IT was March 9, 2001 when my father passed away. Allow me to print my thoughts regarding a man I owe a lot to.
I was a scrawny sickly boy. My father—just ‘Tatay’ to all of us his children—was a mechanic and a copra truck driver, mostly one and occasionally the other. My mother—‘Nanay’ to all of us—was a public elementary school teacher. She taught in places either too far or too hard to reach, at least in the initial stages of her career. I remember times as a child, when I was down with fever and my stomach aching so unbearably and my head throbbing, I would call out, “Nanay, Nanay” in pain (I often wondered why it’s the mother we first remember in dire circumstances). But she wasn’t, no she couldn’t, be there. My father, God bless him, would force himself to be there. Now I realize it was such a sacrifice for him. He had to take a leave off work and that meant no money for the family. Still my earliest memory of my father, I mean the one that has stuck to this day, is still very clear. I was a boy of two or three, shivering in thirty-eight-or-so degree fever and in pain, he was carrying me in his arms and rocking me gently, then again gently rolling a bottle filled with warm water over my aching tummy. And, miracle of miracles, the pain would go away. He would them hum or softly sing me to sleep. It seemed all the medicine I needed.
When my father passed on to what I call “the fuller life” on March 9, 2001, a poem which later became a song thrust itself to me through the two words I described him by during a wake I presided over: “GENTLE SOUL”. Yes, my father was to me a gentle soul. He was gentlest to us his children. There were countless times when some of us made him very angry, as when we simply did the opposite of what he asked us to do, and when it seemed he would hit us with his hand or anything near him (as I noticed other fathers did), he would behave in a way that baffled me. For instance, when my sister Annie fell off the roof of a shelter fronting the house we lived in as growing children in my mother’s hometown, it was because we didn’t listen to him telling us not to play on the shelter’s rooftop. He was so angry at our disobedience and raised his hand, I thought he was about to hit us as our just desserts. But when he saw my sister who was in pain as a result of our disobedience, he simply stopped and wept. He simply couldn’t hit us. The effect on us was just as baffling: We never played again on the shelter’s rooftop without making sure we were on its safer side and had our father’s permission.
In so many words I’m simply saying how lucky or shall I say “blessed” I was to have a father like my father. He made it easier for me to pray the “Our Father”. He made it easier for me to understand that God is my Father too whose love is what has made all human beings who we are, what we are and where we are meant to be. My father’s love mirrored God’s love for me and for my siblings in a way no one among us could gainsay. I often felt sorry for other children whose fathers would hit or shout at them in a way that was unlike our Tatay. Incredible as it may seem, he wasn’t any of that. Even when he seemed pained, angered or disappointed with anything we had done, I never sensed for a second that he stopped loving us.
If my father could love us his children the way he did, I often asked myself: “What would it be like to experience the love of God as Father”? His love must be infinitely more and better than my own father’s love for us his family. But now, after so many years, I realize how grateful I should be that my own father had proclaimed to me in anticipation, perhaps unbeknownst even to himself, the love that had led me to the love of God the Father of all.
My father was my first evangelizer. Now, as a priest, I try not to be a bad copy.