It’s one of those moments that come instantly to memory when I think about my father, who died 33 years ago; I lost him as a college freshman, seven months after he threw a grand party for my 18th birthday, complete with a waltz (daddy was a fabulous dancer).
I was graduating from high school, and after years on the honor roll, failed to finish with distinction in my senior year. There were many reasons—extracurricular work, first boyfriend, you get the drift—but none were good enough for my mother.
Talking on the phone with her then—my parents were based in Cagayan de Oro, where my father worked—she spoke of her disappointment, how she would have wanted to see me climb the stage.
My tears were already falling when my father took the phone. I heard him tell my mother, ever so gently, to back off. “Baba” —that’s Bicolano for beloved, like the Tagalog mahal—“let me ask you just one question. Did you enjoy high school?”
“Yes, I did.”
I could almost touch the pride in his voice. “Then, that’s all that’s important. You’re still my First Honor.”
You see, my father had a penchant for making everything right in my world, for the 18 years that he was in my life, and even now that he has been gone for most of my adult years.
Welcome to the world of the Daddy’s Girl—a world full of pitfalls and heartaches, especially if your father dies too soon, but also crammed with the benefits of being almost (although not quite) spoiled rotten with lovely memories.
Spoiled brat material
Let me tell you about us. Daddy’s Girls are usually only daughters, whether a first-born or a bunso. I was prime spoiled brat material, having been born the youngest and the only girl after five brothers, seven years after the last boy. Daddy had picked a name for me as early as Son. No. 2, so much so that he gave the name away by Son. No. 4. Thus, I have a godsister called Yael, which ended up being just my second name when I finally deigned to show up.
Daddy’s Girls know how much we are loved. Both my parents would regale me with stories of how I opened my eyes as soon as the gunk had been wiped off me; how I was the apple of my father’s eye; how he once almost killed a yaya he caught shoving food carelessly into my face, because she was watching TV and not paying attention.
Daddy’s Girls have charismatic fathers—or at least, we always think we do. Daddy was, after all, a military man, who retired a lieutenant colonel in the Philippine Army. Romeo Gillego Honasan was born to a fisherman from Bulan, Sorsogon, grew up a skinny mestizo, and overcame a weak heart to join the Philippine Military Academy’s Class of 1943.
The class had to be let out of school early to fight in the war; my father survived the Bataan Death March as a young man, befriending Japanese guards so that his mother could smuggle food into the concentration camp while the “friendly” sentry on duty could look the other way—and dozens of prisoners could eat.
He eventually became a guerrilla, and later, an aide-de-camp to President Ramon Magsaysay; he was supposed to be on the plane that crashed and killed the president, but begged off because my mom was set to give birth to my older brother Mel. He later carted my mother and all five boys to Taipei, Taiwan, as the country’s military attaché; I was born after they came home, at the end of his assignment.
It helped that Daddy was big, tall, handsome, smart, very funny—he made my mom’s conservative sisters turn pink with laughter—and was always the life of the party.
I adored him, with every fiber of my being.
Make no mistake about it: Daddy’s Girls revel in how we can get away with murder. Daddy raised his sons like soldiers. My brothers were made to go on night patrols around the house, and were never spared whippings with Daddy’s leather belt. I was a different story, though.
Daddy never laid a hand on me. I tagged along everywhere—movies, parties, trips abroad. When my father worked for a logging firm in Jakarta when I was in third grade, I came along and experienced life in a different country—and my first co-educational school—for a year.
It was a time that opened my mind immensely, and developed my love for reading, as Daddy and I frequented bookstores, and he pretty much gave me my reading list—including a very helpful “Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex but Were Afraid to Ask,” by Dr. David Reuben, first published in 1969, which he nonchalantly left in my room to find.
Daddy’s Girls receive a lot of affirmation and support from the first man in their life.
When I became crazy about “Charlie’s Angels” in elementary school, he bought me a skateboard like Farrah Fawcett’s. When I started going to parties, I remember a trip to Rustan’s to buy me a bottle of Halston’s new perfume—not cheap, but he figured I had to have it. I can still hear his voice when I was learning to drive, and he was coaching me: “Take your alley! Drive defensively.” And always, at the end of a spin: “Nice driving, baba.”
Daddy’s Girls often—though not always—seem to have more difficult relationships with our mothers. It was only recently, after many years of trying to figure it out, that I understood why I saw him as being on my team, while my mom was on the other side.
With his only daughter, he could stop being the disciplinarian, and could be all warmth and cuddles, even if I wasn’t spared the occasional admonition (only occasional, because I was a good girl—no, really). He left it to my mom to keep me in check, which she did—while automatically giving my brothers a very long leash.
I’m not saying that I was always at loggerheads with my mother, and the concern was mutually exclusive. Mama and I spent a lot of time together, and Daddy was very proud of his sons; the first time I ever heard him sob in my life was when my brother Mel died at age 19 from a fraternity hazing in 1976. I remember thinking so fiercely then, at age 12, that I would have done anything to make my father’s pain go away.
Still, it has to be said: Daddy always seemed to get me, and the fact that I was not conventionally feminine or shy or proper—so different from my mother. That’s how it was—and that’s why, when my first boyfriend broke my heart, I told Daddy first, and left it to him to explain things to Mama.
Daddy’s Girls who lost their fathers early have gone through hell—and hopefully survived, albeit with some irreparable damage. Malas ko, it was my back-up who died early. Daddy and Mama left Manila for Cagayan de Oro one morning in April 1983; two days later, we followed, and my brothers had to drag me kicking and screaming to see Daddy’s wooden coffin, where he lay dead from a cerebral aneurysm at age 61.
Daddy had survived two heart attacks—one, he liked to say, because he had to fly back to Jakarta from the field for my birthday, and was thus nearer to a hospital when it happened.
Always, I was his lucky charm, his saving grace. I almost felt guilty then that I hadn’t been there to keep him alive.
I once read a US study on how men were more likely to develop autonomy because of the death of a father, while women tended to become depressive. Then again, I also read another study that said girls who were “well-fathered” tended to do okay in life, even if that father was lost early.
I like to think I’m an example of both. I have had to live with clinical depression, and I believe one reason I remain single is because Daddy set a pretty high benchmark for looking after his baba. Then again, my father loved me enough for many, many lifetimes—and taught me well so that, as an adult, I can love myself.
A father’s death is a loss you never get over; I have simply learned to live with it, despite it and because of it.
One of my greatest regrets is that I never got to enjoy completely adult conversations with my father. Who knows? Maybe I would have seen more of his flaws if we had been able to interact as equals, two adults with different opinions.
Still, I am glad that Daddy remains on his well-deserved pedestal. Of course he wasn’t perfect, although honestly, I barely noticed. Many women I know had bad fathers, absentee fathers, fathers who were not strong or supportive or loving, and my heart goes out to them—even if it is a situation I am unable to imagine.
And then there are women like me—women who have lost the first man in their lives, a man who still left us with enough strength to find ourselves. Women who were Daddy’s Girls, and who have been both broken and immeasurably blessed because of it.
Love your Daddies while they’re still with you, girls. I will always miss mine.