As we walk in the town square hand in hand, I could see my father’s face beaming with joy.
I think I was around four, maybe even less. I was wearing this shirt tailored to look exactly like his. I could hardly remember the details but it reminded me of pineapples because of its color and its seemingly Hawaiian design.
Wearing identical shirts, I was his mini-me. And all three feet of me was walking as tall as him.
I looked in his eyes and all I saw was pride.
My Tatay is a complexity in his own. He could be the most doting father but could also be the most hard to please. He got a lousy temper (the original Buraot) but had the most kind heart. He can be affectionate yet aloof. He can have the most conservative views but can be the most liberal to his sons and daughters. He barely finished 4th grade but he was the smartest man I knew.
To know him more, one needed to look into his eyes, and dwell into his story of courage that I will soon write.
My Tatay was the best mahjong and card player you could ever find, being a hustler and a “peryante” by profession. One night he came home from one of his mahjong sessions with his usual winnings. He was counting the bills and I was fascinated at how many he has in his hands. He probably saw the interested look in my face and mistook it for want so he gave me one, a cool hundred peso bill.
But then my mom saw the bill and said that it was outrageous for a kid my age to have a hundred bucks so she took it for safekeeping and berated my dad for giving it. At that time a hundred pesos could buy me a hundred new toys. I should have listened to him when he said with a grin, “Make sure to hide it from your mom.”
That’s when I see that look of playful naught in his eyes.
One other time on a stroll, he bought me a whole box of candies all for myself. And when he stooped down to ask me one, I scratched my head not because I don’t want to give him some but simply that I had that awfully bad timing of an urge to scratch it.
“Ayaw mo? (Don’t you want?)” He was asking me if I don’t want to share. I somehow sensed a little bit of disappointment in him. It’s like, in a split second, he got upset because his son got a little greedy. But then he shook his head and maybe realized that after all, I am still a kid. At that age, I already felt bad at myself. I think as far as I remember, that was the first time I let him down.
I saw the look of disappointment in his eyes. And it never would be the last.
Since I was a kid, I was always the subject of my Tatay’s affection. Not by just being the youngest but according to him, being the brightest. I always end up on top of my class, even without much guidance from my parents who were away most of the time. On my fourth grade, I became a full scholar, which added to his sense of fatherly pride.
And I will always be the source of my father’s bragging rights.
On fifth grade, when our oldest sister migrated to the states, I somehow lost a sense of direction. Even at such a young age, I started smoking, drinking and partying. All at the expense of my studies. From the annual top spot, I sled into third place. When I graduated, I did managed to stay on the third spot, but eventually lost my scholarship. On graduation day, he was there to pin my bronze medal. I can see that he tries to act proud, but his eyes betrayed what he felt inside.
That day, I knew I had hurt his pride. From then on, I simply avoided his eyes.
I went to high school and then to college. Disappointments continue to be a regular thing that it doesn’t matter anymore to him nor to me. I was embedded in mediocrity. I then went on to start my own life and went to a different city.
One day he visited me. I wasn’t home so, someone drove him to my office where I work as a SBMA consultant. I also wasn’t there and so they drove to my other office where I work as General Manager of a huge cooperative. I think he was impressed that he said, “Maybe when I come back , you’ll be a mayor then. ” I think I sensed that same fatherly pride that I haven’t seen in a while. That same look in his eyes I last saw on my fourth grade.
He gave me a shirt and left. I didn’t see much of him thereafter.
Years have passed and the time had come for some of us to go to the states. At the airport when we finally said goodbyes and gave our hugs and kisses, he got my attention when he pulled out something from his rather old torn wallet. He took out an old picture. It was so worn out that its edges were ragged. It was our picture together, taken on my fourth grade when I took home the first honor award.
“I always kept it in my wallet, ever since. And I always show it to my friends,” was all he said. Even with all the disappointments, unmet expectations, and all the troubles I have caused him, he was still proud. I know now that it’s water under the bridge and he had forgiven me, but still, I never would recover from my childhood guilt.
Yet I looked in his eyes I saw only love.
I was working graveyard at a Los Angeles hotel when my brother showed up. As if to answer my surprise for him being there, he said, “We’re going home to the Philippines, Tatay is dead.” I didn’t know a man could cry that much, but I did.
Now, even if I wanted to, I could no longer see his eyes. I can no longer run after his fatherly gaze and tell him of what I had become. That finally I can look in his eyes and say,
“Tatay, I am proud to be my father’s son.”