Today is Father’s Day. It is a special day for daddies all over the world. I salute them. I lost mine many years ago, and have missed him every day.
Let me tell you about Papa.
Ramon Razon y Escudero had no memories of his parents. He was an orphan before he was two, and spent a number of years at Hospicio de San Jose. He and three of his brothers learned their first letters and numbers from the nuns in the orphanage.
Not much is known about their childhood, except that when my father was about seven, a kind soul called “Doña Candida” (we never knew her last name) took them under her wing. She had her own brood of children, but genuinely welcomed them. When the older siblings became young men and started earning a living, they took over from her.
I remember Papa’s story about feeling rich when he had one centavo to buy two pieces of pan de sal for merienda. School was wherever the brothers could pay tuition. Colegio de San Juan de Letran finally took him in as an “agraciado” or charity case. A theater group regularly staged plays for the benefit of “los hermanos Razon.” By the grace of God he finished high school.
Papa went to Philippine Nautical School. At that time, young men with dreams of sailing the seven seas were paid to pursue their careers. Papa had no such illusions. His was an unavoidable financial decision. But he learned to love his profession. He rose from deck hand, to third officer, served as “agregado,” first officer and finally became a ship captain. When he reluctantly retired at 70, Papa had been a harbor pilot for a couple of decades.
My sister and I often wonder how someone with a disadvantaged childhood like his became such a wonderful human being. Where did he learn about life, about God, about character and honor? Who taught him? God bless Doña Candida. God bless the nuns at the Hospicio.
What was Papa all about?
He was a fair man. He taught us that honor is not negotiable, that respect is earned, that principles are not compromised. That character is the mark of a real man; that it was all about how one behaves when no one is looking. He abhorred any kind of prejudice and frowned on the colonial mentality of his peers. How unhappy he would be in today’s world!
Papa found joy in the smallest thing, believing that every minute of every day was a gift from the Almighty, to be opened slowly, layer by layer, savoring every moment. Wealth was not important to him. He was accustomed to having close to nothing. He was grateful to have just enough. He worried when he saw children with too much. What will become of them, he wondered.
He had a fantastic sense of humor. His wit was intelligent, challenging but never unkind. He detested self-praise and pompous politicians, and was wary of the flattery that comes with fame and fortune. He could not bear conceit or self-importance.
Papa was every inch a gentleman. I never heard him swear. He had a reverent respect for women and stood up when one entered the room, and that included his own wife.
Impeccable table manners
He had impeccable table manners and required it at his table. There were no excuses, even for the grandchildren he doted on. One look would enforce the “Cut with a knife” rule, or “Don’t speak with your mouth full.” Another quick glance checked if napkins were on laps. And yet, mealtime at home with him was always a joyous occasion.
As a father, he was strict. He thought that time was better spent at home with family, doing chores or reading, than at a party dancing until all hours. Mama was our “intercessor” when invitations came. He knew little about fashion, except to make side comments like “Did they run out of fabric?” I shudder to think what he would say of what people wear today.
My father never physically punished me. A sermon with a gentle reprimand was his way. He never hurt me.
On the other hand, I hurt him, deeply. I did the unthinkable. In reckless abandon, thinking only of myself, I assaulted everything he stood for. He was devastated.
John Ciardi, American poet and etymologist, once said, “Every parent is, at some time, the father of the unreturned prodigal, with nothing to do but keep his house open to hope.”
My father was that. Almost five years after my sudden flight, a letter from him arrived in my home in Hawaii. Without saying the words, he told me all was forgiven. There was no rebuke, not a single question, no recriminations, not a trace of bitterness in the letter. He even expressed regret over not replying to any of my letters. In his familiar, elegant handwriting, he offered his hand and his heart, and reached out to me with unconditional love.
That was Papa: a man of a few words. Very often, his silences were more eloquent than his words. He had a way about him that assured us we were loved.
When my mother died suddenly of an embolism, the light in my father’s eyes was extinguished. He spent hours alone in their bedroom, pretending to read, but there were always tears in his eyes. She was his whole life. It was 20 years before he saw her again.
My father has been gone 31 years. There has not been a day that I haven’t thought about the man whom my Almighty Father in Heaven, in His infinite wisdom and love, chose to be my father here on earth. God is good!
(Note: This article was published as “Father of the Unreturned Prodigal” in the Philippine Daily Inquirer Lifestyle Section on June 20, 2009.)