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My Father

The third Sunday of June is celebrated as Father’s Day in many countries. It’s a special day set aside to honor all fathers and the role that they play in the family and in society in general.

Growing up in the ‘60s, we never celebrated Father’s Day in our family. I don’t remember giving my father any card or any present during Father’s Day. Father’s Day gained prominence in the Philippines only in 1988 via a presidential proclamation by President Corazon Aquino.

I became aware of Father’s Day, an American tradition that started in 1910, only when I immigrated to the US in 1980.

Every Father’s Day, my daughters, who were then in grade school, would make a card out of bond paper, draw a colored picture, and scribble something that described how good a father I was and thanked me for being so. I suspect they were coached by their teachers in school to honor their father on this occasion by doing something special. Or, perhaps the idea came from my wife. Regardless, that my daughters remembered me on such a special occasion always made my day.

My daughters, now that they are adults, have continued the practice of giving me a card or calling me during Father’s Day. Several years ago, my daughter gave me a Shih Tzu on Father’s Day, which became a wonderful family pet. Celebrating Father’s Day has now become a family tradition that helps forge a closer bond between me and my daughters, and also my wife.

How I wish I had the opportunity to meaningfully celebrate Father’s Day with my father. But fate has made it difficult for me to do so. Most of my adult life, I lived in Manila and in the US, and my parents lived in the province. But distance in no way diminished the affection and love that I had for my father. In fact, it made our relationship stronger.

This year marks twelve years since my father died in 2008. When he turned 90 in 2003, he facetiously told his friends that he wanted to breathe his last at 95. True enough, he got what he wished for. He took his last breath at age 95, with me, my wife, and a few relatives by his bedside – a scene forever fixed in my memory. If he were alive today, he would be 107 years old.

Since his death, there are only certain times of the year that I remember my father. These special moments are his birthday, his death anniversary, All Souls Day, Christmas, Father’s Day, and occasionally when my relatives tell me that I look like my father, with a note of laughter in their voices.

There are times, however, that I think about how my father would have enjoyed playing with his great-grandchildren. He might not have the stamina to play “horsey-horsey” anymore, with his great-grandchildren riding on his back like young cowboys, but he would probably enjoy teaching them how to box and defend themselves. My father loved the sports so much that when I was young he bought me a pair of boxing gloves. Boxing is the only sports I know that my father got hooked on.

My father came from a peasant family. His father was a farmer. He walked to and from school in his younger days. If there are certain values that he would like to impart to his great-grandchildren, it’s probably the importance of sacrifice and hard work. He lived his entire life believing that hard work and sacrifice are essential to success. He took pride in his philosophy of “an honest day’s work for an honest day’s wage. “

In my quiet moments, I wonder how my father would have dealt or reacted to one of his great-grandchildren, the only girl among five, who openly speaks her mind at a very young age of two. She can say NO to her parents with authority, as if she knows everything. Sometimes her behavior toward her older brother can become increasingly pugnacious. My father, who was very patient to a fault, would just probably give her a big smile. My father had a smile that could charm or disarm anyone.

My father strongly believed in what Benjamin Franklin said: “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” Despite his family’s meager resources, he was able to earn a degree in education and became a public school teacher and property custodian until he retired. No wonder, he and my mother wanted the best education for their children, sending us to private schools with great educational reputation. He probably would have wished the same path for his great-grandchildren.

Quiet and reserved at times, my father grew up to be super friendly and sociable. He was even-tempered and easy to get along with, a testament perhaps to his humble beginnings. He probably knew that he had nothing to show off anyway. He thrived when he was with people.

I was sifting through some old files the other day when I saw a copy of my father’s valedictory address in 1931, when he graduated from elementary school. One of the lines that caught my attention was when he told his fellow graduates, “Let us not forget the pleasant companionship – congenial ones – we have had in the past…they are but few of the many things that will bind us together, not to forget each other.” At a very young age, my father had already realized the importance of friendship, its positive influence and the need to preserve it. All of us brothers must have inherited this part of his DNA because we also thrive in the company of our friends.

Shortly before he died, he told a few close relatives that he wanted to be buried in Quipayo – the place of his birth. It made sense to me because my mother was buried in the same place. But beyond that, Quipayo was home for my father. He grew up in Quipayo. It was in Quipayo where he learned to serve Mass, to develop close friendship with his classmates, to bond with his relatives, to trust people who would not let him down, and to appreciate the goodness of people. The lesson here that he would have probably taught his great-grandchildren is: Never forget where you come from.

The sweetest thing my father did that I would never forget was to wait for me and my wife before he passed on. It was a long wait, a 16-hour flight from Seattle to the Philippines and an 8-hour drive from Manila to Naga. But my father must have thought it was worth his effort. Happy Father’s Day to my father and to all fathers!

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