Tuesday, February 20, 2007


My father has Alzheimer's.

He's 76 turning 77 this November. He grew up an orphan in the household of an older brother under the scheming eyes of a sister-in-law who suspects everyone and looks at every young man as a possible thief. He was in his teenage years when war broke out in Manila.

He never had much in life - worked as a janitor, then as a short order cook in a golf club, and worked his way up until he retired as executive chef.

I remember my father as a very kind man who loves little children and animals. Growing up, we've always had pets. In fact, am not pretty sure if he actually wanted to have just children or, children AND a zoo. It was fun.

Every night, our mother would take us to bed like a drill sergeant at exactly 8 p.m. (you know the drill, early to bed and early to rise makes jack a bright boy) but my father has different ideas. He'd be coming home at around 9 and he'd wake us up by dangling a pack of hopias up our noses. We'd eat it with water or a cup of milk (whichever is available) and then we'd doze off dreaming of hopias with wings and burping fat children. Up to this day, whenever I'd see hopia, I'd think of nights I'd go to sleep with crumbs on my lips.

I was five when I was diagnosed by the doctor that I had rheumatoid arthritis - imagine, a child with the aches of old people! On cold nights, I would cry in pain with my joints creaking and aching with every move. My father would crawl under our mustard yellow mosquito net, kneel beside me and would massage me until I fall asleep. I even remember his warm and deep voice as he'd hum "Edelweiss" from The Sound of Music. years later when I finally saw the movie, that song was so etched in my head that at the first note of captain von Trapp, I knew it was my father's song - his song that lulled me to sleep on those cold painful nights.

As a young teenager, he had to work abroad for a couple of years on a ship. My brother and I would write little postcards we'd ask our mother to send to him so it'd keep him company in his bunker. My father's not much of a writer, nor does he speak much. But he'd call us every time he's docked on land - and that'd be once a month. Only our mother was able to talk to him on the phone. We didn't have a phone and she'd have to use my aunt’s upstairs. One time, he sent a card on my birthday. It was a 3d picture of a green parrot. I was so amazed at the picture of a parrot almost popping out of the paper, and I wondered if my father is in a wonderful land where they can make parrots pop out of paper. He wrote how much he missed us and soon he'll be coming home. And he signed it in the name we'd call him then - Papu.

I was in college when he'd have to go again. This time to Canada. During that time, my life was in turmoil. I was growing up into a young man, so many things were happening and my father was gone again in a far-off land. I was angry. My older brother was never much of a role model for he was always into drugs and the wrong crowd. My younger brother, he was way too involved with bands and singing and girls; and our mother who tried to keep things afloat, was always attending to her small business. I kept to myself, tried to make do with my own life - growing up, dealing with young adulthood, blaming an absentee father.

Years later, he came back. Broken. Failed. Thinking he'd make it big in Canada, he only flew back to manila with not much than when he flew out, and I blamed him. Years passed, I grew into a man, and he became old. I promised myself, I’ll be exactly THE OPPOSITE of what my father is. I will strive to find my own success and I will use his life as an example, a guide rule to the things I will not do. In my eyes, his was a life led and never triumphed, and now I strive not to follow in his steps... but I was wrong. A couple of years ago, it dawned on me, that I was so very wrong.

My father started to lose his memory a couple of years ago after he had his varicose veins removed from his legs. He was lying there in bed, recovering from the minor operation. My mother and I were there watching him as he lay sleeping. He awoke with a start, and started mumbling incomprehensibly. Then like a sudden torrent he yelled. I was scared. That was the first time I ever heard this gentle man yell. He was yelling not in pain or anger... but in frustration. I remember him calling his own mother. His mother who I know he never really knew. We calmed him as he cried like a baby, scared at the thought of being led into a dark tunnel. I sat there dumbfounded while my mother calmed him. I had to walk out of the room for I cannot bear to see a man - my father - falling into desperation, fear and loss. I kept silent and slowly through the years, I witnessed my father slip into the abyss of loss.

Now, the doctor says he has the mental capacity of a fifteen year-old and it would eventfully slip further. In front of my eyes, I watched this man, who had nothing in his youth, only us - his family. He worked for us, to the bone. Trying to bring each night a piece of joy to light his children's eyes. He tried to make something out of what little he had, went to other climes, to greener pastures and come back a failed attempt in the eyes of a son who promised never to be like him.

But the irony is, I am like him. I am a father's son. Seeing him as he slowly goes and fades into memory, I, my father's son is trying hard to do what he never could have done. He would tell us to value our education. I did. I went to university and gathered what I needed to learn. I remember him when he hummed his "Edelweiss" and how much affection he has of beauty - that same beauty that I now, am trying very hard to discover. I remember my father's dedication to that which he loves most - his family, his children; whilst I, though not with a family but still trying to pour my heart into what I love most - my art. I remember my father, and how he tried to make something out of himself in Canada. Though he failed, I too have failed... for I fail to see that in his failure, his legacy shouldn't stop but has to continue. His legacy for me, his son, is to find something better beyond myself.

I was angry then because all I thought was, he was gone and I missed those little moments he gave us, like nothing else mattered except us his sons. But I guess, now I have the adult eyes and heart to see, that the anger was not because he left us. No, the anger was because we missed him.

As my father goes into the twilight of years, the biggest lesson he taught me, was not to do the same things he failed in, but rather, it is now upon me his son to pick up from where he had left. I now bear in me the promise of a son to continue what he has done. He loved us so much that he placed all his dreams behind him. I love my father and for him I bear a promise to live my dreams, to let it come alive. Not for me, but for him.

...that's my promise.

1 comment:

Emil said...

I believe everyone ought to browse on it.
star tattoos | where is Fiji | types of exercise