People who know me know that I do not talk much. Even in the rare social gatherings I go to, I usually just sit quietly in one corner, or stay in one place with a small group of people I know. Listening to and observing people—not telling stories —are things I like doing.
While I normally go public about my advocacies, deal with politicians, media, and community people, I have always kept my personal life private. I rarely think that my story is of interest to anyone. The few times I talked about me and my family have always been in connection with my advocacies, always, to make a point.
Thus, this attempt to write about my father is quite difficult. Father’s Day is coming up and perhaps it is time for me to make my peace with him, even as he has been gone for many years.
I have paid my tribute to Mama, she who had a very short stint in this world, but who has remained the rock of my life. My father was mentioned in my pieces about her but always in the context of how my mother’s life evolved. This one’s about, and for, him.
But how do you talk about someone you barely knew? Papa was mostly quiet. I do not remember him telling us stories about himself, or his family. Perhaps I took after him. What I know of him came in trickles and from living with him from birth until Mama passed on when I was in sixth grade. Soon after, I went back to San Juan from Olongapo, and lived with my grandmother and aunt. From high school until college, I only saw Papa during weekends and school breaks. Even during these times, I rarely had much interaction with him as well because he was mostly out or with other people in the house.
My father’s family was originally from Pampanga but they transferred to Bicol before moving to San Juan. Like Mama’s family, Papa’s was also of working-class origins. My earliest memory of him was as a worker in an enamel factory in San Juan. I remember that he brought me with him to a Christmas party in this factory and we went home with lots of gifts.
We used to live in an urban poor community near the boundary of San Juan and Sta. Mesa, very near a river. I have this vivid image of our house being submerged in floodwater when the river overflowed due to a strong typhoon. My father, together with other neighbors, hoisted me and other kids up to another house in a higher area and which had a second floor. I do not remember being scared during that time, perhaps because my Papa was there, taking charge.
He was not the imposing figure in our family. Mama was, but we knew that he was the boss. We did not fear him, he never bossed us around. He never raised his voice at us but we knew that we were not supposed to displease him. I really cannot say why and how but we knew. Perhaps it was his silence.
Papa was not a doting father, nor was he one to express feelings. I can only remember only one time when he took me out to buy me a toy. It was a cooking set that I kept for many years. At times it felt like I knew I had a father but did not feel like I actually had one. Maybe this is a reason why I was never close to him.
Despite our poverty, my father loved the good life. He was quite friendly and would always go out with his friends or have drinking sessions with them in the house. He liked nice clothes, too and will never be caught wearing imperfectly ironed clothes. He always looked like he was going to important events.
“Pustoryoso” was an adjective that I heard people always use on him.
On hindsight, I think that my penchant for nice clothes is also from him as he would always say that people’s first impression of us would always be based on how we looked.
Oh, he had a very good singing voice. One way to know if he was home was through music. When music was on, we knew that he was around. Karaoke and videoke were not yet invented then but singing was always part of his time with friends. How I wish I got even just some of his singing skills but unfortunately, he was the only one who could sing in the family.
I only know of one instance when he raised his voice. It was during a big fight with Mama because she discovered that he had a mistress. My father’s womanizing and the effects I saw in Mama made me distance myself from him even more.
When Mama passed on, Papa, in less than a year, already took another wife. Since I lived with my grandmother, I became even more distant. I trained myself to be self-sufficient thinking that I should not rely on him or anyone else. I went to high school and college on my own. He was already busy with his other family so he rarely visited me and I did the same. It reached a point when we did not see each other for years. I charted my own life.
When I started with my own family, we would visit him maybe once in two or three years. This went on until the time that my siblings said that he was very sick. I went to help and did what could be done. I saw him a few more times before he passed on. On his grave I said, “If you see Mama, I want you to be both happy this time around.” I did not grieve. I thought that if there is an afterlife, perhaps it was time for him and Mama to be friends again.
Sometimes I wonder why I never had a real relationship with my father when he was there as I was growing up as a child. Sometimes I wonder what could have happened if I did not become distant.
My father was not a bad father. He was just distant. And now, I see things more clearly. I am accepting that he was just that. And despite all these things, I can still say that yes, I love him.
To all of you, tell your father that you love him. Happy Father’s Day!
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