My dad passed of cancer. He started getting sickly when I was in my late junior high school. His strong and muscular built seemed a distant memory to him and he disliked having to look at his thin face and saggy arms.
The cause of his death was unknown to me until the death certificate. That piece of paper came to my possession only because I needed a proof of absence to show my professors when I get back to school. I was in first year college and the second semester was then barely in its first month when I heard the news of my dad’s demise. The day after hearing the news, I and two of my brothers took an early morning flight to Bacolod. Since then, being inside the plane and heading for home made me feel mournful. It must have been after college when I got over that feeling.
Though, I have gotten past the feeling of melancholy during the flights home I certainly have not yet gotten over missing my dad. I still miss him every time. I think one does not really get over the loss of a beloved. We typically learn to accept the loss because death is a fact of our very existence but the longing, it stays. It always does. Sometimes it is a memory brings tears to your eyes, other times it can paint a smile in your face.
My dad is not a member of the league of perfect fathers or the band of perfect husbands. He has his flaws and his strengths, just like any person. But one best trait of his is that no matter how macho he can be he is very vocal about how dearly he loves my mother.
Of his love for my mom, I vividly remember two things he said to me.
When I was a high school freshman, he told me to never forget to write down my middle initial in my school papers and assignments. He says that that is the only letter in my name that represents my mom. So I must never forget the H in my name. I usually never do.
During my first sem break as a college student in Manila, and a few weeks leading to his death, he confessed to me how much he loves mom. I can hear the crack in his usually well-modulated voice as he apologized for not being able to provide her a life he thinks she deserves. My father was such a strict, intimidating man who cusses when he’s mad. If you were his kids, just the thought of disobeying him will scare you. Ask any of my six older brothers or my sister. But at 18, when you hear your father declare his affection for your mom with a hint of defeat in his voice that breaks your heart.
Life was not always comfortable and drama-free for a big family like ours. My Dad was mom’s second husband and she had seven kids with her first marriage. It was not a common set-up, but we managed. My siblings love me as though I was their full sibling and I love them just as much. And mom, she’s consistently the apple of everyone’s eye, the knot that held everyone together.
Dad, aside from being mom’s biggest fan, is a fan of strong family ties and family history. Every time there’s an occasion, he made me write letters to my lola and aunts who are in the US. He made sure we don’t forget to greet our uncles and other relatives on both sides. We would frequently visit Tito Bert, his younger brother, who also lives in the city. He would tell me stories of when and where he grew up. That’s why Bantayan, Cebu and Cadiz, Negros would always have a place in my heart. Just as Antique does. If Dad is still around, I would never get away with missing out on my relatives’ birthdays. But he isn’t anymore and I can be so forgetful. I always feel so guilty. [Side story: Tito Bert passed in the same year as Dad. He in March, Dad in November. I can never imagine being in Lola’s shoes.]
Time flies and we tend to forget. There are some details of my life that I would consciously forget. Like the exact date when my dad passed. Was it November 22 or 23? How long has it been? I’m too lazy to count the years. I don’t want to count the years. I don’t care much about celebrating his death anniversary.
I care more about trying to remember the years he was around and the lessons he taught or tried to teach me. I care more about knowing how he was as a person and as a father, imperfections and all. I wanted to know how he and mom met and how he won her over. I wonder how he had given up his bachelor ways at 40 and how he felt when he had me at 42.
He wasn’t around on my 18th birthday when I had drastically changed from curly to straight hair and risked having my eyebrows shaved. For reasons of practicality, we didn’t go home to Bacolod to celebrate with the rest of the family since I will be home by sembreak which was in a few weeks. My brother took me out to dinner with his gf (now my sis-in-law), and a couple of friends to celebrate. At home in Bacolod, they had a dinner get-together for a triple celebration. My dad, mom, and I are born on the same month and we are all Librans celebrating birthdays just 2-3 days apart. Dad was still around then to celebrate his 60th birthday. It was his last. He was just glad he lived longer than my grandfather who died at his 50s.
He wasn’t around during my college graduation. But we know he would have been really proud of me. He won’t be around to screen a guy I would date and won’t be around to see me get married. But it was good that he left me with six brothers in his place.
I miss my dad and I always will. It is a good thing that I managed to learn at an early age to be vocal about how I feel. I hope that the 18 years was enough for him to know how much I love him. How much I always will.