My Tatay Nemie was a man of few words. He was not expressive, and words of affirmation were never his strong suit. In the odd times, he blurted out a joke or two. He rarely talked about his emotions, and he always avoided serious conversations. In fact, he would much rather poke fun at us, his family, than give compliments or share his feelings even when apt.
But that was just how he was. And we loved him for who he was. We loved how he never ceased to make those around him laugh. We loved how he could be the life of the party when the occasion called for it. We loved his appetite—for both food and life. We loved his tenacity.
What Tatay Nemie lacked in expression, he made up for in action. He was one of the most hardworking people I knew. He was never late nor absent from work, and he received awards for his exemplary performance.
He didn’t finish his studies, but that didn’t stop him from leading an inspiring life. For the longest time, he was our family’s breadwinner and, according to my Nanay Tessie, he was such a reliable partner and provider.
He dedicated his life to making sure all four of us siblings earned a college degree—something both he and Nanay failed to attain due to systemic barriers of poverty—in order to increase our chances for a better future.
Our life together was simple yet complete and happy. Tatay seldom said he loved us, but we didn’t need to hear him say it. We felt it. His acts of service said it all.
In the summer of 2006, Nanay asked me if I was gay. I said I was, and she cried out of frustration, fear and sadness. We both did.
Tatay was at work at the time, so Nanay told him about our conversation when he arrived home. She told me how Tatay reacted.
He just sat in silence, she said, and told her how it would have been better if I was straight because life would then be easier for me. Also, he thought he would have had at least one son to carry on the family name.
My older brother came out as gay before I did, you see. And not once did we hear Tatay oppose my kuya’s sexual orientation. Tatay also never confronted me about mine.
That was my first coming out.
In the summer of 2013, I had the most important dinner of my life. I had just recently started my gender affirming hormone therapy, and I wanted to open up to my family and help them understand my lived experience as a transgender woman. And so I invited them to dinner.
After our meal, I started telling them that I was not a gay cisgender man; I was a trans woman. As I was conducting a crash course on Sogie (sexual orientation, gender identity and expression) and pouring my heart out, Tatay stepped out. He said he needed to smoke a cigarette.
I eventually finished sharing, and we saw him outside the restaurant waiting for us. And we all went home.
The day after, Nanay told me how Tatay was mostly silent the night before. She said he just expressed concern about my health since I told them that I was taking hormone pills. He said he hoped I knew what I was doing and that I was prioritizing my well-being above all else. Tatay never confronted me about my gender identity.
That was my second coming out.
Tatay knew me
In December 2018, Tatay was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. The diagnosis changed our lives. We knew he didn’t have much longer to live and we made sure to make the most of his remaining time with us. Every other weekend that was supposed to be a dreaded trip to the hospital for chemotherapy became a chance for the family to get together for him. My eldest sister even surprised Tatay by flying home from Canada.
We went on trips, did a family photo shoot, showered him with gifts and created lasting memories. We never really talked about how he was feeling because we knew he wouldn’t feel comfortable. Instead, we showed him love the way he had always known how—through action.
In March 2020, the COVID-19 lockdown happened. We had no choice but to stop his chemotherapy.
Tatay passed away on Sept. 7, 2020.
It was pain like I never knew existed. Grieving the loss of Tatay in the middle of a pandemic, we couldn’t help but ask ourselves if we were really able to give him our all. It was very tough. Even to this day, my hope is that he never felt like we gave up on him. And if he did, I wish he knew how much we wanted him to live.
I wish he knew how much I wanted to get closer to him, and for him to know me a little bit more.
This time last year, the unjust and baseless arrest of 20 LGBTQ+ protesters in Mendiola happened. During the news broadcast, Nanay called to ask if I was at my place.
Up until his last days, Tatay remained reserved, but when that incident happened, he asked Nanay to check on me because he was worried I might be in Mendiola protesting. And that was when it hit me—he knew how passionate I was with my advocacies. Tatay knew me.
Remembering him through writing isn’t easy. But this is the least I can do to pay tribute to the loving father that he was.
My hope is for him to have known how grateful I was to have had him as a father and to still have him as my life’s guide and compass.
My hope is for every LGBTQ+ kid to be loved the same way Tatay loved me—through action and without condition.
My hope is for every father to know, acknowledge and accept his LGBTQ+ kid, just like Tatay Nemie did. —CONTRIBUTED
The author, the managing director of a PR firm, is a gender equality and HIV-AIDS awareness advocate.