Yesterday, a young friend sent over some delicious lengua with mushrooms, and it brought back a flood of memories about dad and my childhood. I have been missing my father this week, triggered perhaps by the circumstances we live in, by certain things going on in my life, and by the fact that Father’s Day was just around the corner.
Growing up, I always looked forward to weekends because it meant that I would be able to hang out with dad. It also meant trips to the bookstore and a delicious lunch, and my father’s undivided attention afterwards.
In the late ’70s my dad worked for a cement firm in Makati, on Salcedo Street, Legaspi Village. It’s strange how the details of one’s treasured memories stay in the brain no matter how many decades have passed.
He would work from 10 to noon, and I would hang out with his assistant outside his office. Then we would head to lunch either at the Intercon Hotel’s Jeepney coffee shop, or to Sulo at Makati Commercial Center. At Jeepney it would always be Indonesian satay for me, and at Sulo, chicken barbecue and butterscotch sundae. To this very day, each time I eat satay, it is my father I think about.
Those dishes remind me of the care and attention he would give me those Saturdays I would be with him. He would regale me with stories, and teach me life lessons I carry to this day.
My dad was a stickler for etiquette and proper decorum and he made sure I learned well. Table manners needed to be learned by heart. Sending thank-you notes for gifts received and returning calls were ingrained in my system.
Dad was the one who taught me how to read, and developed in me a lifelong passion for the written word. He made sure that this thirst for reading and knowledge was quenched by Saturday afternoon trips to the bookstore. The day would be capped with merienda at La Cibeles, then we would head home.
On Sundays I had to share dad with the rest of the family. Sunday meals were often spent in a Chinese, Spanish or Japanese restaurant. Kimpura would always be a great treat.
I learned to eat sushi at age nine because of my dad. Because he knew I loved tempura, he would often take me to tempura eat-all-you-can places. Kamameshi rice reminds me so much of my dad, as well.
Ahead of his time
Dad had a thing for dimsum and sweet and sour pork. In the late ’70s, Aberdeen Court in Makati became a favorite family haunt on Sundays. When we didn’t like to go far from home, after Mass at Santuario de San Jose, we would head to a Spanish restaurant (I think it was Alba’s), where I would eat lengua and mashed potatoes to my heart’s delight.
My mom was not the cooking type. I learned how to eat well and to tell what good food was because of my dad. I suppose he learned it from his mother, whose dishes were legendary. My dad tried to bribe my mom into cooking by getting her a top-of-the-line stove and oven that must have cost him a fortune. My mom didn’t budge. Dad gave up after that.
Dad was a man ahead of his time. He did the groceries, made sure the pantry would be fully stocked with healthy food, taught our yaya how to cook the dishes his mother used to make for them, and attended our parent-teacher meetings.
My dad always held me up to a high standard, such that if I had a B- grade in one of my subjects, I would get so sick with worry the day before report cards were released. Looking back now, I guess he only wanted me to strive for excellence. He frowned on mediocre work.
Dad’s love languages included food, gifts, acts of service and quality time. He was a man of few words, but he always wrote the most beautiful letters whenever he was away for work. I have kept those letters, and when I find myself missing him, I pull them out of safekeeping and reread them. Each time, it feels as though my father is right there, across me, his words giving me comfort as I dive through a dish that he taught me to love and enjoy.
In so many ways, I am truly my father’s daughter. And though I had him for only 16 years, the memories we made together have been enough to carry me through this lifetime. To this day, I continue to feel his love, and I know he watches over me. I hope he’s proud of the life I have made for myself, and the woman I have become.