I had attempted to write about Tatay many other times in the past. Each time, I would go as far as two paragraphs, and then stop. Not that I do not have anything to write about him, it's just that I could not seem to find the right words to accurately present a true picture of him. Tatay is such a complex character, one that could not be easily boxed into a stereotypical father image.
Until just recently, we knew very little of his young life. It was as if history only began when he started a family with Nanay. We knew very little about our paternal grandparents. Our interaction with them, posthumous at that, was limited to the annual trek to the cemetery during All Souls Day. Even their graves were simply marked by their names and dates of death. The only paternal relatives we knew were the families of Ate Auring who was his first cousin, and those from Tanay, Rizal. Beyond that, there were so little of family history that we knew of.
It was only very recently that Tatay started sharing with us snippets of his childhood and young life. He has always been the type of person who would rather talk about many other things other than himself. He was very knowledgeable, and can discuss almost anything under the sun. He was well-read and well-traveled and loves intellectual discourses. But he was typically silent about much of his young life.
When I was a young lad, I have only three main chores in the house. The first was to make sure there were bottles of drinking water in the ref. The second was to make sure that the garage and the front yard were swept of dirt and dust before Tatay comes home from work. The third was to make the daily walk from our house to bayan (poblacion) to buy peanuts from Aling Idad, his favorite accompaniment to his one bottle of beer after dinner. The latter two were daily rituals that proceeded with clockwork accuracy. I should have been done with the sweeping before his big motorbike would roar in at five in the afternoon. After dinner, he spends the rest of the night in his garage cum workshop. He tinkers with his motorbike or with television and radio sets that need repairs. He was and still is a master in electronics. Friends, now almost all gone, would drop by for small talk and the de rigour one bottle of beer and peanuts. A few times, he would ride his bike and drive off to visit his best friend, Tia Oreng, in Barrio Aguho. On other times, Tia Oreng would come and visit and have dinner with us.
In all those years, Tatay was the typical padre de familia – the provider and disciplinarian of the family. All that changed when Nanay got sick.
Nanay’s condition progressively deteriorated through the years and in later stages of her illness required more care and attention. It was during those years that we saw the transformation of Tatay from the family man to a loving and caring husband. From the time he retired from work and when they migrated to the United States, they were inseparable. When Nanay had to undergo peritoneal dialysis, he took it upon himself to learn how to administer it. He meticulously kept records and monitored her medicines. He made sure that Nanay was always comfortable and her needs taken care of.
When Nanay was hospitalized and fell into a coma, he refused to leave her side. He was there when she awoke from her coma, and was at her side during her therapy. When the situation got worse, he was at her bedside at all times. When Nanay passed away, he was inconsolable even if he knew her death was already inevitable. I remember vividly how tears flowed down from his eyes when he brought home Nanay’s remains, saying how sorry he was because he could not do anything more to ease Nanay’s pain. It was the first time in my life that I saw him cry and it was for the woman he loved and faithfully cared for. Tatay is not a demonstrative person. People who do not know him might even say that he is cold. But in the years following Nanay’s passing, he continues to amaze us with his absolute love and devotion to her.
Tatay is now nearing eighty-five years old. He is healthy and sprightly, and saved for the gray hair, he can pass off for a sixty year old. He still loves to travel, and make sure that he goes out of town whenever he comes home to visit. He keeps himself busy by tinkering around the house. He is now more relaxed, and more generous in sharing anecdotes of his childhood and young life. Little by little we are now able to learn about his family, his growing up years and his struggles when he became an orphan at such an early age. Sometimes, it makes me guilty for all those times that I misunderstood him, knowing now what he had to go through to see to it that we are what we are now.
But as most people his age, his memory is beginning to fail him. He has become irritable when he could not remember where he put things, or could not recall names and places. Tatay has always been a frank and straightforward person, sometimes even tactless. He would say whatever is in his mind. His jokes are satirical, and more often than not can ruffle some nerves. At the same time, he has become more sensitive, and can easily get offended by what he hears or perceives. It is a challenge that we will increasingly have to deal with as he advances in years.
As we grow older ourselves, we tend to think that we are entitled to live our lives on our own, and that parents are done with their jobs. Sometimes we perceive them to be intruders in our lives. Admittedly, we hurt their feelings with our words and actions just as they can hurt us with their stubbornness and unreasonableness – whether intended or not. Living under one roof can be complicated and compromises can indeed have their limits. It will take a lot of patience and understanding, mostly coming from our part, to maintain harmony in our relationship with our parents at their age. This can be easier said than done.
In one of our most recent conversations, there was one thing that struck me the most. Many times, I had often wondered if my parents, especially Tatay since Nanay is no longer around, love some of their children more than the others. In that conversation, he told me something to this effect, “Maybe my children think that I have favorites. The truth is, I treat all of you equally, but that does not mean I will always give you equal shares. As a parent, I will always give to each one of you based on what you need even without you asking for it. I love you all equally, and it will pain me to see that some of you will not be as successful in life as the others. If that means giving more to those who have less, and less to those who have more, so shall it be. No one should be left behind.”
As the young generation would say, that's my Tatay, epic!