The moment I graduated from college, I took my new found wings seriously. I ‘flew the coop’ so to speak. Only going home when it was convenient, I hardly spent time with the folks. In my head, my life had taken an exciting, independent turn. I made my own money, chose my own friends and decided where I wanted to be. Home and my corny, old-fashioned parents were the last things on my mind.
While mama and her ultra-developed radar always made sure I called home regularly, papa was more quiet about the situation. He and I grew further and further apart until I could no longer find things to say to him or even look him straight in the eye. In the deepest recesses of my mind, I could still make out hazy memories of papa taking us out to the movies or to see that Christmas show in Cubao. Always simple things like that. He was never a big spender.
But I could no longer reconcile that man with the man I saw less and less of. I was too different, too old now and the best I could do was an awkward kiss and the occasional text on his birthday and special occasions. I told myself that it was simply best this way. To try and restore the old bond between father and daughter was just too tiring, too emotional.
Best to leave things the way they were.
Or so I thought.
I started getting to know Jesus Christ around January of 2011. By March, I had accepted Him fully as my Savior. Around June, I learned that Papa had a stroke. I visited him in the hospital and was glad to see him sitting up, strong and cracking jokes. He was released right away and I went back to living with my aunt in our ancestral home. In July of that year, a fire razed down the neighborhood of where I was living at the time. As a result, our water and electricity got cut temporarily. With no other choice, I went home to the parents for the first time in almost a decade.
With God’s gentle leading, I began to try and find ways to connect to papa again. It had been years since we last talked. I sent him some notes sometimes with Bible verses in them, with a Hershey’s bar attached to them, with my cute niece delivering them to his room. I began accompanying him to his business trips, learning more about the work that he did, getting to know how he is outside the house. Pretty soon, the folks and I were taking regular trips to the cinema, where senior citizens got in for free on Fridays. We ate in the food court and they talked and I listened, a lifetime’s worth of stories I never got to hear.
We shopped in Ukay -ukay where he insisted on paying for everything, the first time in years he had bought anything for me. We went to the market and he showed me where you can buy fruits at the fraction of the cost they sell them inside the village. We took walks so that he can exercise but only until the corner grocery store where we can have his favorite goto. He took great pride in his senior’s citizen discount, which always brought down the price of our meals to almost nothing.
He taught me how to drive. I remember one afternoon that he took me to a particularly busy section of the village when all of a sudden he said, “Drive very carefully. Don’t make any wrong moves.” I checked the rearview mirror and saw a patrol car following us. “I don’t have a license and neither do you. We can get arrested for this.” He whispered. I drove home covered in sweat and my knuckles white from gripping the steering wheel.
For my birthday, he treated me out for lunch at KFC. He had so much stories and I listened quietly. Took it all in. As I sat there eating my chicken wrap, I silently thanked God for restoring our relationship. We were father and daughter again, no longer strangers. Neither of us said it, it wasn’t needed….we were making up for lost time and it was wonderful.
In March 2012, a little less than a year after I had moved back home I met the man I was going to marry. This was also the time that I noticed papa acting more and more strangely. He started leaving things in the car, forgetting what he was going to say or what he was going to do. A month after, he went down with another stroke. And this time, it wasn’t as kind. The stroke left papa with his left side paralyzed. It also impaired his speech.
One morning in the hospital, after I fetched him his newspaper and coffee, I saw him quietly shed a tear. In broken sentences he started talking about one last job he had wanted to finish so badly but now couldn’t. He had been so excited about it too, talking about it nonstop even to Dondi on the night he sought for my hand in marriage. I sat beside him took his frail and limp hand and for the first time in my life prayed for him out loud. He declared Amen and fell asleep.
I got married in August 2012. I had to struggle to keep my tears from flowing as papa “walked” me down the aisle (he was in a wheelchair) to my waiting husband. He had given me his blessings for the marriage and had even given me a generous amount to help with the expenses—-something that took me by complete surprise knowing how little he usually spends.
Since his stroke, papa has been able to regain movement in his left leg. His left arm is taking more time. When the family gets together, we pray for his arm and my husband says he feels a twitch in the muscles. We remain hopeful and faithful. God’s plans are inscrutable but they are also perfect. For now, I am just truly thankful and amazed to see him praying alongside my sisters, my mom and I, something I’ve never seen ever since I was a little kid. God’s grace is overwhelming.
I just got off the phone with him to greet him a Happy Father’s Day. He kept exclaiming that he is so excited to see my baby. He sounded good as he now usually does, in light spirits and in peace. He joked that he was waiting to give birth too. I couldn’t help but tear up as I told him I loved him over the phone.
I also couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t gone home after the fire? What if I had just let things be, had allowed myself to grow more and more distant from him? What if I had slowly cut ties with him as the years wore on? Would he have walked me down the aisle? Would he even see my baby? Would I be able to tell him “I love you” and mean it?
Papa is 75 years old now. He can no longer dye his hair so the whites have begun to show. He has lost some weight and spends most of his time on his wheelchair, his left arm slung in a scarf. But I will always remember him for that one year when he was strong, happy and laughing. When he took me out for watermelon and as we escaped from the police, him laughing and me almost hyperventilating, when he proudly paid for my meals with his senior citizen’s ID and took me out shopping for discount clothes and shoes. I will always remember him as he burst forth with corny jokes and stories of his youth and his crazy escapades… as fathers are wont to do.
I will always be thankful for that one year when God brought me back to him.
Happy Father’s Day, Papa. I love you.