Sunday, June 19, 2011
For most of my childhood and teen-age years in the Philippines, my father worked abroad. He was an aircraft mechanic whose assignments had brought him to Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Uganda, Angola, and Iran.
With five growing children, the separation was a necessity. He had always stayed abroad, only coming home for a month. He was the quintessential OFW (overseas foreign worker), long before that word became popular.
When I was about eight, Tatay came home for his vacation laden with gifts. My doll was taller than my baby sister, with blonde hair, blue eyes, and porcelain skin. My youngest sister had a similar, although smaller doll, and my brothers had monster toy trucks. In an instant, he shone the spotlight on the Cerrudo kids and raised our importance among the neighborhood kids.
Even though the gifts were expensive (and excessive as per my ever-practical mother), the toys represented my father's amends for those days when he was not around to see our milestones, when my mom raised us by herself. He was not being materialistic; he was just overjoyed upon seeing our faces brighten up with the excitement of discovery.
His love was undeniable, the truth as unequivocal as life itself.
At times, he waxed philosophical about the lost opportunities when he had to drop out of college because of family responsibilities, but he encouraged us all to explore beyond perceived boundaries. My father envisioned the best for us, and encouraged us to excel in this world. He didn't miss any chance to tell his buddies about our achievements.
He was a story-teller who regaled us with tales of his exploits in the foreign lands, and when our lids started to droop, he switched to stories of vampires and in respect to our Filipino mythology, he loved to talk about the manananggal (who can separate their upper torso to fly into the night with huge bat-like wings in search of pregnant women) and kapre (tree -dwelling smoking giant).
Somehow, he managed to convince us that the manananggal and the kapre will also prey on children who do not like to take their afternoon naps or sleep early at night time.
The kids pretended to squeal in horror but we always asked for more. And so it went that we gathered around him as close as possible, seeking protection from evil creatures as he watched over us. His rich baritone as he sang gentle lullabies reassured us as we dreamt of adventures as Filipino superheroes- Captain Barbell and Darna. We were not traumatized by the stories, and never had nightmares. Because we were secure in his love for us. Perhaps, the smell of his Old Spice perfume warded off the evil spirits.
And then he always woke us up either by tickling our feet or playing with cotton balls in our ears. Tatay gave us butterfly kisses. He danced around the house and showed off his what would later be his Rico Mambo moves. My mom became a target of his constant teasing and he would sometimes chase her around the house just to tickle her.
As we grew up, my father started to stay longer in the Philippines in between job assignments and eventually, he stopped his overseas work after I finished college. My father loved watching the ladies of the house as we were absorbed in whatever drama series was showing on tv. During the most dramatic parts, he usually started to sniffle and blow his nose loudly to annoy us. But as much as he was the teaser and the ultimate joker, his sentimental nature was legendary. He cried more often and much quicker than my mom.
On June 20, 1987, he walked me down the aisle. He hugged me close and said that he would always be there for me, no matter what.
In July 2001, he died of a stroke in the Philippines. My sister and I went home. It was heart-wrenching to realize that we would never see him again... that he would not dance with us again.
If I could freeze-frame any moment for posterity, I would love to see him dance with my mother again.
If I could get another chance, I would join my father as he teased my mother until she blushed. I would hug my father to breathe in the scent of his Old Spice cologne again. I would sit at his feet to listen to his stories, anything just to hear his voice once more.
If I could steal another moment with him, I would have said "I love you" over and over again, not just on Father's Day. And if I could go back in time, I would like to see the contented look on his face as he proudly and joyfully watched his young daughters playing with over-sized dolls.
And when I started on another journey on June 20, 2011 with a new work environment, I knew that my father had given me the strength to shine and the spirit to persevere, in spite of the kapre and manananggal. I can almost see him giving me two thumbs up.
I have learned all those years ago when I was eight, that he loved us all with that consuming and unconditional love.
Luther Vandross- Dance With My Father
Cat Stevens- Father and Son
Charice was estranged from his father, but at the end, she still expressed her love for him, probably regretting the time they had lost.
Bob Carlisle- Butterfly Kisses
For all that I have done wrong, I must have done right.
Jose Mari Chan featuring Cherie Gil- Sing Me a Song, Daddy