I graduated from high school in 2006. Back then, as I was standing on stage waiting for my name to be called, I remember fantasizing that my dad would magically show up at the other end of the stage like all my other batchmates’ parents did. It’s how graduations are supposed to go, right?
My name was called, I turned to my professor and she shook her head as if to say, “I’m sorry.” I began to walk and saw only my mom waiting. He didn’t show up. I received my diploma in tears — mostly because I was angry. How dare he skip my graduation? How dare he not stop his world for such a significant moment in my life?
Of course, during this time I was only 17 and had to accept a different reality: my dad was in hiding, on the run from the government. How could I compete? My dad was disliked and painted as a coward but I promise you, absolutely no one could’ve hated him more than I did at that very moment.
All photos from Kai Honasan
When I entered college as a freshman months later, I was getting ready for class when a friend told me to check the news. My dad had been caught. No one knew what to tell me except my brothers: go to school, be normal.
During my first class, the professor pulled me aside to tell me I might be a distraction to the rest of the students and maybe I shouldn’t attend my classes. I didn’t know where else to go so I sat outside my classroom and hoped I could attend my later classes. All my professors had the same advice, some less kind than others. I couldn’t go home and I couldn’t stay in school so my best friend decided to pick me up and bring me to her school just to be able to get through the day.
The following day, my sister and I were ushered to the hospital where our dad was temporarily detained. I walked into that room, past armed guards to find our dad on his hospital bed, looking 30 years older, 30 pounds lighter, handcuffed to the side railings. He reached out his hands to ask for a hug but his arms could only go so far.
The act on its own was incredibly sad but I couldn’t bring myself to feel sympathy. I wanted to scream at him and tell him that everyone hates us now because of him. I read the news. I heard what people said. People don’t like you. People aren’t gonna like us now.
Still, I didn’t say a word. I didn’t question anything. I didn’t ask why he did what he did. I didn’t ask for clarifications from my mom, my sister or my brothers. He abandoned me at my graduation so I didn’t think a conversation was necessary.
The author with her whole family
I visited him while he was detained in Sta. Rosa, Laguna every Sunday for months following his capture. I remember when we finally got an e-pass thinking that’s it — these visits would be forever, Christmases and birthdays would have to be spent in jail.
During those visits I’d pretend to be asleep on a cushion beside his bed as long as I could until my aunt would tell me that it was time to go home. I wanted to avoid all possible interaction with him.
I wanted to say so many things, I was afraid I’d never stop. I never smiled at him. Barely looked him in the eyes. My answers would always be clipped and never more than two words. He knew it and every gesture towards us was an apology. From serving food on my plate to allowing me to take his bed instead of the cushion every time I’d visit. My older sister would give me really angry looks to signal me to be a little more warm. It didn’t matter. All that mattered was he hurt me. I wanted to make sure he felt it — and he did.
The next year, he was finally released and won a seat in government again. I prayed he wouldn’t win but he did — the product of the hard work of my eldest brother and my aunt who took his place on the campaign trail while he was incarcerated. My brothers became my dads. My mom became my dad. My dad, on the other hand, had already become so alien in my everyday life, reintegrating was another challenge. I was used to a life without him and suddenly, he was back.
I can’t say it was easy. By this time, my anger had subsided and I sort of just didn’t care. I was numb. As easily as I decided to be angry with him, on the opposite end, learning to understand him was gradual.
Learning to accept my dad in my life came alongside adulthood. I was at the tail end of my angsty teenage years and he was right there. He may have missed my milestones but suddenly, he was there for the in-betweens. I remember the in-betweens more because of his presence.
Insignificant memories are less insignificant because, hey, he was there. He cheered me on when I was eating less rice when I was first trying to lose weight.
He wasn’t there when I learned how to drive, but one Sunday morning he told me to get in my car so he could experience what it was like being my passenger. We drove around UP where he studied for a bit and where I ended up graduating from. We would share school memories. We’d watch movies together.
Sometimes he’d try to hold my hand before he realized I was already in my 20’s – no longer his baby. He’d tell me his accounts of stories I used to hear from my own friends’ parents. How he escaped being imprisoned on a ship. War stories. How he got over being bullied in grade school because he was much smaller and younger than his classmates.
During this time I was getting to know this guy, I found myself sympathizing with him for the first time. I learned how to be grateful. I still had a roof over my head, food on my plate, money for tuition, and a car to drive myself to and from school — he never abandoned us. I only believed that because it was the easier choice. Holding on to my anger towards him made me realize how selfish I was.
Truth be told, I used to look at other politician’s children and wonder why their lives were so charmed and well, glamorous. This guy was never just a politician. Before my siblings and I came along, before he became a senator, he already made a commitment to a life of service. He will always be a soldier above all. Nation above all. I could kick and scream all I wanted but I finally understood that this was how God built my dad. Who am I to question that?
‘You soldier on’
Soon enough, I found myself seeking him after my first real heartbreak.
I wanted him to fuel my anger and rage but he didn’t. He didn’t wipe my tears, he didn’t hug me, he didn’t tell me everything was going to be okay. He sat across me and asked, “What do you do next?”
He began to enumerate steps, as if we were planning a highly classified covert operation. “Never show anger publicly,” he said. “And always, always choose to be kind.” It’s the choosing not to stew in anger that has allowed me to channel that into music, it’s the choosing to be kind that has given me opportunities to pursue music.
My dad taught me that kindness and gentleness are starting to become rare in a generation that sometimes celebrates the whiny. Never complain. You soldier on.
It doesn’t mean you’re weak, it just means you are choosing to put goodness above everything else — optimism will always be the most difficult decision. Do it anyway.
I believed him because he learned all of this by being the exact opposite in the military. He had to be the icon of machismo to realize the “bad boy” schtick could only get you so far. A gentle spirit is far more threatening than any kind of anger.
I learned from my dad that you need to get through the difficult stuff to know how good you’ve got it. In my case, I needed to go through a period of hate to understand him. His absence during some moments in my life has allowed our relationship to grow differently. Because he had to catch up, he is more my friend than he is a dad and I couldn’t ask for a better set-up.
During my audition for The Voice, most people didn’t exactly know why papa and I were both extremely emotional on that stage. Sure, it was a combination of pride, excitement, an adrenaline rush from the outcome, but mostly this: while we were waiting for taping to start he said, “Hopefully, this compensates for missing your graduation.”
He had finally made it to a milestone.
Happy Father’s Day, Papa. I will keep trying to achieve great things for the rest of my life but nothing will ever come as close to the honor and privilege it has been being raised by a legend. — Rappler.com