Monday, March 13, 2006

Happy Birthday, Dad

Today is my father's birthday. He would have been 76. Nine months ago, also today, he went home to Jesus. Today, his ashes rest in my mother's home, comfortable in his manly-manly brass urn.

I knew I would miss him. I just didn't realize how much.

Sometimes, I wonder if I moved on from Dad's death too quickly. Did I give myself enough time to really grieve, other than the time I wept bitterly at the Makati Medical Center where Dad died, and the one painful time when Cathy held me and comforted me a few days after his passing, in church, where my brothers and sisters in Christ gave me a love offering that helped significantly in taking care of Dad's memorial expenses?

One never knows when one will go - it's for that reason exactly that we should take every moment, if possible, to appreciate life and the people we love and who love us.

Now that I'm a dad myself, I feel the pressure of making sure my son experiences many of the things a son should be entitled to that I may not have gotten from my Dad, not because Dad didn't give it to me, but perhaps it was because he was working hard to provide for us.

What makes a father a good father, anyway? Hallmark?

To my recollection, my father never took me fishing, or to the zoo, or to village playgrounds. I have few fond memories of him lifting me in the air, or playing any sports with me. When I was a child, he never encouraged me to play soccer, or ride a bike, or play in the mud. We never went to a theme park, and out-of-town journeys in the "family wagon" were next to nonexistent. What I do remember are the Saturdays, when he would take my mom, brother and myself to Shakey's, order a pizza, and watch as John and I watched "Tom and Jerry" on this
big-screen TV while he and Mom smoked while waiting for the pizza to arrive. I remember he and I watching "I Love Lucy" reruns at home, he with his cigarette, I with my orange juice and Chickadees. I don't remember the Hallmark cards, but I remember my Dad and I sharing each
other's company. Take that, Hallmark.

My father didn't really try to set a good health example for me. He smoked at least thirty packs of cigarettes a week, despite my repeated pleadings for him to quit. He enjoyed a good Scotch on the rocks, and the occasional beer. He hardly ever exercised in the conventional sense. I do, however, remember sitting on one arm of his favorite rocking chair, John on the other arm, and he'd tickle us incessantly. He didn't smoke during those times. I remember his warning me not to run down the stairs for fear that I would fall and snap my neck. I don't remember much physical activity, but I remember my Dad and I loving each other enough to warn each other to be safe. I remember Dad looking into my eyes and telling me, "you know what, son? You're a
great-looking kid." I remember the spanking when we did something wrong. It would be a belt, or a flipflop rubber slipper, and we would howl in pain. I don't remember physical love, but I remember feeling every ounce of the love that he did have for us all. My Dad stayed with my Mom for 20 something years. That's real love, not Hallmark love.

I don't remember Dad being too much of a patient man, but when I graduated, he didn't smoke, and waited patiently, and when I got my high school diploma, he cried. He cried again when I graduated from university with a degree in English literature. He was never more proud of me than at that moment; I was never more proud of myself, for having fulfilled that which he asked of me: to finish college and become a contributing member of society. He told me then that he was the proudest father in the world; I told him I was proud to be his son. Years later, he did the same thing for my brother, John, and I was so proud of my younger brother. I believed Dad loved both of us equally, and it was when John graduated that I was sure Dad did.

My Dad worked for the government, and never stole a single centavo. He was always honest like that. He had the chances, oh yes! But he never stole anything. Integrity. You can't learn that from a Hallmark card.

By all indications, my father is a non-traditional father. When he suffered his stroke, I saw that once-proud man buckle under his own weight, and punished by years of working to provide a future for us. I feared for his death, and when it arrived, three slow years after his first stroke, that was when it hit me: Hallmark misled me.

Hallmark says it's appropriate to give a card when you care enough to send the very best. And I agree that you should send the best, but the best doesn't come in the card. The best comes in the doing. My father gave my mother, and me, the best years of his life. From him, I think I can learn what to do more of and what to do less of. From his love and my Mom's, I know I can affect generations of people years down the line, and for that, I have my father to thank.

I love you, Dad. See you in about fifty years, if Jesus doesn't come back sooner. Happy birthday.

No comments: