Father hunger

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated March 29, 2015 – 12:00am

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This was one of the last photos taken of my dad right before he died in a plane crash. He was 42 then. When I turned 42, I had this photo taken and juxtaposed with his picture.

Last March 17 was my dad’s 58th death anniversary. He died in a plane crash with President Ramon Magsaysay. Yesterday, March 28, was his 100th birthday. My nine sibs and I decided to come out with a limited-edition book for families and friends with our own take on what Dad meant to each of us. Here is my personal account.

March 17, 1957 is largely a blur. I was five years old. All I can remember was there was a lot of activity going on in the house. I can remember Mom’s pained and nervous voice talking to someone on the phone. I also remember one of my elder brothers crying on his desk with head bowed down upon hearing the news that President Magsaysay’s plane was missing.

Our father was on board together with the President and 26 other people. They had left Cebu early morning to return to Manila after the President’s sortie of speeches in different schools.

As a young boy, even if I could not comprehend it fully, I could sense that there was something wrong on that day. But more than feeling scared and worried, the heightened pace of activity around the house made me feel excited more than anything else. As the hours passed by and nearing the evening, people started coming to our house — uncles and aunts, friends, relatives, neighbors, priests, etc. But I did not understand much less know anything of tragedy; I just knew something big had happened.

I can’t remember how long after March 17 a casket with my dad’s remains was brought to the house. It could have been one or two days after March 17. But there it was in our sala, a closed coffin with Dad inside. In my five-year-old eyes, there was something so novel, new and exciting about having this in our sala. It did not take my Ate Lory and younger brother Raffy and I too long to “play house” with it. I remember crawling and staying under it pretending it was a shelter of some sort while people stood in silent prayer before it to pay their respects.

I did not know what death was then. I did not know what it meant that Dad was never coming back.

I have very few memories of my dad. I can remember his raspy voice, his laughter. I remember some moments when all 10 of us siblings would be on our parents’ bed laughing, singing and just enjoying ourselves. I remember my dad playing the piano in my lolo’s house. He liked to play Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.

Once I was sitting on his lap in our house and he asked me to pull out the drawer on his desk. He said he had a surprise for me. When I opened it, I saw a small bag of peanuts, which he gave to me. He hugged me and just let me sit on his lap while he read the papers on his desk. I remember feeling good and secure in his arms. I also remember having some meals with him at home when he was wearing a dark shirt.

On the morning when my Dad’s casket was going to be brought to the Immaculate Concepcion Church for the funeral Mass, I was running down our driveway and fell and hit my head. The bump on my forehead was covered with Gentian Violet.

There were long Masses. I remember hearing my mom crying quietly when Dad’s coffin was finally buried in La Loma Cemetery.

After Dad died, there were changes in our home. I can’t remember the sequence of events but three of my brothers moved out of the house, leaving a lingering sadness and bitterness. What used to be a happy home built by my mom and dad turned lonely and alienating. Christmases were depressing. And even as we tried to make them happy occasions, I sensed a sadness in everyone. Things had changed. I knew that it was all because Dad was gone.

Two years after Dad died, when I was in Grade One or Two, there was a Parents’ Day at the Ateneo where some of my classmates came with their fathers. I remember that was one of the painful occasions when it fully dawned on me that I did not have a father anymore. A deep pain enveloped me, which I could not identify until only about 12 years ago. It was “father hunger.”

Even if I did not know my dad as well as my older sibs did, I grew up influenced by his reputation and his towering greatness. From the stories I heard, I knew he was a good, kind, principled and brilliant person.

Throughout my life, I have met many people who knew my dad. Many of them were his law students. Some were friends, acquaintances, old priests he had met during his life who almost always instantly accorded me a special, almost revered status upon discovering that I was my dad’s son. His impact on them must have been deep and indelible.

When I became a dad, I tried to create a composite template from father figures I had encountered while growing up — my teachers, kuyas, Hollywood father roles, some Jesuits. But mostly, I was guided by what I thought Dad was as a father.

As a teen, I related to Dad through prayers. I had my own moments of angst when I prayed to him and asked him to grant my wishes, even if I also blamed him for not being present in my life. It was almost like a real live teen son-father dynamic where I used guilt to bargain for what I could get.

When I turned 41, I went to a photo studio where I asked to have my photo taken, imitating my dad’s pose in one of his classic pictures where he wore a light suit and sunglasses. I asked them to make us appear to be facing each other while looking at the camera.

I dreamed of him often until I was in my late 20s. I don’t dream of him as much anymore, but almost every time I do, he appears on the scene coming out of some kind of smoking ruins by the roadside, brushing away the dust from his white suit and walking with me as we are talking. It always seems like he knows where I am in my journey.

These dreams are almost always in black and white and I always wake up feeling very good. I also notice that almost every time I dream of him, I travel to another country not long afterward.

I still miss Dad. I don’t think I will ever stop even if it has been more than 50 years since March 17, 1957. I wish I could have had him around when I made many of the decisions in my life. But even in his absence, I know that the way he lived his life and the legacy he left is what has shaped a big part of mine.