Sunday, June 30, 2013

My Father's Day

"When I was a child, I had life all figured out. Life is all about making sad people become happy. I guess I never changed the way I think from there because up to now, years later, I subscribe to the same school of thought. What I never expected was just how far this simplistic yet life-altering principle can take me. You would think it takes a rocket scientist’s understanding of life to be able to reveal the purpose and reason why we live. Well, think again. I became a journalist. Analyzing unfolding history not from the safety of the office cubicle but in the frontline, where the raw emotions of a rebel attack aftermath, the tears of a losing Olympian, the last dying dream of a PWA (person with aids), and the national hysteria of a Michael Jackson visit would inevitably spill over you."
My father was almost in tears looking at the distance and almost totally unconscious of my presence as he spoke. I realized he was talking to himself. The impulse to make people happy is one of my father’s most powerful and endearing traits, in fact it ruled his life and one I am quite pleased to become a living and breathing witness to.

"It is almost addictive. It consumes you, heart and soul you sink deep into your own trap, you just keep doing it from the first time you felt the sheer joy of transforming grief into smile then you go at it over and over again at the expense of your own private time and relationships and never run out of opportunities because there are just too many people in the world who are sad and waiting to be consoled."

I truly believe the man and for a while I was genuinely sympathetic. Then I remember the late nights he would come knocking at the door, only to fall asleep like a dead log for long hours, and then leave and be gone for days without a word, at times, even for months returning only to reenact this cycle of sightings and disappearances all over again. I remember the awful drugs and drinking binge, the endless waiting to see him come back. I haven’t really forgotten and I doubt if it is within me to forget the absentee celebrant that he was during his own birth day and on father’s day, his excuses for not being there to pin medals when we did well in school, the fact that it was mom who taught me to swim, to bike and fly a kite, the dark void that he left in my boyhood.
"So as I was saying, I took it a step farther, quit my job with the network with my career just starting to blossom and all my life savings I had no second thought about spending for tuition to enroll in law school and in the next four years I had toiled like a slave, friends say I had completely lost my mind, well, they can say what they want, it’s a free country, but law school was an obsession a reason to push myself to work even harder, to live in constant desperation to be an attorney at last."

He broke into a half-smile at the mention of attorney at last. He is indeed an attorney at law, one of the very best. His colleagues would tell me about it to have me drawn into a conversation and I would oblige like a dutiful son to affirm the impression, by showing them how I had I kept abreast with all my father’s achievements, to take the cue from them, as if I had been programmed to do so. And indeed, they were genuinely amazed, maybe envious when speaking of my father’s landmark battles in court, the winning lawsuits against mighty business empires and high-profiled criminals, the oral arguments in the High Court that they can’t stop talking about in legal circles and conversations like these are part of urban legend, a modern day lore except that everything they knew is true. He played his maverick’s role with aplomb.

But these friends are completely mistaken if in their opinion my father earned a fortune from his practice. I myself am beleaguered by this irony. If the man had really earned his millions, well, he made a good job hiding it because I have not seen the benefit of those staggering tales of money. Always a simple man, you don’t equate father with fancy clothes and cars. We live in the same neighborhood from the time I was born and see no hope of moving into a better place, not that I am complaining of what we have and where we are. My father had never failed to remind us that a lot of people are in worse shape in the few times, rare occasions indeed that something like conversation would break the silence between the two of us. The law completely took him away from us. I still do hate the missed opportunities, the family bonding moments that we never experienced as much as we craved for them, just the simple joy of having a complete household, and the comfort in the knowledge that he was in the next room, and not the sad fact that he was not really present in our lives even when he is around because his heart throbs for the call of the courtroom, and the files of documents that demand too much of his time to make sense of life’s legal side and that side of life that people make with their greed and infidelity, the people who just can't wait to be relieved of their sadness. 
The medical attendant signaled my visiting hour is up. I gave him a hug and as he bent to kiss my forehead, I realized I will never be as tall as he, and maybe it is a metaphor of how I may never come to reach the heights he managed to scale. But I am happy with what I am and what I’ve done. That’s always been my retort and rebuttal.
As I walked out of the hospital and stand at the street corner now, my mind was deluged with reminiscences, a rush of memories that come forth almost in the form of a physical force ramming against the doorway to all the deepest private thoughts that I have kept so tightly closed and which I have always tried to avoid being exposed and agitated. It was not his fault that he took to heart the child’s faith that maybe it was destiny's will that wanted him to heal people of their sadness for there cannot be a more noble thing to live for. If only I had the power to change things before they happened I would have made him realize that one must hold back bits of that happiness that he was unwittingly giving away, if only to save some for the people in his life who truly mattered. I am selfish, in a way I guess I am but the way I see it now in hindsight, it would not have hurt to have spared something for himself, the happiness that he thought was abundant and inexhaustible. 

He might have succeeded in a grand way in turning sadness to gladness, but doing so had left him almost completely consumed with sadness himself, betrayed by his childhood faith.