Sunday, June 20, 2004

fathers

/bio/


The first one, of course, was my natural father, Douglas (or "Oddie" to his friends and family). I have very few memories of him while I was growing up, because it's hard to make memories when he was more absent than present.

He fell out of love with my mother and, giving in to the pressure of his own family, got a divorce. When he asked my mom what she wanted from their communal property, she pointed only to me. And he agreed, getting to keep the cars, the house and everything else.

He continued to pursue his career in the US Army, met and married a soldier, and had three kids. From time to time, he'd send me money and the occasional pair of shoes or the mindboggling balikbayan boxes of old comics.

I used to resent him for not being there for me but as I grew older I realized that nothing is ever simple, especially with matters of the heart. I would not begrudge my father his personal happiness, even if his choices left me bereft of a day-to-day dad.

One time when I was in my twenties, before I got married, he visited Manila and asked if he could still be my father. I looked at the impossible gap between us and told him that while nothing could change that fact, I'd rather we become friends.

And so we are. I last saw him in Las Vegas, after his second wife of 20+ years suddenly divorced him. I could have spun all sorts of scenarios about payback and "getting what you deserve" but it would have just been cruel. Certainly nothing a son should do; certainly nothing a friend should do.

I looked at him holding Sage and realized how old he was. In my mind, growing up, he was the paragon of manliness, the image of Father/Daddy/Papa - soldier, hero, Superman.

But watching him with my daughter added the hat of grandfather. I felt unspeakably sad and suddenly terrified of losing this man to death, this friend I barely knew.

People who knew him in his youth are startled when they see me. "It's Oddie!" they say with amazement, pointing out my gait, the way I smile, my way with words, the so-called "easy" charm.

And it's true. Because when I talk to him, it's like talking to an older version of myself. And when you talk to a mirror, there are only reflections of understanding.

I will always be Oddie's son - that much is blood simple.


/step/


My second father was my mother's second husband, Jess - a widower with seven children of his own. I remember telling my mother right before she married him how "Sound of Music" it seemed. At that point, I was more concerned about her and her adjustments rather than mine. She said she loved him and that he loved her and I thought everything else would just fall in place.

Jess comes from the time when the worth of the Filipino father was measured in how much he provided for his family. And provide he did, using the millions he earned, invested and saved to provide houses for his families (one for my mom, myself and my four half-siblings; and one for his seven children by his deceased wife - which, of course, I called "Step House").

In my naivete I actually thought he would fill the role of father. I waited for a chance to bond and be close to him, but his cold manner and powerful voice intimidated me (I realized later that I was not alone; all his eleven children - seven in The Stephouse and my four half-siblings that I lived with - grew up with him in the distance).

One day, he summoned me to his office and told me that he was not my father and could not be my father and that I should just call him Uncle Jess. That set the tone for my teenage years.

I grew up as a stranger in a house I felt was never my home. Every child called Jess "daddy" and I called him "uncle". Everyone had his surname and mine was different.

As my mother grew ill, she began to imagine heartbreaking conspiracies and recruited me as her ally, confessor and lackey. So added to my fear of my stepfather was a growing sense of outrage at his supposed betrayal of my mother.

Fear and anger are poisonous, but some good things came out of that situation. Because I felt the need to stand out and prove myself, I went and did what no one in his family could: I wrote and excelled in my writing. The Palanca Awards did not hold his esteem for long though. By the fourth he asked me "Aren't you jaded already?".

I also learned the futility of arguing with a man who is always right, the basics of law and business (how the Chinese are out to crush the Filipino), and how ultimately, everything is measured in money. I had to learn how to think critically because I could accept many things he showed me.

I love him in my way and I suppose he also does in his. But, growing up, it was the kind of love that mingled fear, anger, respect and more fear with gratefulness.

By the time I had my own family and my own home and my own business, I rediscovered my stepfather and realized that in his eyes, I had somehow succeeded - since I never ever asked him for money. So now we are in the autumn of our relationship. He has seemingly ceased to judge me as a mendicant and relates to me as a businessman whom he had a hand in raising.

For better or worse, whether he cares to admit it or not, I am also Jess' son. We share no blood, but love the same woman in different ways.

Sometimes in life and love, important choices are made on your behalf by other people. You take what you're given and make do.

Or do better.


/auto/


Then there's me.

I became a father two years and four months ago when Sage entered the picture (actually, strictly speaking, you'd have to add nine months of gestation, muslim-style).

I was unprepared, scared out of my wits, and paralyzed by the vast implications of a person who would look to me for all things "Daddy". Given my own childhood, I knew I had precious little experience to lean on.

I didn't know so many things, so many basic things. For example, when Nikki and Sage came back from the hospital, I thought I had everything we needed. And I did - except for the sterilizer. I had the layette stuff but no means of ensuring the health of my child via anti-germ action.

I remember all the frustration and helplessness I felt during the first few sleepless weeks, needing to balance running my company with my new responsibilities as a father. I felt I lost my life, my ability to be spontaneous, to travel, to watch a movie, to play a game, to have sex with my wife.

I drowned in the advice of other people. I was afraid to carry Sage for fear of dropping her. During the times she shared our bed, I was completely immobile because I thought my errant nocturnal motions would crush her.

And yet...

Things have a way of working out. I learned the basics and improvised. I became the dad I wanted to have, though obviously I'm quite flawed. There are a trillion things the "How To Be A Dad" manuals leave out. But I do see a forward motion.

This little girl means the world to me.

I am terrified of failing her.

I can only hope that when she writes about her father, there'll be some good stuff in it.


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