The truth is, sometimes, we are sad.

We may fill the wall with the cheesiest love notes and open letters than can make you swoon and/or cringe. But in reality, love is not always enough. Screw The Eagles for making us believe that it can keep you alive.

We may write about how amazing autism is and how much we love our kids to bits, but there are times we wish they were regular, or did not exist at all. Sorry not sorry. They are a handful is an understatement. Parenting a child with autism is thankless, so just imagine having two.

We may proudly paint the ‘gram with photos of sumptuous and colorful dishes. But most days, we are sick of Southeast Asian food. And even if we cook for a living, we are oftentimes too drained to cook for ourselves and our kids, and we irresponsibly feed them with junk and drive thru.

The truth is, most of the time, we are sad.

That Facebook-perfect power couple that is BJ and JD, who is full of love and passion and determination, actually go through the loudest and longest fights, we probably can qualify for a world record. We are tired. And we’re sorry that we are not the same people you knew before we got together. We’re now one of those used-to-be-friends to our individual circles who got into a relationship and seemingly forgot about the rest of the gang.

We rarely join get-togethers and parties and most of you have stopped inviting us a long time ago. We understand. But it’s not because we are too busy in love. We are just tired. Too tired that even bathing and picking clothes for a gathering is hard labor. We’d rather sleep.

We don’t do birthday greetings even if you are a bestest best friend and the social media endlessly reminds us to ‘let you know we are thinking about you’ on your special day. We can’t join your kid’s birthday party too, because autism.

We have packed away our backpacks, inflatable U-pillows, and airline-approved toiletry bottles for good because we probably can no longer ride a plane and travel through the ends of the earth and be a free spirit anymore. Imagine the pain of a wanderlust who lost all hopes of travelling again. Because reality has already bitten off a mouthful from our hearts, and we bleed at the thought of not backpacking ever again, because we are only our true selves when we travel.

The truth is, we are sad.

We are not okay. But I also realize that it’s okay not to be.

We still hold on, much stronger than we ever did in eight years. And we hug or kids tighter and promise to never give up on them. And we keep going. You’d think we are crazy and we probably are, but no one is perfect. No couple is perfect. No family is perfect. And I know that we will get past this lingering sadness sooner or later.



Eight seconds, more or less – from the moment I saw you at that almost too familiar office floor, wearing that bright yellow shirt, and an even brighter smile, on the other side of the country. That’s how long it took for my breath to be taken away. Your stoic, cynical self back then would have smirked at the idea, but it was love at first sight. They say that when you finally find the love of your life, your entire timeline becomes simplified into two parts: before you met him/her and after. And on that very moment, I knew I was finally at after.

Eight days later, I was in cloud nine, in case it wasn’t obvious yet. It’s either Othello’s principle or what they show in those sappy rom-coms was true. After the falling-in-love scene, everything around me seemed to agree to what I felt. The FM radio on my morning drive and my favorite hopeless-romantic officemate played the same song you sang a few nights ago. I realized that Ayala Avenue actually had a few trees and other colors, after years of working there and only seeing white and grey monoliths. And food, even the cheap pares in JolliJeep and the squid balls outside the office building, was more flavorful.

Eight weeks from then, on a warm summer midnight at an old taxi stand, my stomach full of popcorn and nachos and butterflies, you kissed me and said ‘I love you too’.

Eight months was Manila. We spent our first new year together. Our love was burning bright like fireworks on new year’s eve; and we were cheesier than the hallmark cards we gave each other on our first Christmas. The travel bug has bitten us and we had plans almost every week, from quick joyrides within the confines of Cebu, to flights and boat rides conquering the rest of the country. We have also began our fascination of backpacking outside the country (and we will in the following year), not realizing that it would, much later on, be the foundation of our dream restaurant. Yes, we also shared a deep passion for food. I knew right then that I wanted to marry you.

Eight years together, six years married. We work together at this year-long baby step to that still unaccomplished restaurant, and there are times that we absolutely hate working together. The FM radio and now Spotify mostly plays sad tearjerkers, and the colorful food market that we now call our office is occasionally monochromatic. Our stomachs are sometimes only full with coffee and regret, and our fights are sometimes loud like fireworks. Our backpacking trail is on a long, indefinite break and with our kids now in the picture, we probably can only continue the rest of the journey through Food Network and travel shows.

Life is painfully hard and, at times, miserable. We lose patience at the smallest of things. We argue over reality and ideals. In eight years, we have grown both better and worse in many different aspects. We have changed. You and I are no longer you and I eight years ago. And the sadness sometimes blinds us and we search for rainbows and silver linings, not realizing that sooner or later, they will come. Because eight years ago, you were a lost soul and I was a lonely nerd, yet we found a silver lining in each other.

Dear 40-Year Old JD,

I write to you from ten years in the past.

It’s almost Christmas. Did you decorate the house this year? I sure hope you did, and that you have done so for the past few years. Did you finally make that Christmas tree using different-sized nonlas, or have you outgrown Southeast Asia? How tall is the tree? How much gifts are underneath? However it was done, I’m sure BJ took care of all the details. I bet it’s a standout!

Have you travelled the world? Do you still eat on the streets? I hope we did not become too good for streetfood and only eat fancy. How were the brownies in Amsterdam? Did you climb the Andes and see Machu Picchu? Have you proven the existence of the fountain of youth in Okinawa? Did you follow the Gringo Trail, the Silk Road, Route 66 and, ultimately, have you finished off the cities in the Banana Pancake Trail?

Speaking of the trail, did the restaurant make it? Is it restaurants now? Did you use monobloc stools and stainless tables like the ones in Hanoi? Did you remember to enclose the original burlap banner in glass and place it at the wall of the dining area? Are we still using the same decade-seasoned woks? Did BJ finally agree to use our old travel pictures to decorate, disregarding how chubby we were on our temple selfies?

Or did we not make it at all? Did you go back to teaching? Did you start a different business?

How is Sam and Jared? How is BJ? Is the relationship still going strong or have you two already divorced (assuming that’s already legal in our country at your time)?

I’m sorry for bombarding you with questions. I guess that’s all I have right now. I’m sure 40-year old us would have bigger problems and you’d probably have questions that I can never answer in return. But I write to you to remind you of how we were in 2016, in the hopes that you can pick up something from it.

If the Christmas decor is not as great as you wanted it to be, I hope you look back at 2016 when we didn’t decorate our house. In fact, we have not done Christmas decorations since 2014. In my time, life was faster than us, and we can barely catch up. But we never lose our spirit.

If you missed a few trips in the past decade, I hope you remember how we cannot even afford a nearby vacation, moreso a plane ticket to Yangon. And even if we did, we wouldn’t have any funds for food and accommodation. But we never lose our passion and wanderlust.

If the restaurant is not doing well or worse, failed, do not forget how much sleepless food bazaar nights we had to endure; how this particular December drained all our physical, mental, and emotional strength; how breaking even does not compensate; and how much pride we had to swallow. We did all that just to keep it running. We never lose hope.

If Sam still eats with one foot atop the dining chair, think of the time when Sam can hardly feed herself without supervision. If Jared still cannot express himself in ‘regular’ language, remember the time when he cannot utter anything at all, word or non-word. We should relentlessly help them improve. We never lose patience.

And if you and BJ are falling, or have fallen apart, do not forget how we almost fought everyday in 2016; how we had extended arguments in the car over driving routes and where to have breakfast; how we hurt each other. But most importantly, how we win each other back. Every. Single. Time. Because we never, never stop loving each other.

You see, if you think things are not going well, don’t forget to do what we do best: keep going. When things go wrong, remember 2016. When we learned that Christmas is ‘truly in our hearts‘. When we learned to travel without leaving home. When we learned how to start a business. When we learned to be a better parent. When we learned to forgive. Because we never stop learning.

With hope from the past,


P.S. It’s her birthday again. I hope you have been doing better at her birthdays the past decade. We always forget the cake in my time.

I Sometimes Wish My Children Did Not Have Autism


Before I had Sam, I promised myself that I would be the cool father that every daughter brags about to their besties. I would be strict, but I would embrace all the nail polish, bedazzles, and her crushes. I would ground her at times, but I would take her to a Justin Bieber concert if I had to. I would be the man who will scare away the boys, but will keep a right amount of distance when I see that she is falling in love for the first time.

But Sam has autism. She cannot speak our language and cannot tell her friends about me. She probably would hate the feeling of having nail polish put on, and I know for a fact that she hates wearing anything that has fake jewels sewn in. She doesn’t have friends or crushes, and there are times that she hates being with people including, and sometimes most especially, me.

Before I had Jared, I promised myself that I would re-learn how to play basketball. I would teach him how to play the guitar. I would tell him the secrets to our recipes. I will climb mountains with him. I would tell him how I fell in love with his mother when he gets his heart broken for the first time.

But Jared has autism. He cannot grasp the mechanics of group activities like sports. His fingers would probably hate the feeling of plucking or strumming the guitar strings. He does not always focus when I talk to him. He also hates long walks and would most probably want to piggy back halfway through a mountain trek.

They need more attention than most kids. They are lazy when they have tasks; but too rowdy when they need to behave. They have their own language. They have to follow a strict routine. Simply put, they are high maintenance.

Which is why I sometimes wish my kids did not have autism.

Not because they are not good enough for me.

But because I feel I can never be good enough for them.

All those things I promised myself are not even an inch of what my kids really need. The time I spend with them is never enough. Everything I earn to sustain their lives is not enough. All the sacrifices that I think I made are not enough.

I am not enough.

But they still love me back.

They are the epitome of unconditional love. They are better at expressing love even with the lack of words. Unlike most of us, they do not think bad for and of others. They do not know sin and have an automatic pass to heaven. They love me no matter what. Even if I haven’t taken a bath in days, or if I did not buy the toys they want. Even if at times I cannot afford to send them to school. Even if I force them to eat vegetables.

Then I remind myself: my kids love me so much they would never wish I was someone else. So I should work harder to deserve the love that they unconditionally give.

Opening Day


He ordered one Pad Thai for his wife.

He was giving us a curious look. Possibly even slightly cautious. I had that feeling that he and she might be that customer. Someone who’s been there, has tried the real thing, and who would be very critical about how ours tasted.

I knew that that customer will show up one of these days. I just didn’t expect it on opening day.

I sincerely hoped that his wife (and him, if they were sharing) would like it. If not for the flavours at least for the amount of effort we have put in that plate.

They did not know how much blood, sweat, and tears went into our recipe. Not literally, of course. That would be just gross. What I meant was my heart and soul was in that dish. Okay, that didn’t sound any better. Whatever. You know what I mean.

They didn’t know that just a few weeks ago I was working for the most unpleasant (read: shitty) boss I have had. And I have had several in the past decade which I was able to stomach, so that says a lot.

They didn’t know that I quit my job, and it’s probably a bad idea because I am sending two children to SPED and therapy.

They didn’t know how much sleepless days and nights we spent, making plate after plate of Pad Thai just to get the best taste possible.

They didn’t know how much visits we made to Carbon market and more than half a dozen grocery stores just to make sure our ingredients are consistent. No substitutions.

They didn’t know how much arguments my wife and I had in planning, costing, cooking, and aesthetics.

They didn’t know that I put all my cards in this, and there is no looking back. I am all spent in the corporate world.

At least for those reasons if not for the flavours. But they didn’t know.

Moments later, the couple approached me. The Pad Thai was already sold out and I was all ears.

He was asking for a business card and I didn’t have one. She was asking where our restaurant is located and we didn’t have one. Yet. I told them that this is the first time we took a shot at this. That we’re just well-travelled home cooks.

And then she handed me her card.


She told me how much she loved the Pad Thai and that it tastes like the ones in Thailand.

She was satisfied, even if she didn’t know the back story. She genuinely liked it and would even want to write about it.

For a few seconds it all came back to me. The stressful white collar job I had and having to hold on to it for my special kids. The lack of sleep. The wasted noodles and shrimps. The grocery and market hopping. The arguments with my wife. The arguments with myself. The big question of “Am I doing the right thing for myself and my family?”

Confirmation. One more thing they didn’t know is that they gave it to me at a time I needed it the most.

I thanked them with all my heart. I didn’t know how my face looked like but I was tired and sweaty and stressed. I imagined Will Smith’s expression in the last scene of The Pursuit of Happyness. He was lost for words. He was tired. He was laughing and crying. I probably looked like that. I was happy. I am happy. No big words like jovial or copacetic, just happy. But in its truest and purest sense.

I think I’m on the right track.

I Love You

When was the last time you said “I love you”?

I didn’t mean showing or expressing love, but literally saying it. Verbally. Words. From your mouth.

They say actions speak louder than words. Yes, I will always agree. But I know of many people – I included – who would be willing to pay unreal amounts just to hear those words. They will sell their soul to the devil if they have to.

Imagine yourself in love with someone who can somehow show it, but cannot say it. That is how many families with children with autism feel.

Sam would occasionally give us a hug. And immediately looks for us and holds our hand when it gets dark. Jared would occasionally give us a kiss, with both his palms holding our cheeks. He would also run to us first if something hurts. They would sometimes ‘adorably’ shove cereal in our mouths, which would have been completely annoying if it was from someone else.


Yes, they probably love us and couldn’t live without us. But we have not, and probably will never hear them say those words. If someone approaches me someday and tells me he can make my children speak, my soul will be on sale.

Being regular people, we take many ‘small’ things for granted. We do not see the beauty of being able to think, speak, read, or write. We do not appreciate the fact that we could attend a rock concert, a street party, or even just a stroll in the mall, without being overwhelmed by the crowd, noise, lights, and colors. We don’t know that being able to brush our teeth will be considered a feat for some. We don’t even have a clue how our being potty-trained is much coveted by parents who has children with autism.

These, and more, are daily things that we take for granted. They seem too ‘normal’ to be noticed. But there are people out there who would love to see a tenth of what we are capable of doing.

If you are capable of reading this, good for you. If you are blessed with thought, be thankful. If you have the gift of speech, use it. I love you. Mahal kita. Say it. Because actions speak louder than words, but words still speak volumes.

So, when was the last time you said “I love you?”



The Othello Principle tells us that the eye sees what the mind looks for.

I always give it the benefit of the doubt when Sam or Jared does something worth being called a milestone. Like when Jared says “wower” when he sees a flower. I celebrate deep inside, feeling hopeful that he will learn to speak sooner than later. But I almost immediately rain on my own parade, thinking that it could just have been one of the tens of non-words that he has in his vocabulary.

I always ask myself if what I just saw or heard was real or if my mind was just making things up to make me feel good.

Earlier today, we left Jared alone (within eye and earshot) with his alphabet toys. It wasn’t five minutes later when I saw him “spell” something on the table. It said C-A-R. I was just about to jump for joy, but stopped for a second. Othello Principle. “This is just an accident“, I told myself. I waited for him to add random letters to the queue. Children with autism like lining their toys up, and I have seen Jared do it several times.

But he didn’t.

He left the letters there and continued playing with the rest of the alphabet. Still not convinced, I returned the letters back to the pile.

Then my wife heard it. He softly pronounced “car“. She turned to look at Jared.

Holding the same three letters, and carefully placing them alongside each other on the table, we confirmed.

Jared now knows how to spell (and pronounce) CAR!