Update, Deconstruction and Answers

June, 2014

Warning: Spoiler Alert

I was stopped on the street recently by someone who recognized me. She gushed about how much she loved the movie and how brave it was for me to put it all out there. It still feels very uncomfortable that strangers know something so personal about me.

It has been several months since Father Figures premiered on Knowledge Network and TVO in Canada. It has also been shown in Sweden, The Netherlands and Israel and soon to be Finland, Poland and Australia.With every showing, a variety of questions, comments, and judgements comes forward. The majority of them are overwhelmingly positive, but there are a few very stubborn and vocal posters who hide behind fake names to denounce the documentary, who I am and the choices I made.

I have a new method of sorting my emails and reading the comments. Real names are heartfelt; fake names are set out to preach the rights of men to selfishly take what they want and stand by the belief that daughters must honour and obey their fathers at all costs.

I did struggle at first with the negative comments, but then watched as they progressed into utter nonsense and a complete lack of willingness to hear any reasoning. I then understood that “they” are the reason we needed to make our film — so that we could have a discussion and raise awareness. The issues raised in Father Figures are not black and white, nor are unique. We showed a deeply personal story to allow a healthy discussion on the topics.

The documentary is a POV (Point of View) style documentary. It is intended to be my feelings on the events of the film. There are plenty of non-POV documentaries on these Western/Asian relationships out there. What we were doing as filmmakers was giving a glimpse into the real implications of this type of romance.

I must begin by stating that the experiences I had, and the choices I made, were not easy. I’ve spent the past year analyzing the events, both on my own accord, and sometimes pushed by viewers’ comments. What I keep coming back to is that this documentary is my own truth. Not everyone would take the same path, nor has anyone else lived my life.

I made some painful decisions that are difficult to keep reanalyzing, but I am proud of our documentary and what we did. I’m not willing to accept the judgement of those who see everything black and white and post those icky nasty comments on message boards.

What I am willing to do is fill in some blanks. I’m also willing to try and answer some of the viewer questions and requests for updates.

Dale and Girlie are no longer in a relationship. They remain friends, but no longer live together. Girlie’s family also no longer live with Dale.  And they haven’t given me a reason for the breakup. Their wedding wasn’t recognized in the Philippines because of Girlie’s age, so they are technically only married in the country of Hong Kong, where they got their marriage licence. I highly doubt that they will get a Hong Kong divorce.

I don’t see their breakup as a validation of any of the issues in the documentary.

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I do occasionally communicate with Dale. I acknowledge that I have responsibilities as his daughter, but the family bond has been severed — on both sides. I haven’t been able to call him Dad since the meeting in Bali.

A fair amount of viewers have asked why we didn’t explain what my childhood with my father was like.  We tried to reflect it in the current relationship with my father and I. How we acted together and how we weren’t quite comfortable. What you see in the documentary is exactly  the way we’ve been our entire lives.

I have three siblings. We grew up poor and because we moved almost every year, we were fairly isolated. I never really understood my father, but I always looked up to him. Yes, he was away a fair amount of time, but when we were all together, it could be only described as dysfunctional. My dad always had big dreams that I would get swept up with. Dreams that would have us “millionaires” instead of looking for bread money in the bottom of piggy banks — dreams that when they never came to fruition would be crushing.

Because of the isolation, we really didn’t know how other families were like. My benchmark was the Waltons, but even at the age of seven , I didn’t think that anyone could possibly be that happy.

I’m still figuring out what my relationship with my father was, but see signs of the awkwardness in the documentary. On the surface it seems fine, but it wasn’t until I completed the documentary that I was able to understand that it wasn’t a typical father/daughter relationship.

I am the only child of Dale’s who was in contact with him when the documentary started filming, and nothing has changed since.

The afternoon where I confronted my father about Girlie’s age is the only time I’ve yelled at him. That day, I went to see my dad fully expecting that he would agree to the more reasonable solution. I asked him to stop sleeping in the same bed as Girlie. I was supportive of them continuing a platonic relationship. I was shocked by his choice.

I had been told by locals that this marriage would be devastating for Girlie in the community. In the Philippines, there is no such thing as divorce. I had also been told that once she became a widow, no Filipino man would have her. She would have to find another on-line relationship.

My anger was also fuelled by the fact that I believed Dale had been lying to me for over a year.  I couldn’t understand how he could care so little about me and that he would knowingly do that.  The realization that I meant nothing to my father was a portion of my crumbling.

The final piece was that I could not accept what he was doing to Girlie. In online comments responding to Father Figures, people say that they are both consenting adults, so they should be able to do whatever they choose. I’d challenge anyone posting those comments to go shopping for a day with a 17-year-old girl and tell me how they are totally prepared to make life-long decisions. They have a hard time picking out and committing to a sweater.

Even in a different culture, Girlie has an entire future ahead of her. Could any middle-age adult look back and think that any choices they made as teenagers would be great long-term goals?

My daughter, Tessa, is the same age as Girlie. I think Tessa is smart and talented, but she still needs real experiences to truly guide her to her path in life. Living with a teenager, I’m fully aware of how emotionally young they are. I saw the same qualities in Girlie as I had in Tessa.

I kept thinking that Girlie would never have a chance to truly fall in love. I want the same things for my own daughter as I do for Girlie.

I deeply believe that all women should have the opportunities to chose whom they marry, have a career and choose their own future. I think it is this newfangled idea called “feminism” and it shouldn’t be only intended for North American women.

I assume I adopted some of my values from my parents. I grew up with inappropriate comments regarding women’s bodies, but I also grew up knowing that women could do anything a man could do. My Father taught me how to fix an engine and start a semi truck so that I would have equal skills to a man. The discrepancy of what my father said to me and how he acted towards Girlie was dismaying.

The man I believed was my father did not exist. I made up a happy, shiny image and chose to ignore what was so obvious: that my father was a Western man with entitlement issues. I kept asking myself how a man who had daughters and granddaughters could act this way? OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Now, I’m thinking that I got my values from my mother.

I didn’t set out to damage my father. And I still care for him and Girlie. I never could have imagined the turn of events or my reaction to them. The documentary was intended to be a quirky look at an interesting coupling. My father is a pretty big character, and that was the documentary Gillian Hrankowski and I proposed. By the time it turned, we were already buckled in and speeding down the highway. It was too late to turn back, and by then we realized how prevalent these relationships were and how important it was to raise a healthy discussion.

My Mother, Karen, did die in a house fire a few years before Dale started his relationship with Girlie. They were married for over 30 years. And I really miss her.

The last blank to fill in is about our team. Father Figures was not a solo project. The documentary was put together with an editor, Tanya Marinak, and Gillian Hrankowski and I were Directing, Producing and Writing.

This is what happened to me and my father, but it was the Father Figures Team are who crafted the documentary. Together, we told one story of Western entitlement. As a team, there is no opportunity for a personal vendetta.

What I did give to the documentary is true honesty. But a one-hour documentary is never going to answer all questions. It is simply a opening for a vibrant discussion and every viewer will connect with the documentary a different way.

As for me, the last line of the documentary really does sum up my present life. I have been able to let go of that fantasy image of whom my father might be. I am finding spiritual happiness with my friends and family. And I am still working on getting a thicker skin for all the nasty comments.