Your life offered me grief in blurry details… Your roguish smile masked the longing you have secretly harboured for years- the absence, the worries, and legacies. These details in your picture, I think, will forever gloat my pain.
You asked my niece to send me this picture through a snail mail, some years ago…
There are mountains behind you- the same piece of paradise you dreamt of conquering. This was the heart of your labour– the land that was a witness to your struggles. And the tangible wealth to bestow to us, your children.
Though, I heard from Nanay that you gave your cousins, my nieces, my uncles, our neighbours – farms that they can till and lands that they can start their lives with.
I have no qualms about that, too. Until now, I can only imagine your gentle heart of giving, even to our neighbours an opportunity to make a living.
In essence, you taught me not to covet anyone’s possessions or for the things that you gladly gave away.
Your heart was as generous as it was brave.
Unparalleled lessons. You taught me to swim hard—that even in frailty, I must give my best. When we had a weekend in a kaingin, I remember you pushed me to cross a river full of leeches. You followed me, though. I was screaming hard and loud after that ordeal. You took your knife and scraped a leech in my arm–nonchalantly. You said it was nothing. I was 9 when I learned not to be afraid.
I was 6 when you left me in the park, and you said that you just had to meet with a client in a nearby house. I waited. It seemed forever. I assumed the long hours I waited –from sunrise to its peak. I cried when I felt alone—stranded in the middle of a big space. When you came back, you offered no apologies. You asked me not to cry, not even attempt to cry- when someone leaves…
Like a rock- robust, faithful and true. You loved mom for 50 and odd years, but you never indulged in any celebration of anniversaries. You were modest, you were humble, you were kind.
You were a prized fighter, called “Kid Kaliwete” in your prime, but never did you raise a hand to any of us. But your whistle is trembling enough—that a second later, we will be at your beck and call.
You punched my bitter suitor in his stomach– as you demanded respect with your fist. Nanay had to stop and remind you of the weight of your palm.
With that scent of little victory, I dreamt and sought for friendship with bravery.
Some unreasonable care. You did not allow me to go to Japan when I was supposed to work at Yomiuri Shimbun as a foreign correspondent. You did not agree, too, when I was called to work in the Middle East.
But, I’ve never seen you so proud when you gave me away to the man I married.
So my cycle of familial love began.
Yet you were still around.
You built our house—with your design and architecture. I’ve seen your attention to each bark of the wood, to each brick you laid down for the foundation, to the roof that could withstand the storms and strong winds. I have admired the Italian glass brick you used to separate the kitchen from the living area. You said that I could better see my family while I prepare the meals. The vaulted ceiling, the sunken living area, and the 2 bathrooms you built side by side. You impressed your mark, in every detail, in every nook.
I should have told you all these beautiful words. It would have made you very happy hearing these from your daughter.
Yet, we did not live there.
Instead, I sold my first house.
I saw the smirk in your eyes, the knitted brows when we sold it. You glimpsed at your calloused hands, and I felt your disappointments. For the lack of better words, I failed to explain that hard and life-changing decision. Always in my assumptions and experience–that you will forgive your children.
And you forgave me the following day.
I should have kept that property to always remember you by.
It was the year 1998– nine thousand miles away from you, you asked me to call home at least once a month. It should have been easy to say–quick phone calls–even in the midst of the bustling schedules of work, life, study, family, and acculturation.
Over the years, our conversations had become scarce and meaningless, as life here has engulfed us– as modern life faded us from our native land.
And that one last phone call- this very same date, two years ago, you were begging me to come home. You did not have to beg… when you were breathing your last…
It was July 2014.
The guilt remained as a passage to grief. The longing is at times unbearable. Prayer is comforting enough. But, today, for some reasons, I am not sure what to pray for. Instead, I allowed myself to wallow in desperation, in anguish, and in regrets.
At this moment, let me mourn. Let my tears feed the angst, the desperation of longing, the anguish, and the regrets. Let me cure my grief by grieving. These must be the price of my father’s love.
I looked at your picture again. Now, I see the details—no longer the blurry memories of the lessons you taught me- but of a clearer picture of love for your family.
Then tomorrow, I promise, I will not cry- because you left. I will be brave again, with newer perspectives, with a clearer understanding of what love should be.
For this is the daughter’s love for her father.