Thursday, October 21, 2010

Nostalgia: Remembering Tatay

It has been thirty-one years since my father passed away---31 years today.  I like to remember my father's life, not his death.  He was 38 years old when he died...short as it may seem, but I believe he lived a full, vibrant life.

He was named after Jacob's first-born with Leah, Reuben.   Reuben was the apple of my grandfather's eye, a headstrong, playful boy and his exploits were legendary.   He dropped out of high school at 14, became a wanderer and earned notoriety by sheer guts and smarts. When he met and married my mother at 23, his new sister-in-law saw him as a good-for-nothing thug, and she advised my mom to plant lampunaya (a medicinal plant that relieves swelling) in her garden.

After I was born, my father returned to school to finish high school.  He went  on to college and was in the debate team.  Everybody was surprised that he had brains, especially my aunt (my mother's sister). A few months before graduation, 5 henchmen of a local politico attempted to murder him  in a rumble that is still being talked about by some old-timers.  How he survived numerous stab wounds, nobody knows.  There was even a myth about how he survived the deadly assault.  He was in a critical condition and the doctors were not hopeful when they talked to my grandfather. My father lost a lot blood, there were punctures in his liver, defensive wounds damaged his arms.  The doctors believed that ultimately, it was my father's will to live that saved him.  He was in the hospital for a month.

There was muscular atrophy on his arms caused by the injuries.  The nuns gave him a guitar and he played everyday.  It probably helped stop the deterioration of his arm muscles.  In the hospital, he reviewed for his exams and graduated cum laude.

He joined the Integrated National Police in the early 70's, and took Criminology subjects at night.  I was too young to care about my father's job but I remember not seeing him for days when he was on a "mission".  The strays and strange characters he brought home fascinated and exposed us to the ugly side of life.  How security measures were drilled into us about suspicious-looking strangers around the neighborhood, or at school.  Our home was always filled with his friends, some would stay for weeks.  His friends cooked non-stop, one taught me card tricks, one was showing us magic tricks, one was showing us the tattoos all over his body and the story behind every tattoo.  Men with guns would come looking for Tatay, and they would hug each other like long-lost brothers.  Looking back, I never saw my father in a police uniform until he was inside the coffin.

My father loved learning---evident in his love for books. He encouraged us to read, read, read anything.  He made sure that we had enough reading materials at home.  Aside from the books in the bookshelves,  he subscribed to Readers' Digest, Time and Newsweek, the daily broadsheet.  He also brought home illustrated classics which we devoured with enthusiasm--illustrated Greek mythology, Shakespeare, Robinson Crusoe, The Scarlet Letter, A Tale of Two Cities, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Lord of the Flies, Crime and Punishment were some of my favorite.
"I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library." ~ Jorge Luis Borges
A health-conscious guy, he was into physical fitness and healthy diet.  Quite ironic for somebody who had a relationship with booze.  But he was a man who could hold his liquor well---we never saw him inebriated. He lifted weights---my sister and I were the weights for his bicep curls.

Tatay was in no way perfect.  He had girls alright--and he would always ruffle my hair or kiss the top of my head when I threatened to go on dates as soon as I graduate from high school (he said I was trouble waiting to happen :p). My sister and I would inspect his wallet and interrogate him about where he'd been. He was passionate about his fighting cocks and spent money on the roosters' food and vitamins.  Generous to a fault, he would give the last money from his pocket to help out someone which drove my mother up the wall.  He made enemies because he didn't like to be anybody's puppet.  He was even-tempered but I saw him lost his temper with my sister who had bad temper tantrums, and when he found out that my brother cut class and lost his school ID in a movie theater.

My most vivid memories of my father were the times he would wake us up as soon as he comes home--even at 3 o'clock in the morning. He would tease us, tickle us until we're fully awake. Sometimes, he would bring home siopao and we'd all be eating siopao early in the morning.  In hindsight, he was probably making up for the times he was not home.

Story-telling was huge in our family when we were kids.  Tatay believed that TV makes people dumb so after dinner, he entertained us with stories. We never got tired of listening to stories about the court-room adventures of Clarence Darrow, John Dillinger, Django, the coffin-dragging gunslinger, the rescue-mission in Entebbe, "The Godfather", Al Capone, "A Bridge Too Far", "The Eagle Has Landed", "The Bridge on the River Kwai", among others. I would cry at the end of John Dillinger's story, and he would whistle the tune of "Red River Valley" to make me smile.  He told us anecdotes from his childhood, about aswangs and supernatural encounters.

Music was something we all enjoyed with our father.  One of his favorite guitar pieces was "Forbidden Games". I was the family performer, and he would ask me to sing "Evergreen"; my sister and I would also sing together, even Nanay would sing along.  Friends and neighbors also joined in our impromptu jam sessions.  I could still hear Patrick's cool and soothing rendition of "Ebb Tide", and Chino crooning "For the Good Times".

My father was a tough guy who could dance.  At 10, he taught me how to boogie, and I kept stepping on this toes.  He was a kind of father who wanted to know everything--about my crushes, my favorite subjects in school, what I was reading or drawing, who my History teacher is. And he would "dream" out loud of the day when a boy would court me, or serenade me at home!  I was about 13 when he had somebody fetched me from a workshop and met me for lunch with 5 of my classmates.  It was the first time my classmates and I were in a "real" restaurant with a menu and we could order anything we want. We couldn't stop talking about it later in school and I was shocked to learn that my classmates had a crush on him and thought he's so cool!  All I could say was---"He's sooo old!"

A dream of becoming a lawyer got Tatay into law school. He was on his third year when he got sick with a deadly type of infection and died nine days later after three surgeries.  My father had cheated death a couple of times in the past  that when it finally came, it was a blessing.

Thirty-one years after his death, and the stories and memories of him live on.

I still think of him as the most important man in my life. I remember his laughter when I am celebrating life's small victories.  His strength becomes my strength when I am swimming against the tides.  His love inspires me to be a better version of myself.

"For what is to die, but to free life from its restless tides and seek God unencumbered."  ~ Kahlil Gibran

This post is linked to hosted by Rose at Nostalgic Marveling


Sidney said...

A very nice tribute to your father.
It is bad he died so early... but good he will live forever in your heart.

Photo Cache said...

Your father was gone too soon. I just hoped you had a lifetime of memories.

My dad died when I was 17 and I thought I didn't have enough time with him. I still think that way.

Unknown said...

Thank you, Sidney. and he's young forever in my heart.:p

Verna Luga said...

awww. so sorry for this Luna dear ... but I'm sure wherever he is right now, he sure is happy looking down at you...

My Nostalgia here

~✽Mumsy✽~ said...

What a fantastic tribute to your father! He did have a full life! You know more about your father than I did mine. Keep his memory alive with your children..

Cherry said...

you made me miss my father, he's been my angel for 10 years now...

EJ said...

Now I know where you got your wits, you are as smart as your Dad, great tribute!


Sunshinelene said...

A beautiful tribute, Luna! Your father is so alive in the way you describe him. I wish i had a dad like you who takes time to really give time to his children.

Chubskulit Rose said...

This is making me cry sis, your story reminds me of my father who passed away 7 years ago. I can't believe how people could be mean to your Papa, he sounds like a very loving and well-liked man. Great tribute.

Thanks for joining Nostalgia this week!

Unknown said...

I was 14 when he died, Maria. i wished he could have stayed with us a bit longer. but as i mature, i have learned that there is "a time to die, and a time to heal".