A countless many times I saw him coming home from the farm with a native basket filled with all sorts of whole organic foods, mostly vegetables and some fish. That will be just in time for our lunch, or supper. He didn’t have his own farm but he was a good tenant for his landlord. I remember waking up in the mornings and going to a can of rice or corn, cup them in my hands and start calling the chickens for their first and only feed for the day. We had goats and horses and inside our house were sacks of raw rice or what we call “palay”, good enough until the next harvest season. His meager to almost zero income by trades of all kinds, all decent – was compensated by his strong leadership of the family to earn him our respect and love. I didn’t hear much of his stories of their sufferings during WWII, but I recall him telling those stories every time his folks come for a visit. Jokes and laughter over some freshly brewed coffee from Batangas made up mostly of those reunions, but they were obviously grateful to have made it through those horrible days of Japanese occupation of my country, The Philippines.
One day, he made me a toy truck out of some woods and empty tin cans of evaporated milk. It didn’t help that he made it for me, all I remember now is that I threw it away and yelled something like ‘that was crappy, I don’t like it”! It must have hurt big time. Not even a fake thank you from an ungrateful boy. It pains me to recall that day, but the memory was so vivid I could watch them play in my mind.
He didn’t leave me much to know him well. The only picture of us together was taken in our school’s stage in the barrio. He was beaming a smile looking at the camera, while pinning a medal for me for some school award. He must be so ill, that though it was late in the afternoon on a summer day, you could see his jacket and hat laid on the floor visibly in the photo. The picture said it all. He came, he showed up for one of my big days and I know he must have been so proud of me.
I was barely 10 when tuberculosis got a hold of him and took him away from me, from all of us – eight apples of his eyes.
My days of troubles make me yearn for his company. There are times when I could only wish he was around so we could talk, or I could bring to places he wouldn’t mind going and would actually love to see. More than his cares for us, was his making sure we will all be decent, God fearing and courteous children. I didn’t see him as religious, but I knew he led us in prayers almost daily at six in the evening. I appreciate his culture of routines. One of them is that he made sure we dine together most of the time, and it didn’t matter whether the table was sumptuous or not. In most cases it was the latter, but the impact of that practice goes beyond me now. I’d like to pass it on. I thought it was lovely, fun and promotes strong filial affinities we sorely miss in today’s technology-connected, pre-occupied families.
Many years after he’s gone, he left an indelible impression to me – no matter what, he didn’t throw his hands in the air and walked away –he abandoned no one. He didn’t fail me. I miss a hero, that’s my dad. This, I believe.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.