June 18, 2013

Because It Was Father's Day Last Sunday

I’ve been thinking recently of writing everything that I remember about my father so that my kids will get to know him one day. I want to keep the memories of my father alive, for all I have of him now are mere fragments of the past.

I lost him when I was 18. Although he was ill for a long time, he always managed to bounce back from devastating bouts that even included a coma. To my young mind he was invincible, at least until his last attack where he again succumbed into a coma from which he wasn’t able to come to anymore.

It took a long time before I was able to recover from this loss. But so powerful was his legacy that even years after his death, I would still rely on the values and the inspiration that he left behind.

These are a few things that made him precious to me, then and now.

~ o ~

His self-assurance

His father was a 6-footer and his mom all of 5 feet. Unfortunately, he got his mom’s genes so he was probably only 5’6. But he always stood to his full height, making him appear taller than he was.

He walked with his head high, his shoulders pulled back, and with a very confident swing of the arms. He struck a very imposing figure. He also had a booming voice so the neighbors were kinda scared of him.

His being a neat freak

He was probably the most tidy person I’ve ever known. His handwriting, usually in print form, was very very nice and uniformly rendered, as if it were typewritten in his own font style. But his script was nice as well, sophisticated and swirly that you would have mistaken it for a woman’s.

His clothes were always immaculately clean and crisp and fresh even at the end of the day. His shoes were always polished. And although he smoked and drank beer, he smelled clean all the time.

To this day, I can still remember his scent.

His being a fair guy

He treated everyone equally and respectfully. He spoke to helpers, taxi drivers and vendors the same way he spoke to people with a higher position in life.

His drive for perfection

His mantra in life is that whatever you do, you have to give it your best. It doesn’t matter if it’s a trash can or a piece of art. You’ve got to make it the best trash can or the best art piece there is.

He wanted us to do things perfectly, even when just folding a piece of paper.

His love for work

He worked for the United States Agency for International Development for 35 years. He loved his work and was so committed to it that he was rarely absent from work (except during his last year when his illness, cirrhosis of the liver, started to ravage his body). When he passed away, we found in his file his yearly evaluations at USAID where he worked as head of shipping and transportation. His ratings were all Outstanding.

His advocacy of self-reliance

I was never tutored on my assignments. From grade school, I was trained to do things on my own. When I didn’t have a clue what I was supposed to do, I was asked to figure it out for myself. I never asked what the meaning of a word was. I was always instructed to check out the dictionary instead. When I asked for help once to illustrate something for an assignment, my father refused and asked me to work on it myself.

As a result, I became more resourceful and somehow mastered the art and science of “self-study”. When I was 10, I learned to play the guitar. When I was in high school, I taught myself to learn piano and read notes. Recently, I dabbled into sketching and my officemates were surprised that I can actually draw. If I have the time and the passion for it, I’m pretty sure I can even learn astrophysics (kidding).

His nationalism

His being an employee of USAID entitled him to bring his entire family to the US as special immigrants. This was a benefit given to those who stayed in the company for 15 years. He did not avail of that benefit and opted instead to stay in the Philippines. A year before he passed away, he applied for the special immigrant program because of my eldest sister who wanted to work there for good. We were supposed to leave July of that year. By May, he passed away. Maybe he really didn’t want to leave his native land.

His simplicity and humility

I never heard him boast of anything even if he had a lot of accomplishments in life. He abhorred arrogance. So do I.

His love for his family

He wasn’t really the sweet, tactile type of a father. Despite that, we felt loved and cared for.

He told us time and time again that we do not have any responsibility to repay him for all the things he had done for us. He said the responsibility was his and his alone—and that was to ensure we had a good education.

~ o ~

Happy Father’s Day. I remain in awe of you.