festive spirit until it had all passed and life returned to normal.
Then, after we’d married and the arrival of our little girl, Christmas became lots of fun. Apart from midnight mass, which my wife enjoyed attending, our Christmas had about as much to do with Jesus and religion as Mickey Mouse had to do with Ramadan. It was about fun and entertaining our little girl, and later our little boy as well. They both enjoyed the glitzy side of the occasion and socialising with all those people who brought boxes to play with. Generally, the boxes contain a nice present, which was immediately discarded so they could play with the boxes without hindrance. Like most kids, they found this far more fun.
My children both loved Christmas time, but my daughter as she grew developed a most unusual habit. Around late October or November, when the first indications that Christmas was approaching appeared, she would start wrapping up her old toys and the Christmas tree had to be erected for her to put them under. She would wrap up dozens of her old presents. I think it was because she loved to see them below the Christmas tree. Christmas morning was a big event for her. She would excitedly rip open present after present with extraordinary surprise, and although she had been playing with it for most of the year already, her little eyes would become as big as saucers as she excitedly exclaimed, “look what I’ve got dad!” I began feeling sorry for my son, who with a much smaller pile of presents placed in front of him looked on enviously while wearing an expression of a less favoured child. He only had the presents we had purchased for him. The more frugal side of our nature considered not buying our self-reliant daughter any new presents at all. I’m sure she wouldn’t have noticed if we hadn’t.my family celebrated
The build-up to Christmas was always fun. However, I always found it to be an expensive anti-climax and one which always took our bank account back to zero on an annual basis. The best part for me was that we just passed the winter solstice. Now, every day would become a little longer, and the spring and warmer days became a little closer.
As my children became teenagers, and as soon as the present giving ceremony was over, they generally retired back to their bedrooms. Everyone in our family seems to have huge potential for solitary living or even becoming a hermit. The dragon lady worked in mental health for many years and always took advantage of the potential of double pay as a reward for working the holiday periods. No sooner had the New Year arrived than she was already booked to work on every day of the year ahead that offered more than single pay. We could spend time together whenever we wanted, but additional wages only came a few times a year.
Although she was never there for the three commercial days of Christmas, or New Year, my wonderful little wife passionately enjoyed preparing everything on the run-up to the Christmas holiday. She decorated the house, filled the refrigerator and bought the presents for the kids. We had already stopped buying presents for each other some years before. Although I always appreciated any presents that the dragon lady purchased for me, hers were always a different story. She was never satisfied with them, and would always want to return them and exchange them for something different. Then, and after my father died, we began giving the children money to buy what they wanted. Now we get Christmas over with as quickly as possible. It’s just two days of overindulging which forces us together as a family. Yes, we were becoming true humbugs, but for a very good reason. You see, we lead excellent lives, and enjoy a sort of Christmas every day. If there’s something we want, we have it and see no point in putting off enjoying the benefits of whatever it may be to just one specific day in the year.
Death and funerals
When the dragon lady first came to the UK, she planned on purchasing a family crypt back in the Philippines. All of her family’s remains would be placed here, and she told me if she died that she wanted me to send her body home as well. Even I, being a part of the family, could be sent there to decompose if I so wished. It was a thought I decided not to dwell upon. The freshly refurbished family crypt cost an extraordinary amount of money, and far more than building a new home for the living, which to me seemed far more important. Over the following few years, her wishes changed dramatically.
I have always hated funerals and would cry like a baby with a freshly smacked bum at the ones I did attend. However, I would also cry while reading stories and watching television, and at any moving event. Although larger and muscular (underneath the fat anyway) I am ultra-emotional, and cry at the strangest of times. It’s who I am, and I’m not ashamed of being this way for a moment. When my uncle died, I couldn’t attend his funeral, but I was there. I stood outside and cried and cried. Perhaps it was because he was family, a lovely many, and one of my role models.
Then my father died from dementia. It was horrible to watch and live through, and as a result, we decided against a funeral. My father had prepaid his funeral because this was the type of person he was, who didn’t want to cause anyone a problem. There was no funeral, although I sat in the car park as his coffin arrived and I cried for hours. The following day I collected his ashes, which remained with us for some time before I felt ready to scatter them. I felt so guilty and as if I had let him down. We decided to hold a celebration of his life instead, but when we were less sensitive about his death. Three and a half years later, it still hasn’t happened and I think the time has passed. I think of him and remember him fondly regularly, which is enough.
Funerals are for those people who are left behind, the dead don’t care two hoots and respect no longer means anything. The idea and thought of mixing with mourners after the funeral to the dragon lady and I became repugnant. Who wants to interact with others when you’re grieving and at your worst? I no longer feel guilty about not having a funeral for dad, I think he would have agreed.
My wife and I have become remarkably similar. Now, she no longer wants her body shipping off to the Philippines after she switches off. She has seen much death as a nurse and now thinks of a dead body like an empty house. As a result of this change of direction, we purchased direct prepaid cremations, which means our family will have nothing to do after our demise. Our bodies will be cremated, and the ashes returned to our nearest and dearest to do with as they wish. Flush them down the toilet if you please. We just don’t want to be a burden. Life is over, we were grateful for what we had, now live yours!
No children, thank you!
The dragon lady was the first to say it, and I was frankly quite shocked. To me, saying if I had the choice to do it all again, making the decision not to have children sounds disloyal to the pets. However, the thoughts been cultivating at the back of my mind and now I agree. If I was to do it all over again, no, I wouldn’t have children. I would live my life for me or us and do the things I or we wanted to do. In fact, neither of us want grandchildren either. We feel if we are unfortunate enough to get them, we’ll treat them like pet dogs and leave them running around the garden rather than allowing them into the house like doting grandparents we’d be expected to become. We’ve done our duty with our children, and they can do the same with theirs.
We love our children with a passion, and they get our love and support unreservedly. We had our children for us, and have enjoyed them, and hope to go on enjoying them as their lives unfold in front of them. It’s their time, and when it’s time to let go and move on, that’s fine by us. We realise that we will see them less and less, but that’s okay, we don’t want to hold them back as they owe us nothing. They have to put their future first and us second or even third behind their families, and with this was fine.
Although we bicker and argue most days, my wife and I have become friends (for most of the time anyway!) The dragon lady’s family have always been extremely reliant upon her, that’s the old way. We don’t want to be reliant upon anyone, but especially not our children or their families. If it means being alone, then fine, that’s the way it is. Why should an old life interfere with the progress of a younger one? We might sound like miseries and bitter old humbugs, but I promise we’re not. We have enjoyed every moment of our life to the fullest, and I promise you we plan on doing the same for many years to come.
Call us bar humbugs if you wish!