It was January, 2016 when I realized that I was dying inside. Nothing medical, though had I continued on my path, I was sure to lose a part of myself that was critical to who I was, my identity, which never even had a chance to blossom — the part that wanted to be a novelist, a writer, an artist of words — and I would’ve surely degraded into some stranger, a foreigner to my own family, my wife, and to myself. I might as well have been dead.
“Identity is crucial in ideology and action — central to the problem of self-determination at any level.”— Franklin Odo, Preface to Roots: An Asian American Reader
When I was 16 years old, I decided that I wanted to be a writer. Something in the words of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye pulled me in, something hypnotic about Holden Caulfield, something altogether magical — and not in the Mark David Chapman kind of way.
From Catcher to my studies in English at UC Riverside to graduation, writing remained a career goal but I then quickly realized that there was no money in writing, and as someone who grew up in near poverty, what I needed most at that time was a job that paid. So I promised myself that I needed to stack up some chips first before I pursue something so … broke. You see, at the time, I was tired of being broke.
And so I got a job as an editor for a car magazine, which led to a job as a content producer for a dot com, which ultimately led to multiple jobs in marketing and advertising, each one a major step up the corporate ladder, each one more lucrative than the other, and each one another pull away from that initial goal, like a strong magnet, a dark force, a bite from some zombie. I was losing my way. Some may have even called it a successful career, but to me, they were all just jobs. At each company, at every meeting, from business trips to business retreats, from a cubicle to an office, all I wanted to do was write.
And so January, 2016 came along and my firstborn had just turned six months old, and I remember whispering to him as I fed him his bottle, “You can do whatever you want to do when you grow up. You can even be the first Filipino-American President of the United States of America.”
And then I thought about what he would’ve said to me had he had the power of language, “Did you do what you wanted to do, dad?”
This imaginary question was like a mountain of bricks falling atop my head. I realized that I had no business telling my son to follow his dreams when I hadn’t even attempted to do the same.
I decided then to end what was killing me inside — another meeting, another conference call, another motherfucking business trip, another cubicle, another day at the ditch, digging and digging and digging.
I also took in account of that broke-ness that so drove me away from writing and of my status as a person of color in America, raising another person of color in America. Cliché alert: I really had nothing to lose and so much to gain. Being a person of color requires triple the work in the face of triple the hardship, and so I might as well do something about it now lest my child be in the same situation with no one to give him advice. And so I promised myself that my being broke will be temporary — and put in my notice.
I was also fortunate — because I know how difficult it is to make it in the writing game — that I have a wife who
was is beyond supportive and understanding and willing to switch roles that society has set upon all of us, that I stay at home to raise our child (now two children) and she work and take home that bread.
It’s been four years since I decided to become a write-at-home dad, and nothing’s been easy. I need to cook, wash the dishes, shop for groceries, clean the house, fold the laundry, find ways to keep the kids busy other than sit them in front of the TV, manage my time, forego some sleep, enjoy my coffee breaks, take care of my health, and all of that and more before I can even put words onto paper.
But after 15 years in the office, multi-tasking in other ways with no positive results other than my salary, I’m glad I found the courage to let it all go for this — to make art with confidence, to be creative for my own purposes, and simply, to write. Times felt like they were ending for me in January, 2016, and times are certainly ending for many now (i.e., climate change, Iran, the continued genocide of black and brown men in America, etc.) so — on the real — there is no better time to do what you want to do than right now, at this very moment.
And if I’m lucky enough to have that imaginary discussion about following your dreams with my children when they’re a little bit older, that they can do whatever they want to do, I can actually back it up and show them the way.
And to those struggling with the same issues (work vs. passion) just know that you’re not alone.
My journey is not over, it really is still the beginning, but I don’t ever regret ending my marketing
career jobs to pursue this, to be a full-time write-at-home dad.