She scoops up another spoonful of rice and pops a mini hotdog in her mouth. It’s breakfast time, and the three of us hunch over the table, shoveling spoonfuls of rice and greasy little red nuggets of goodness into our mouths. The baby is napping in the duyan made from a sheet and tied between the two windows in the corner. Something about being cocooned and rocking in the cool breeze from the window puts him to sleep every time.
“Are you going to dress up?”
I mockingly glared in Zoey’s direction and pretended to think carefully about it.
“Ah, no. That’s not gonna happen.”
With a grin, Zoey points at my full stomach.
“You could be a fat zombie!”
I chuckled and pretended to be angry.
“Why do I have to be a fat zombie? Why not just a zombie?”
Zoey giggles and pokes my chubby midsection.
“Because you’re fat, Tatay!”
Zoey always takes the opportunity to point out my bulging waistline. I don’t get upset, but there was a time when I would have sulked for hours is she had said that to my face.
“You know it’s not nice to make fun of people?”
She grinned and took my hand. I hugged her close, and she kissed me on the cheek.
“I know, but you’re my Tatay, and I love your fat!”
I smiled but stared at her over the rim of my glasses.
“You don’t think I should lose weight?”
“Never. I love you the way you are!”
How could I argue with that?
Is it weird I don’t get upset when my daughter calls me fat, but I would if anyone else did?
I pay careful attention to how Zoey treats others. In my house, it’s not okay to tease and bully people who are different. When she first started mentioning my fat, I worried she might think it’s okay to do this to others — like other kids in her class.
I don’t find the word “fat” to be offensive, but I made sure she knows it’s not okay to make jokes about people who are bigger than her. I’ve also had the racism discussion when she commented on a classmate who was darker than her. I’ve even talked to her about being a strong woman and never relying on a man to get what she wants in life, but also that there is nothing wrong with being a stay-at-home parent.
She is at a point where she asks questions about everything and anything, and I don’t leave it up to YouTube to teach my child right from wrong. My wife, Flora, admires my patience because I will sit for hours and answer her constant questions rapid-fire.
I’ve even answered her 7-year-old questions about sex, much to the embarrassment of my traditional wife. She is torn, even if the questions are innocent right now. I do make it a point to tell her not to talk to other kids at her Christian school because she could get in trouble. Christians are not known for being honest with their kids, especially at her school, where they make it a point to tell the kids that Santa is not real but make them pray to their imaginary father in the sky.
And even though I don’t believe in a god or have any religion, I never pushed my views on Zoey, but let her decide for herself. She is taking her time, figuring out what she believes, but she did whisper to me the other night that no matter what her teachers say, she believes in Santa, but not God.
Zoey is much more knowledgeable and intelligent than I was at her age, so I’m glad I’ve been so honest with her. I firmly believe that we should talk about everything no matter how difficult or embarrassing the topic.
A few months ago, the conversation that I’d been dreading for years happened because, as we were heading home from the grocery store, she asked why I hurt myself. The scars on my arms are very noticeable, and there is no way to cover them up no matter how shameful they make me feel. She’s known about them for a long time, but I guess she never dared to ask me why.
I stuttered for a few minutes but knew that I couldn’t keep her innocent forever. Another part of me wanted to share because I didn’t want her to fall into the same pain-for-pain trap. I made sure she understood that although I had done it, there were far better ways to cope with mental pain than causing yourself physical pain.
It was a good time to talk to her about mental illness, and let her know that no matter what thoughts and feelings she has, she can talk to us and we will understand. She is very open with me, especially, but like many little kids, she still doesn’t like to tell me when she gets in trouble in school.
So, when she started calling me fat, I didn’t get upset. I didn’t get hurt because I knew how she felt about me, and I knew she knew that it wasn’t okay to make fun of people.
I didn’t sense that she was making fun of me but simply stating a fact, and she felt like since I was always so honest, she could be as well.
If I was going to foster an environment of honesty and transparency, I couldn’t get upset and scream at her for telling the truth.
As long as I’m not upset, and she knows that not everyone is as honest, and it’s not right to laugh and make fun of anyone for their differences.
So the next time she calls me fat, I’ll laugh and hug her, because she is doing what I want her to do.
She is just being honest.