Roger, over and out
I always attribute my driving skills to my Dad. I have a fairly good sense of direction and can drive wherever I am in the world. A few years ago, I learned how to drive a crane. Well, another version if it. It is called an “Articulated Boom.” I even got certified after that. Feeling proud of the new “car” I have tamed, I sent a photo of myself driving the Boom to my Dad, with a note saying how fun I thought it was. He replied back saying, “I have no doubt you can drive that tech Boom. It is your mom whom you drive crazy. (And sometimes me too.)”.
That’s my Dad, always finding a whip of a wit to throw back. He has been that way ever since I was a child. He was also a very warm, affectionate father, constantly talking to us his kids about everything, mostly with a sense of humor that was his trademark. He and mom had me, their firstborn, when they were 23 and 19, respectively. (I was technically already present in their wedding.) Those are the ages of interns I have in my work now.
I have memories of moments with my father as early as when I was two. He would routinely put me on his shoulders and shout “Here is my Champ!” and it made me feel that his shoulders made up the most joyful spot on earth! When he did not call me “Champ”, he called me “Tanding” (he said I was born old). No one knew me like my Dad did.
He could not sing but sang his heart out anyway. Let us just say that he had a touch-and-go relationship with notes and lyrics but would enthusiastically substitute them with his own, whenever the composer’s original intentions elude him. But strangely enough, that became my door to music. I guess to me, it seemed like a very inclusive door since it laid out a welcome mat for my singing Dad so I nurtured it from childhood till now. Anything that had Dad in it, I will make friends with.
We already had a car when I was born which, from photos, looked like it could have only fit him and mom, if they squeezed tightly. We had many kinds of cars as I was growing up, not because we had money to spare but because it was Dad’s mobile indicator of his changing hopes and fortunes. I even remember that when I was a freshman in high school, we had a car that was like the one from Flintstone’s. It had no doors. But I did not even feel like complaining riding it to school every day even if I my hair looked like Tina Turner’s when I got there. I did not mind at all because it was part of life with Dad. Last month, when my 2 siblings and I were spending time with him, he asked me, for the first time, to drive him instead. He also held our hands on both sides as he struggled to walk.
Roger, my Dad, passed away 5 days ago. Like any adult daughter who has had the privilege of having this tight bond with her father when I was a child 'til I was an adolescent, I now struggle with my loss. But despite the many thorny episodes in our lives, mostly having to do with my parents’ divorce, my siblings and I have long distilled what my father’s gift of a character was, especially to his children, that we enjoyed many of his last years, without any drama. Now that we mourn his loss, we his children also talk about how seemingly fantastical it was that we did not turn out to be stereotypical children of “broken families” even if we technically qualified as one. And we think that this has a lot to do with how our father was with us when we were children.
A very good review of studies on the role of a father in children’s lives will tell you that despite the domination of literature on the role of mother’s on how children unfold, the father is not the “lesser parent”. It is not a contest between the two but the studies on father’s roles and impact started long after literature has built up on the role of mothers. What stood out for me from the review, as I check it now against the backdrop of my own relationship with my father, is how he helped me become particularly strong and independent, even as I was very attached to him even as an infant (he said I would sleep on his chest for months after I was born). And from the studies, it seemed like it had a lot to do with Dad’s presence.
Dad was really present when we were growing up. No matter how late he went home, he would enter our rooms and kiss us goodnight. On weekends, he would joyfully storm into our rooms, gather us all in one bed and do what he called “ramble” with us. To my mom’s objections, he taught us how to play domino and would make sure we ate out every Sunday even if “out” meant taking out our dining table into the garage, covering it with fresh banana leaves and teaching us his kids how to eat with our hands to enjoy the meals that he could afford to give us.
Most of all, he invented “meetings” for our family. Every week, even as early as when I was 7, he would convene these meetings where we are asked to air out any issues we had so that he and mom could try to help us make sense of them. That is, I think, why my siblings and I never have communication issues, even as adults. I also think my relative ease with language has a lot to do with those early years of trying to make my words match how I felt.
I laughed when I read in the review that children with involved fathers have a greater tolerance for stress and frustration in life. When our parents divorced, we, their children were naturally stressed by the situation. He also seemed to have reversed in the way we expected him to behave but for some reason, that bump in our life did not even haunt us anymore as we became grown men and women. Maybe his very presence early in our lives helped us cope with the stress and frustration we had over him and my mom. To prove how much we have gotten over that bump, I will share with you what he would always ask me every time he picked me up from the airport when I visit him. As we would cross the “Yerba Buena” exit on the Bay Bridge in San Francisco, he would ask, “Anak, I really screwed up, didn’t I?” And reliably too, I will reply. “Oh gloriously Dad, gloriously.” And then we will both laugh our hearts out. That exchange occurred for decades.
My Dad wrote my nursery speech when I was 4. It included this line: “One day we will realize that what was yesterday is actually a giant leap tomorrow.” It was inspired by the Apollo landing on the moon. When I asked him decades later why he wrote that when no one in the audience seemed to get it, he said “what was important to me was that you understood it!”. He was only 26 when he wrote that speech for me and understood what it would do for me.
Dear Dad, the review of the roles of fathers mention that “children of involved fathers are more likely to demonstrate a greater internal locus of control…”. My sadness is deep not just because you are the first man I ever loved but also because it is with abundantly layered with gratitude for what you have built up in me and in my siblings “yesterday”. I am counting on that “internal locus of control” you have given me “yesterday” as I wake up and live my “fatherless” tomorrows. Thank you, Dad, from the deepest places in my heart, for launching the Apollo in me. You are my Champ. – Rappler.com