I am nearing the age when my father died, and here I am figuring out how I’d cope when that time comes.
After seeing my photos on Facebook with my grandchildren, a townmate remarked he knew what I looked like as a kid but now, he added, I was beginning to look like my father.
Of course, I see that, too, in all my friends now, mostly senior citizens. In their youth, they didn’t look like their parents, but as the years go by, when we meet at reunions, I see the transition.
Friends and acquaintances—some of them hunks and movie-star material in their youth—are now reduced to drooping figures, some with a cane, others walking gingerly, as if avoiding a bad fall.
I have hazy memories of my father in my youth. In my grade school years, we used to frequent a plot of family land in the barrio where I was born and get our share of the produce from coconut and abaca plantations.
In my mind, I see my father overseeing copra and newly stripped abaca being dried in the sun. He built a modest house made of wood and bamboo in this family land by the sea. When it was blown away by a strong typhoon, we were reduced to living with aunts and uncles and survived with whatever little produce we could get from existing farm land. He studied in the same public school at the capital town I went to and I suppose that’s where he met my mother.
I see old pictures of him teaching in this and that barrio, but I suppose he never really finished a teaching course because he commuted from one job to another. Like his father whose name I carry, he had stints in politics and became a town executive when the sitting mayor was suspended over one thing or the other.
That was rather short, but images of politics in the island continue to appear in my mind.
That was the time I learned what goes on in a small-town election. I learned about votes being bought like fresh fish in the market, and of armed goons being used to intimidate voters. (At the time, in the mid-’60s to the early ’70s, the island had the reputation of Ilocos Sur, with the Singsons and Crisologos.)
The next thing I knew, my father was a casual employee in the Manila office of a congressman, and the last time he was employed, he was in the division office of DepEd near the town hall.
In the last few years of his life, I found myself visiting him at the kidney center, and with diabetes complicating his condition, I saw how he suffered.
Back in the province where he breathed his last, he constantly moaned and groaned in the dead of night. It was his body getting back at him after years of drinking bouts, a common pastime in the island.
When he passed away, I brought along my daughters and that was the last they saw of their grandfather.
I recall that it was part of his small retirement money that he used for the baptism of my youngest daughter. Indeed, he tried to show me he always cared, though I knew he didn’t have the means to make us all comfortable.
By coincidence, my only brother followed my father’s confinement at the kidney center.
When I heard my brother moan and whisper unspeakable pain in that hospital, I saw my father in him. Like my father, my only brother shared what little he had and wondered why, in my ripe old age, there is no house and car to speak of.
Looking at my father in his coffin before the funeral, I saw quiet acceptance on his face as I remembered our treks to the farm and making do with modest produce that came from the family farm land.
He left us nothing when he died, but I remembered a father who cared enough to constantly check how his two sons were doing.
I have long accepted father figures for what they are and not for what is expected of them.
Because at some point in my life, I have witnessed children at war with their fathers, siblings who didn’t show up at their father’s funeral (they discovered he kept another family) and fathers vilified for what they were not able to do in their lifetime.
On the day they poured mounds of soil on my father’s grave, I remember a person who cared in his own way.
In all likelihood, I knew why he drank a lot and why he kept quiet about many things.
Because with time and impending departure from earthly life, you come to terms with human weaknesses and why things didn’t work the way you wanted them to.
Seeing my father for the last time in that coffin, I feel acceptance and forgiveness, and inner strength for things we cannot have in this lifetime.
Whatever memories I have of my father, I am grateful for one thing. He gave us a life for which to chart the future on our own. —CONTRIBUTED