My father and me: Still far away

With my dad and my brothers in this photo taken in 1984. I took this one using a timer.

With my dad and my brothers in this photo taken in 1984. I took this one using a timer.

By Rene Pastor

I was about 3 or 4 years old. My dad was driving this top-down Impala in the middle of Manila.

We passed by this bridge with steel girders over the Pasig river, which did not give off a foul odor then. I held my hands up as the wind whipped through my hair.

I don’t even remember if we were on our way to the Odeon movie house to watch the old-school war flick “Where Eagles Dare.” I just remember the car ride and how carefree it was.

That was the last time I saw my dad until I turned 10 when he broke up with my mom. It was a confusing time for a small boy whose family had been torn apart.

Even when I joined my dad’s next family, the two of us never became close.

He was an accountant for a mining company. We would talk as I grew up, but nothing serious that would stoke a closeness between father and son.

Once a week, he would go off at 4:30 a.m. on Saturday mornings for Quinta market under the Quiapo bridge where he would buy chicken and meats from all his “suki” there. I would often watch with a tinge of bemusement as he would look at his supermarket receipt and add up everything in his head, down to the last centavo. I didn’t think the cashier was ever wrong, but he checked anyway.

He was a distant figure, the guy who paid for my education. The relationship was mechanical, verging often on perfunctory.

His dad – my grandfather – died as a guerrilla fighting the Japanese during World War II. That grandfather was tortured and executed in 1944, some 17 years before I was born.

As the oldest son, he accompanied my grandmother in retrieving the body. They had to bury him hurriedly as American bombing raids hit Manila. He had just turned 13.

I asked him about it, but my dad refused to talk about what happened. It was an ugly memory that I suppose he just did not want to recall.

For him, being a dad was fairly limited to the role of provider. I wanted more than that.

But it seemed like the only thing we shared a passion for was the Yco Painters basketball team in the old MICAA and an abiding love for the old Boston Celtics dynasty under Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, KC and Sam Jones, and John Havlicek.

My love for sports was kindled by my dad because it was the only thing we could talk about without getting into an argument. I certainly could not talk to him about Ferdinand Marcos.

I guess it was my way of trying to get close to him. But it was limited and was not enough. This went on through high school. We just could not connect so the distance just got wider and wider.

I did not get my moral compass from him. It was probably something I resented because I wanted, desperately, to look up to him as someone I could respect.

I was looking for a ‘father figure’ who is strong and stood for something. It was, as they would say, probably not his style.

When my first daughter passed away and we put an obit in the paper, he did not bother to call. That put the relationship into a deep freeze that lasted years.

I did not want to have anything to do with the guy my aunt says jokingly looks very much like me he could not deny paternity.

We would patch things up very slowly over the years, but like most men of his generation, saying sorry was too much for him. It’s hard to stay mad all the time. You move on.

The years came down hard on him especially after he left the mining company. I would end up sending monthly remittances in addition to what his sons were providing him. I asked him obliquely about that: the irony of the son he pushed away now offering him financial support.

“I realize that,” he told me. It was about as close to an apology he would ever come in this lifetime.

My dad is turning 83 this year.

I do not revere him, but I try to understand what he went through. There is a part of me that was shaped by him and comes from the bits and pieces of memory that made up my years when he was around.

I don’t really know if I can ever understand some of the decisions my father made in his life and how that affected me all those years ago. I just want to remember the good times and celebrate the time we have left.

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