One Mom, Three Dads: Lessons on Love, Forgiveness, and Family from Mom and our Extremely “Modern Family”

“For me, love always wins—which is why I have three children with three different dads.”

This was how my mom began her speech during my sister’s wedding—tongue-in-cheek and irreverent, with the kind of wry, self-deprecating humor my siblings and I were raised with.

It was an apt opening, too, for the “wedding” we were in was one not sanctioned by either Church or State; it was a “commitment ceremony” that my sister and her female partner chose to undergo, to seal their love for and commitment to each other.

LOVE WINS. The Terol family (right) with the Garcia family at the Terol-Garcia commitment ceremony in March 2016

LOVE WINS. The Terol family (right) with the Garcia family at the Terol-Garcia commitment ceremony in March 2016

Mom was right: in our family, love always wins.

* * *

Biologically, my siblings and I are all half-siblings with a multi-cultural twist: my biological father is British, my younger sister’s biological father (whom my mom married and who gave us all his surname, Terol) is Filipino-Spanish, and our youngest brother’s biological father is Australian. Despite the genetic differences and despite the fact that none of her relationships with our fathers worked out, Mom raised us all as one tight unit. As far as we all were concerned, we are siblings who came from one womb; we were raised by one strong woman whom we will love and protect; and we will always have each other no matter what happens.

Niña with her siblings Ena (right) and Alex (top-left)

WHAT?? WE HAVE DIFFERENT DADS?? Niña with her siblings Ena (right) and Alex (top-left)

DIFFERENT DNA STRANDS FROM ONE WOMB. Ena, Niña, and Alex in their work outfits.

DIFFERENT DNA STRANDS FROM ONE WOMB. Ena, Niña, and Alex in their work outfits.

And even when we discovered that we (technically, just my sister) had a half-sister on our dad’s side (technically, just my sister’s dad, but we grew up with him as “Dad”, so this should simplify things), my mom welcomed her into our home with open arms, too. We had play dates and sleepovers, and there were times during our childhood when we kids would be happily playing in the room while our moms were chatting away in the living room like old friends.

Those early memories gave me a glimpse of the kind of woman that my mom was: magnanimous, forgiving, and very open-minded. For her, our dad’s past was really all in the past; what matters was that we kids grew up knowing each other as siblings and without any issues among us.

“None of you asked to be born this way,” Mom would say. “The adults’ issues are our issues—we should leave you kids out of it.”

* * *

In 2001, my mom had a series of mild strokes that had her (and me as her caregiver) going in and out of the hospital for weeks at a time. The reality of mortality dawned on her, and she called for a family meeting that involved everyone—including our dad’s partner at the time.

“If something happens to me, you’re going to have to learn to live with her as your dad’s partner,” Mom had told me then. “So she has to be part of the family meeting—and you have to build a relationship with her.”

It felt strange that my mom didn’t think it disloyal for us to spend time with our dad’s partner, but it also gave me a sense of relief. Throughout my college and early adult days, when I was getting really close to our dad and rebuilding a relationship with him, I also softened up on his partner and began treating her as a tita and a friend. There was girl talk and adult talk between us, and I started accepting that if our dad loved her, then we should at least get to know her, too. Knowing that this wasn’t a “sin” in my mom’s eyes lifted a huge burden on my shoulders, and allowed me to accept and love them all as human beings—and as part of a circle of love that, in the end, was going to be good for us kids, too.

The scenarios and characters have since changed, but those days taught me important lessons in openness, non-judgment, forgiveness, and compassion.

* * *

Our family has had more than its share of drama, but to me, what really defines us is how we turned a horrifying event into one of our greatest blessings ever.

In 1999, my then 16-year-old sister conceived a child out of one of the worst things that can happen to any female (and one that I wouldn’t wish on any human being, even as a joke). Our parents were outraged and heartbroken, but we did what we’ve always done in times of extreme hardship: we rallied together and made sure that my sister and her baby would feel our love and care when they needed us most.

The journey certainly hasn’t been easy. My parents lost the cases that they filed against the perpetrator; our family had to move several times in the years that followed that, to avoid being followed and harassed; and, in the meantime, we had a little girl to raise in a world that we knew was far from ideal. Through it all, my mom became my niece’s staunchest protector and her second mom.

When my niece was seven, my friends asked her who her best friend was. “My Mamang (what she calls our mom) is my best friend,” she said matter-of-factly.

At every point that my sister and my niece needed my mom, she was there. She was there when we needed to explain some of life’s toughest realities to my niece—when she finally learned about her birth history, her mom’s gender identity, and a host of other issues that must have been overwhelming for a child. My mom has been my niece’s dearest mentor and most ardent cheerleader, all the while showing us, her own children, what it means to always expand the heart’s capacity to forgive, love, and care.

Now that my niece herself is 16, we ask her what her friends think of her quirky “modern family.”

“They think we’re cool,” she says. I once asked her if she had ever been bullied because of her family background, and her answer had been, “I won’t let anybody bully me, Nini. Don’t worry.”

THIS QUIRKY FAMILY IN BALI, 2015.

THIS QUIRKY FAMILY IN BALI, 2015.

To me, THIS is my mom’s greatest victory: that our family has been able to raise a teenager with the kind of confidence and self-assuredness that can only come from a sense of security—despite all our issues and struggles. “It takes a village to raise a child,” a saying goes, and I know this to be true because of how my mom has raised us all and how, in turn, the whole family is working together to raise my niece.

* * *

“Different strokes for different folks.” This is how my mom would define her parenting style, and was her line of defense whenever I’d ask her why she’d treat me and my siblings differently. Instead of adopting the same parenting style and the same cookie-cutter methods to me and my siblings—and, now, my niece, too—my mom would always treat us as individuals and give us what she thought was best for us, irrespective of what the other family member did or had.

In hindsight, it was this respect for our own individuality that made us all the strong, driven, and independent people that we are today. Mom never lorded over us “because she was the mom.” She always gave us enough space to explore, learn, get hurt, get back up, and learn and explore all over again. She respected our individual choices and decisions, but was always there whenever we needed back up. She never said, “I told you so,” (that was most often me, the ate, saying it) but she would simply open her arms to us whenever we needed her. She is far from perfect—and it was, perhaps, her flaws, too, that forced us all to grow up sooner than later and be as independent as we could be early on in life—but she was always loving. Always.

 * * *

Our family is far from the textbook-type of family you’d be proud to introduce to your parents. We would need more footnotes and disclaimers and would probably require our own user’s guide. You’d need to be more politically correct with us, even if we’re as politically incorrect as it can get, because we’ve shattered way too many taboos. But my mother has raised us all to turn our potential weaknesses into some of our greatest strengths, and if there’s one thing you need to learn about us, it is this: we probably love more deeply, more intensely, and more loudly and expressively that most families because in here, in our family, love always, always wins.

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THE TEROLS on an impromptu workday lunch, April 2016

Date a Man for Breakfast

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Date a man for (Sunday) breakfast, and see if he keeps his word and respects your time enough to show up at 8AM–or even shortly before that–even after he stayed up late (studying and meeting deadlines) on a Saturday night.

Date a man for breakfast, and get to see him in the full light of day, with the sun shining on his face, with his laugh lines and silver strands visible, and with his every expression as transparent as the windows of the café.

Date a man for breakfast, and get to know him without the veil of alcohol, without a layer of booze-induced bravado, and without the fear that all he’s after is what’s under the breakfast table.

Date a man for breakfast, and expect nothing but good food and good conversation. Observe how he begins his day; take note of the flavors that satisfy his palate; and see if he listens fully, with his eyes aside from just his ears.

Date a man for breakfast, and be at your most natural and most unguarded, too. Order a hearty omelette instead of a healthy salad; drink hot chocolate instead of red wine; and be candid and playful and sunshiney as you’d like to be–because that’s how you are and that’s how you’d like to be seen.

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Date a man for breakfast, and you’ll soon discover if he makes you feel completely at ease–enough to share life details and family photos, random hopes and dreams, and candid ideas for your next meal together (even if you’re not sure when or how you’re ever going to see each other again).

Date a man for breakfast, at a quaint and lovely café you’re both trying for the first time. Hop on the back of his vintage motorbike and see his city through his eyes, in a way even he hasn’t seen yet before. Make a shared memory you would both like to keep, and you will soon wish you had more time for more moments that you’d like to make with him.

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And after that date, wish for a miracle, and pray, and allow serendipity to unfold.

Because if you’re lucky–extremely, extremely lucky–you’ll soon find him on a plane en route to your city, where you can make plans for more than just a breakfast date.

When that happens, don’t let that rare chance pass you by. Go out on a limb to get to know him, and you’ll soon discover that there is more to him–and more to you both–than just a breakfast date at a quiet café named Hideaway.

Let the early-morning breakfasts roll into leisurely lunches; let the afternoon walks turn into dinner talks. Take the time–really take the time–to know what else is beautiful and rare and true about the person in front of you.

You might soon discover that, more than your complementary tastes in music and movies and poetry (!), you also know a thing or two about having loved and lost and given it all; or that you share similar values at home and at work; or that you can have the most fun just staring at a volcano and making up silly stories, or playing board games that let you conquer or save the world.

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You just might find someone who holds your hand in just the right way, someone you’d love to share your joys with, someone you’re not afraid to cry with, someone who makes you believe that you can still fulfill those deeply-buried and almost-forgotten dreams– because he sees it in you and you believe in what he sees.

And yet again, you’ll find yourself wishing for more time, because you’ve found somebody who makes you unafraid to fully love again.

When that happens, wish for a miracle, pray, and allow serendipity to unfold.

Because you never know what the future will bring–you never know when you’ll be in the same physical space again–but you’ll just have to trust that everything that happens, happens for a reason. Your mere meeting was a product of serendipity, and everything else that happened after that, a miracle. Everything was unexpected; everything was a gift.

Be grateful for every moment, every memory, every word–because as fleeting as they may be, they were real and they were true, and they are now a part of you.

So my dear, date a man for breakfast–and dare to open up your day to what could lead you to the greatest discoveries of your life.

Dedicated to my beloved street name, M, from your Little Rich Girl.

~ N

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Dear 2016 Me,

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We capped off an amazing 2015—what we call our “best adult year ever, so far”—filled with love, joy, confidence, clarity (at least a little bit more), and hope. We know that the year that had passed is really just a preview of what’s to come; we know that the best years of our life are still ahead of us.

As we enter another year and carry on this journey our most fervent hopes and dreams, here are some things that I would always, always like you to remember—no matter what happens to us this year:

You are loved. After years of feeling unloved—and finally gathering the courage to walk away from a situation that made you feel less than the woman you really are—you finally saw for yourself that you are surrounded by so much love. Your family and friends became your net when you dared to jump, and you saw that the Universe never, ever let you down. You also saw what happens when you become more loving to yourself; Love becomes you, and it opens you up to some of Life’s fullest, most energy-giving, most exhilarating experiences ever. Never, ever lose that love for yourself and others; it’s what makes you, you, and it’s what will make life even more beautiful and amazing for you.🙂

You saw, too, what happens when you dare to open yourself up and let new people into your life; the Universe rewards your courage and strength by showing you facets of love and life that you hadn’t yet experienced—and that you didn’t realize were possible for you. While some of these  beautiful moments proved to be fleeting and flew by fairly quickly in 2015, know that it’s not the end—it is, in fact, only the beginning. There will be more of that in your life; you were just shown a preview of what’s possible because, now, there’s space. Now, there is room to grow and expand because there’s so much less noise and junk around you.

Honor that space by becoming your best self yet. Speaking of space, understand that this phase in your life is not meant to be rushed—no matter how impatient and frustrated we know you’re getting. Remember all these magazines and books and galleries and living spaces that you love so much? What do they all have in common? Clean, white space. Room to breathe. Room to let the eyes just wander and relax, and for the words and the objects in them to just be. THIS is what’s going on in your life right now. You’re being given space to just be, and you should honor that space and use it well by coming more and more into yourself and by just fully becoming and being your best self yet.

And you know what? Being your best self yet doesn’t always mean working out harder, doing and achieving more, or cramming even more activities into your already-rich and full life. Sometimes, it means just basking in the joy of Life itself, and knowing that you—and everything in your life right now—are enough. Repeat after me: You are enough. As you are, right here and right now. You are and have everything that you could possibly need right now; you and everything in your life are exactly where you’re meant to be right now. So sit, pause, focus on your breath, and live life a little more consciously and mindfully instead of hurrying to the next big goal.

 This is the necessary space in between words and paragraphs, the necessary line break, the necessary pause. Don’t be afraid of it, and savor it for as much and for as long as you can. (It won’t last long, trust me, and you’ll be grateful you took some time off when you could.)

And when the time comes that you are finally called to leap and take even more risks, jump as high as you can and fly! You already know what it’s like to risk; you already know the rewards of leaving your comfort zone behind and leaping into the unknown. You already have all the courage that you need to take the necessary steps and jumps; you just need to know when to jump, and toward which direction.

For this, again, you will need to be more mindful; you will need to listen; you will need to heed your intuition; and you will need to stop fear or your ego from getting in the way. Not every invitation to jump will be worth it; not everything is worth the risk. Discern well, and at the right moment, leap with your eyes fully open. The Universe will introduce you to even more sights and experiences than you ever thought were possible for you.

Never stop dreaming. You are who you are because, very early on in your life, you dared to honor the dreamer in you and live a life of active dreaming and doing. Never lose that—never lose your inner child and your inner Alice, who sees life as a Wonderland and who is absolutely, insatiably curious about everything. (Not everyone will appreciate it, but, hey, it’s your life, not theirs.) Never lose your sense of exploration and adventure, because it is what will lead you to your best, most authentic, and most fulfilling moments yet. Even when you think it’s impossible, go keep reaching for it because, no matter what happens, just the act of reaching and stretching alone will still expand your realm of possibility.

You were able to climb a mountain (albeit a small one, but it’s a start!) in 2015 and overcome many of your fears and your own self-doubts. Take that experience with you wherever you go; remember that there will be more mountains and obstacles ahead, but that you will overcome them because you can. You have the strength, the tenacity, the perseverance, and the faith to keep on going. Always, always keep the faith—no matter what life throws your way.

 Remember one of your favorite quotes when you were growing up? “The strongest steel passes through the hottest furnace.” You are world-class steel because you’ve survived the hottest furnaces in life; now use what you have to build the strongest foundations for your best life ever, and make it a life that is truly inspiring and meaningful—not just for yourself, but for others, too.

You’ve always wanted you and your life to stand for something; NOW IS YOUR TIME to start building all that, but remember that everything worth building will always take a lot of time and its equal share of sacrifice and hard, painful work. Just keep going and never, ever give up because all this will be worth it in the end. It already is.

 I love you, and the Universe does, too.

Love,

Yourself