It’s been 20 years ago since I lost my father to kidney cancer at 43 years old. He was a hard drinker and chain smoker who surrendered his life to the Lord a few years before he died. He came from a broken family. He and my late mom used to quarrel a lot almost every day of their married lives.
They stuck with each other despite this situation, plus our poverty, maybe just to keep it all together, not to have our own version of a broken family. And that was why when I was in high school, I considered wanting to be a priest.
I grew up in a poor family, so poor that there were times when all our “ulam” (viand) for the entire day was “ginisang bagoong alamang” (sauteed shrimp paste), instant noodles, or none at all, just soy sauce, oil, or a dash of salt mixed with rice. This is even especially true when my late father passed on and my late mom lived with another man’s family for 8 years. And as the first born in the family, back then I was left with the responsibility of providing and leading my four other younger siblings.
In hindsight though, I wouldn’t have learned how to be a better “single kuya-parent” had I not gone through the difficult training I had gone through with my late father. And had I not become a Christian in 1999, I wouldn‘t have become a responsible “kuya” to my siblings.
It was my tatay who taught me some of the household chores I know now: how to wash the dishes, do the laundry, sweep the floor and wipe it with wet rag, he even taught me how to cook home dishes.
In honor of my late father’s memory, with gratefulness, I recollect these three hard lessons I learned from his upbringing with us.
- Work hard and smart.
My “tatay” just finished high school. He was a full-time freelancer, somewhat like what I do now as a full-time freelance events host. He was a watch technician, jeweler, and canvasser. He was never employed by a company all throughout his life.
At day time, he’d go house to house traveling to nearby cities shouting “Ginto, pilak binibili!” (I buy gold and silver!) At night, I’d see him fixing watches or game and watch devices which we used to rent to both kids and adults back when we lived in an informal settlers area in West Crame, San Juan.
Though because of the lack of daily necessities, he and my late mom would often fight over her several attempts at working too as a sales lady, and later on as a janitress.
My tatay believed that what he provided should be enough, and that my late mom should be contented with that.
He made the best out of his given skills, despite the lack of college education, and provided for our family the best way he knew how.
- Never depend on your relatives for help.
I still vividly remember that one night when tatay was drunk (usually these were the only times when he’d do a heart-to-heart talk with me) and he told me something to this effect, in his deep, authoritative voice, “Wag na wag kayong aasa sa mga kamag-anak natin, kahit na sa mga kapatid nyo paglaki nyo. Hindi dahil sa madamot sila, kundi matuto kayong tumayo sa sarili nyong paa. Panindigan nyo yung mga desisyon nyo sa pinili nyong buhay.” (Don’t ever depend on our relatives for help, even you yourselves when you grow older. Not because they’re greedy, but learn how to stand on your own. Be responsible for the decisions on the life you chose to live.)
This was why when we had an opportunity to get awarded with low-cost housing in Antipolo through an organization where I had a sponsor in the U.S. who financially supported the most parts of my elementary and high school studies, my late parents decided to start a new life in 1992 far from our relatives.
When tatay was still alive, despite my family’s hardships, we rarely sought help from relatives because of my father’s principles. Some relatives called it “pride.”
- Your parents want the best for you, even if it’s not often that obvious.
My late father was a disciplinarian. He believes in the power of the rod. I first learned the “fear of Tatay” before I learned the “fear of the Lord.”
There was a time when out of rage, he threw a frying pan towards my direction, a wooden cadet rifle broke after hitting my legs, and my lips got wounded because he punched it after I responded back to him in anger.
Tatay and I never got along that well when he was still with us. But I remembered when I was awarded second honorable mention in Grade 2 elementary school in Camp Crame, he gifted me with a toy robot in a box with a detergent soap bar so that it would seem heavy when my teacher gives it to me on stage.
There was also one time when he bought me a pair of second hand leather shoes saying, “Uso yan ngayon.” (That’s a fad these days.) So I wore it to school, then my classmates laughed at me because its style actually looked like ladies shoes. After that incident, I never wore it to school again.
Despite the humiliation and bullying I experienced, I knew deep in my heart, that’s the best that my tatay could afford for me back then.
So to you, my tatay up there in heaven, whose deep booming voice I inherited, from whom these tough life lessons I learned the hard way, but would always be with me all throughout my life, I honor and THANK YOU wholeheartedly this Fathers’ Day.
May my life, somehow, be a good reflection of the legacy you left us.