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Day 03 – Your parents

I wish I could say that I had normal parents and a normal childhood, but the honest truth is that I only had normal parents and a normal childhood for a couple of years of anonymity in the early 1980s.

The rest of the time, I had a busy childhood full of travel and moving due to my parent's choice of careers in cinema and film. Even far away from where they started, they tried to forge their way into the American film business, but Hollywood is a different and vicious animal and back in the 1980s the climate was not ready to handle the projects that my Dad was trying to push.

But at the time of my birth, my parents were royalty in Philippine Cinema.

My Mom was an actress in the Philippines. Her father was from an aristocratic and very proud and high profile family in Madrid, Spain. He met my grandmother when he was on holiday in the Philippines, where his brothers, fresh from graduating medical school in Madrid, had gone to try and forge careers in Manila shortly after the country was liberated by the USA from 400 years of Spanish rule. My grandmother, from what I understand, was a freshly widowed native beauty of Persian and Spanish descent (remember, the PI was a Spanish colony, and at one point the Moors had conquered Spain, so there is a very well documented Persian ancestry in parts of the country) with a young son, and when he laid his eyes on her the first time he was smitten. Smitten enough to defy the will of his parents, who insisted he return to Madrid and finish law school.

Mom is the youngest child of this union, which resulted in 6 children. Three boys, three girls, all good looking. Given her genealogy it's no surprise that Mom ended up being one of the most popular actresses of her day. With her chestnut hair, fair skin, and bright brown eyes, Mom lit up the screen and the adoring public soon followed.

My Dad was a groundbreaking director in the Philippines. He met my Mom during a movie shoot in which they worked together. It's my understanding that Dad was the director, and Mom was the star. Mom was freshly separated from her first husband, whom she had my brother Richard with. Much like her parents before her, my Mom and Dad hit it off so fast that within months they were living together in a civil union (divorce was not legal in the Philippines, those darn Catholics), and three years later they had me. Eight years later they had my younger sister.

Dad's Mom was an enigma. Not much is known about her early childhood because she died at such a young age, succumbing to cancer when my Dad was only 5 years old, leaving him and his 7 siblings with their grieving father. What we do know however, from speaking to my Uncle Jack before he passed, was that when he was young, his Mom would take him to Clark Air Base in the Philippines to meet up with an American airman stationed there. Uncle Jack believes that this man was her father, because she would arrive and he was very fatherly towards her. Dad remembers his Mom as having red hair and gray eyes, and Uncle Jack said that her father was Irish and his name was John Smith. This makes searching for his genealogy difficult, because how many Irish men who served in the armed forces of the USA are named John Smith? She was born in 1907, which would have made John Smith born in the late 1800s, and remember the bit about the Philippine Islands being a former Spanish colony for 4 centuries? Well John Smith was among the American forces who helped kick out the Spaniards. According to my Dad's 5 older siblings who remember her well, she was beautiful. Very fair skinned, very fair haired, petite, but fierce as hell and a very shrewd businesswoman.

She married my Dad's father, who was a mix of Filipino, Indo-Malay, and Chinese. My Dad inherited his father's intense stare and his mother's anglo features. They married when she was about 19 or 20, and had my Uncle Jack in 1928. According to Dad, his parents were very well to do, thanks to his father coming into money and his mother's gift for running a business. By the time WWII came around and the Japanese had invaded the Philippines, they had amassed an empire of several auto body repair shops and movie theaters. Dad was born in the back of one of the movie theaters with American war planes bombing the nearby province trying to flush out the Japanese.

Shortly after the war and after her death, the family fortune dwindled but Dad had been on his own by the time he was 16, shortly after his own father passed from a heart attack on the eve of New Year's in 1960. Dad set out for America after his brothers who were in the US Navy, and then when he returned to the Philippines he set to work on bringing to life some artistic cinematic projects he had swimming around in his head.

So that's my parents and my parent's parents in a nutshell. Growing up I always thought they were kind of weird, never had time for me because they were so busy pushing projects through. Dad still did documentaries and they had their own publishing company in the early 1990s and it kept the family fed and kept my parents busy.

So if you've ever seen a photo of me and wondered, "But you don't really look Filipino", well now you all know why.