Dad was, to be sure, far from perfect. But, if anything, he was sweet and wise, considerate and giving in his own unique ways. He was also a man of few words, preferring to listen—although only to give the chatterer enough rope to hang himself with, as he would himself say. He probably got that from his Tagalista mom, who told him, “Saan nahuhuli ang isda kun’di sa bunganga!”
He was soft-spoken, but only because he had a weak voice. Amplified, as at congressional debates, it could be forceful and stinging. Otherwise, he never tried to speak above the din, except perhaps in exchanges with his brothers, whose small voices he could match.
He never lacked for an audience, anyway: He taught law at the Far Eastern University, and, even out of the schoolroom and Congress, he had a small pack of young men listening.
They sort of pinned their own future on him. They called him Dad—and, consequently, called my mom Mom, too. They were all over the house, even inside their bedroom. They were family, and in that sense older brothers, whom I have none by blood—only a younger one.
A few of them moved over to the younger Ninoy when it became clear to them Dad didn’t intend to go further than Congress—with an eye for women, and potential scandal, he probably felt too tainted to aim higher.
I guess in that way, Dad, despite his inability to carry a tune, reminded me of Frank Sinatra. He had the same effect on women, and I mean no disrespect. He exuded the same cool, quiet air of dominance over his own rat pack, made up of journalists and columnists. By some eerie coincidence, Frank’s and Dad’s firstborn were both daughters and born on the same year. Frank’s big hit song, “Nancy,” was dedicated to her, and Dad, in his own way, ever the great “quoter” of verses wrote—typed, in fact—one on my baby picture:
“Thou straggler into loving arms
Young climber up of knees
When I forget thy thousand ways
Then life and all shall cease”
He had his own father’s facility for saying things aptly and elegantly, and many times he would pull out from memory just the perfect phrase or quotation for the occasion.
Driving along Manila one day, he noticed the new streetlights placed by then Mayor Lito Atienza. He turned to me and, trying not to laugh until he could finish what he wanted to say, said, “If Lolo had seen those lampposts, I can almost hear him say, “Hay gustos que merecen palos!” (There are personal tastes that deserve whacking!)
When I listen to Sinatra, I can almost feel his heartaches. When my own came, I appreciated his honest eloquence in song all the more. I never realized how much I paid attention to whatever Dad said until he was gone. I’m especially grateful he taught me the power of words.
“It’s funny,” he said, “how people can forgive and forget what you did, but not what you said.” I learned to hold back my words no matter how angry I am, because it’s true: Words have a way of sticking. That’s how love can die, and feuds can go on and on.
When I decided to confront Dad, I asked why he would still consistently deny his affairs even in the face of flesh-and-blood evidence starting to sprout out here and there.
“Why not settle here once and for all and tell her the real score?” I told him, referring to Mom.
“Do you think that’s what she is asking for?” he shot back. “Your Mommy doesn’t need my admission, she needs my denial.”
He was right. How could she not know. But Mom wasn’t about to go away, and he wasn’t about to change either. He spared her the truth in words, but continued on. She took in turn his every denial as an affirmation—he didn’t want to give her any reason to go.
He left her anyway. Ironically, she saw more of him during the separation. He visited her every day, in fact, and, when he started losing it, sometimes twice a day. After a short drive from his first visit, he’d tell my brother, Danny, his favorite sidekick, “I haven’t seen your mom for a long time, let’s go visit her.”
Danny would tell him, “We just came from there, Dad.”
“Really? Let’s go, anyway, kiddo.” And they’d drive back to Mom.
Danny told me, almost in tears from laughing, that Dad, on his visits, would never fail to sneak out of the bedroom to the kitchen to use the other landline, and soon Mom’s phone in the bedroom would ring. Mom would tell Danny, “Sagutin mo ang Daddy ’yan, tumatawag sa akin.” True enough, on the other line was Dad in a low voice, asking to speak to Mom.
The night before Mom died, she called to tell me to take care of Dad, who was coming the next day, when she would be away all day. She had a long list of things to do. She left him and all of us with finality, in 2007, three years before he himself did, in 2010, to visit, if not join, her in heaven. Dad was too sweet to go anywhere else. I had brought him to Msgr. Soc Villegas at the Edsa Shrine for confession. Perfect timing: He could no longer sin even if he wanted to, as he himself said. In Gilda Cordero’s words, “a lovable cad!” Surely there must be some celestial corner for someone like him.
While on earth, he knew how to make up for his sins, using his talent for gift-giving especially to women. And they were always accepted with general amnesty and general absolution for past and future offenses. I think I forgave him everything, when on my 18th birthday, he gave me 18 pieces of 24-carat Chinese gold coins, with 18 of the sweetest, funniest reasons for my deserving each coin. He gave me one coin more for every birthday until I reached 21 and got married.