[DETOURS] If Tatay were here, there would surely be tears

Editor’s note: While some would say that “real” men don’t cry, Zarrel Noza’s father believed otherwise. And no one thought it made him any less of a man. In this Detours essay, Zarrel shares the tears that her Father shed and the lessons they learned each time.

We grew up in a society where “real men” are not allowed to express their emotions. Many of us believe that fathers are supposed to be strong, the foundation of our household – and that means not showing any “feminine” emotions. We all know this is just a toxic notion. And I’m thankful my Tatay did not care about that at all – even when everyone could see him.

I remember my elementary graduation, my dad and I were just about to march, and I could already see him tearing up. Honestly, I thought it was just a very hot afternoon and his eyes were literally sweating. But as I was delivering my valedictory address, I – no, everyone – saw him sobbing. And that was when my voice started to break as well.

When my Kuya was about to get married, I thought Tatay would not cry. But just as they were starting to walk down the aisle, everyone could see him holding back tears. 

The same thing happened at my high school graduation. One of my classmates recorded my address and I still have the recording where she was gushing, “Uy, umiiyak na yung Tatay ni Zarrel!” (Hey, look, Zarrel’s dad is already crying!) And I knew he really was because I could see him from where I was standing, his polo getting wet with tears.

After high school, I thought I would have to wait for another four years or more to see him cry like that in front of people we do not know. But boy, was I wrong. Just a few months later, they sent me to my college dorm. It was more than an hour away from our hometown, so my mom was telling him that it was time to leave. But he sat on my bed, and looking at the floor, he started crying. Oh yes, in front of my new roommates whose names I didn’t even know yet at the time. In tears, he even told my eldest roommate to take care of me. 

It happened again just a semester after. I chose modern dance for my physical education class during my freshman year and there was a dance recital by the end of the sem. And though I am not really a good dancer, I invited my family (who else could stand seeing me dance?!) and guess what? Despite the darkness of the auditorium, I could see my dad crying. I just hope those tears were out of pride and not disappointment with my dancing skills. 

I have always known he was crying out of love, pride, and joy. I have always known those were happy tears. But I still didn’t like seeing him cry – because I knew I would also end up in tears, and so would my mom. 

Little did I know that those tears during that dance recital was one of the last times I was going to see his happy tears. 

He got sick after a few months. The diabetes he was managing well since I was a baby finally got to him and destroyed his kidney. He was so stressed by that situation that he got a stroke and was bedridden for some time. After that, I cannot remember seeing him cry out of joy anymore. All I can remember were cries of frustration because he could not move half his body. All I can remember were cries to God, asking Him to end his misery.

And in September 2013, a few days after the birthday of my Nanay – his most beloved, it finally ended. Every detail of that night was still vivid for me. How I kissed him goodbye that morning thinking I would still see him after a week, how I rushed home from my dorm the same day, how we thought he was getting better just to receive a phone call before that day ended that he was already gone.

We’ve reached a lot of milestongs since that night – our bunso finished grade school six months later, my Kuya had kids, I graduated from college and had to stay in Manila for some time for my first job. All those events passed, and we no longer have a sobbing Tatay sitting in a corner. It used to bother me when he cried, but now, I would give anything just to see it again. 

Now, tears seem to have been a common part of our celebrations – birthdays, anniversaries, holidays – and it’s no longer because Tatay was the first one to cry but because he is no longer here to start the sobfest. The most we can do is to tearfully smile to ourselves while thinking, “If Tatay were here, there would surely be tears.” – Rappler.com

Zarrel Noza is a communications and knowledge management specialist for an international research and development organization, and a part-time graduate student.