I wasn't able to spend Father's Day with Papa last Sunday because he had a fever. With that A(H1N1) flu spreading, Papa told us to stay away from him. Turned out it was nothing and so today we kids (ha!) spent the day with Papa for a Belated Father's Day party.
He's looking much better now than a few months back. Mama's death was pretty much a shock and Papa, though he always offered a joke to show us he was fine, well, Papa had lost a lot of weight and was looking very not fine. So when he said he wanted to travel all over the country early this year, we let him go.
Now he's back home and as jolly as ever. I tease him, "Just don't get anyone pregnant. I can deal with a stepmom but not new siblings!" And he always responds with, "Who'll want an old man like me?" The thing is, though my father is not young and not rich, he has a deadly charm. No one can resist him when he turns that on. At Mama's wake, Papa was the consummate host. When he delivered his eulogy, he had everyone laughing and crying. We were all captivated. A friend of mine even remarked at the wake, "Your dad is so cute!" Yikes!
Yes, Papa's cute and funny and very smart. In one of Mama's journals, she wrote, "What do I love about Jules? He makes me laugh." She listed more reasons but that topped the list. Why did she write that list? Because preceding that list was a painful confession of how she found marriage and motherhood difficult. And that list of what she loved about Papa was her way of reminding herself just how wonderful Papa can actually be if she--and we--just opened our eyes.
You see, my father was always between jobs. That's why we grew up poor. He can never hold down a job and my mother got us deeper and deeper into debt as she struggled to feed us, clothe us and send us to good schools. She always resented that Papa failed to be a provider. I felt her resentment and I adopted it. I was angry at Papa for as long as I can remember.
A few years ago, Mama implored me to forgive him. I replied, "Ma, I have so many issues--I'm scared to get married, I'm scared to lose my job, I'm always insecure about money. We could have had a better life! It's all his fault!"
I told Vince about this exchange and he quietly said, "You told me your dad taught you to read. He gave you books. He encouraged you to write. You wouldn't be who you are and where you are today if it weren't for your dad."
It was only then that I saw past my anger and saw that while Mama worked late nights, Papa was the one who cooked our dinner, read me fairy tales and tucked me in bed. He helped me with school work and went to the PTA meetings. He taught me how to cook and clean and be a good homemaker. I was a painfully shy kid (believe me--I still get nervous about facing people today) and I used to cry and get vomit-y when I'm about to talk in front of a group of people. I can't even recite in class. But Papa always assured me that I was smart and beautiful and he coached me on how to be witty and charming and even compelling. His encouragement helped me overcome my public speaking anxiety.
Papa bought two sets of encyclopedias and I finished reading those when I was 10. He allowed me to read his spy novels and historical novels, biographies and art books, Reader's Digest and Time. I was familiar with Shakespeare and world history and scientific principles while my friends dawdled over their dolls. When I was 11, my favorite book was Alex Haley's Roots, that powerful novel on slavery and freedom, while my classmates read Sweet Dreams and Sweet Valley High. He would quiz me daily on word meanings and challenge me to use a new word every day. And when I was sick at the hospital, it was Papa at my bedside with books, newspapers, magazines and crossword puzzles... and jokes and endless stories. He was a storyteller. Little wonder then that I became a storyteller, too.
Today, Papa goes everywhere with a copy of my magazine. He's very proud of me. He tells everybody, "This is my daughter. She's the editor-in-chief of this magazine." No one believes him. They think, How can he have a daughter like that? Well, maybe he didn't realize it but by nurturing my brain, he raised a woman who may never need to depend on a man for the rest of her life, the way Mama expected him to do so for her.
Papa may not be much to everyone's eyes, but for me, now, he is the reason why my siblings and I are smart and funny and perhaps overconfident with our talents and abilities. He could never hold down a job because he wanted to spend his every waking minute with his kids. He kissed away our boo-boos, advised us on our problems, cried with us over our heartaches, lavished us with hugs and praises. Papa was, in a lot of ways, our mother. And he braved society's ridicule just so he can be a doting dad. I still don't think it's okay that he shirked his responsibilities of providing for his family but I don't want to spend one more day resenting him for what he failed to do when he's also done a lot.
Mama, bless her heart, though she loved us, she can never bring herself to give us a hug or to comfort us when we were kids. She was always the strict iron rod of discipline, distant and aloof. That all changed when she became a Born-Again Christian later on. She slowly transformed from this severe woman to this wonderful creature of love, compassion, affection and patience. I do believe Jesus changes lives!
Mama reminded herself of what made her fall in love with my father. And towards the end of her life, she'd remind us, too: "Your Papa is so funny... so smart... so affectionate... so tender... so loving... so romantic... so happy... so clever... so kind..."
I see that now, Mama. I see that now.
This is my younger brother's post on Papa a month before Mama died.
And this is Papa singing the song he sang at Mama's wake, accompanied by the Manila String Machine.