HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE
The Philippine STAR 10/29/2006
It’s All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day in a few days and I thought I’d write about my mom and dad. One of the last conversations I had with my mother before she had a stroke and went into a coma was an interesting and totally memorable one.
It was an early April afternoon. I was visiting her at her home and she was so happy to see me and was in good humor. She was in a light, playful mood, as if she seemed to take life less and less seriously as she got older. She was far from what she was when I was in high school – the tough momma who was so concerned about building my character. She had clearly mellowed and was now quite relaxed and even fun.
After the usual small talk, I remember talking to her about what it would be like if we could suspend the mode of relating that had defined us both as mother and child. After all, I was already in my late 40s and she was in her 70s. I was telling her that I no longer wanted our relationship to be constrained by the biological roles that fate had assigned to us – she as my mother and I as her son. We had, to my mind, outgrown that. I wanted to know her and for her to know me just as another human being. In other words, no longer should I think of being a dutiful son who must please his mother, and I suggested that it would be good for us to just enjoy each other as human beings that afternoon without the history that bonded us.
She quickly understood. We sat for an hour telling stories as we usually do but with a difference. I was looking at her beautiful face that showed the lines of wisdom that two marriages, 10 children and an extremely interesting life had lovingly etched on it. I saw a human being who was beyond being my mother. I saw a human being who was in the afternoon of life, and I remember how her disposition suggested to me an afternoon that was building up to a beautiful sunset. I knew she was looking at me, also, with fresh eyes. For the first time, she even showed open delight at the green jokes I was narrating in place of the admonishing that I would usually get before. It was such a great golden moment that afternoon as we just enjoyed our first conscious “human to human” contact without the straightjacket that familial bonds can sometimes impose.
I then asked her a host of theoretical, speculative questions: Considering that familial bonds are earthly ties, what would she be to me, and vice versa, in heaven where these bonds have ceased? What happens to biological relationships when we are all spirits later on? How would we ever find each other in heaven? At the last question, she smiled and said that we surely would find each other since love will always find love. I smiled and hugged her.
I was so grateful I had that moment with my mother. I felt we were able to experience a breakthrough as “real” people. It was good to have a moment with her in this way before she went into a coma a few weeks later. That afternoon is one of the most beautiful memories I will treasure of her.
I do not have too many memories of my father. He died in a plane crash when I was six. I have more memories of how people saw him, admired and even loved him. He seemed to be a swell guy. He was not just a husband, father, a golden boy and dutiful son to my grandparents, but was also a teacher, a media person and an intellectual. My elder brothers and sisters were lucky to have known him firsthand. I only knew of him.
I remember attending a PTA meeting in school two years after my dad died and found myself feeling different – actually quite ashamed that, unlike my classmates, I had no father with me. Many times in my teenage years, I actually used his being “absent” from my life as leverage when I wanted something. In my childishness, I would pray to him and make him feel guilty and then ask him for some wish to be granted. Strangely enough, I got a lot of what I asked for.
Growing up, I had a “father hunger” that was hard to fulfill. I would feel this longing at different times in my life but could not identify it. It was only after attending a workshop called Reparenting the Child Within (RCW) with Sister Harriet, a kind and strong nun who mentioned the term, that it fully resonated with me. Many times growing up and even as an adult, I really missed having a real, live biological dad.
And yet, I did feel his presence many times in my life when I would meet old students of his, or old friends who would talk about him to me. In many situations when I was in some sort of moral dilemma, I would actually ask myself what dad would do. I’m glad I knew enough about him to guide me. He seemed like a really great guy and from what I can reconstruct of him, based on what I know so far, we would probably enjoy each other’s company a lot – the way my son Mio and I get along.
During the early days of APO’s career, I would often dream of my dad, and strangely enough, that would signal that I was about to go on a trip somewhere. In my dream, he would be emerging from a plane crash site, dusting off his white suit and walking with me as we talked. He was young, handsome and quite animated. It felt so real and the glow of the experience lingered with me the whole day. The dreaming stopped a few years ago. At first I was wondering why. Could he have moved on to another plane and felt no need to take care of loved ones on this earthly plane? I don’t know and will never know for sure.
I am speculating that he probably felt I did not need any more “fathering” at my age, knowing how much I now enjoy the role with my own kids and students.