HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated June 15, 2014 – 12:00am
Illustration by REY RIVERA
Every Father’s Day, I joke about how this day of the year is probably the most confusing one for people like Erap, Ramon Revilla Sr., Dolphy, Lou Salvador and the many famous people who sired countless children. By the sheer number of offspring they have with different women, how on earth do they remember names, birthdays, the mothers and even the circumstances of how their children came to be?
While it is something said in jest, I know that being a father can be very confusing and challenging. One usually gets into the role with some preconceived ideas on how to be one. That’s how I initially approached it. But no sooner than you think the template you are following is a perfect one, the cracks on the wall appear. You may do some patchwork quickly and once again feel that things are hunky dory. But then, even more cracks appear until you are led to the conclusion that fatherhood will always be a work in progress.
It is never-ending. As long as you are alive, there is something to learn. And yes, one never stops being a father. You can’t help it.
Raising children is something no one will ever be completely prepared for. You will face a multitude of experiences from pleasant ones to the very difficult and painful. It will stretch you as a person in all ways. It will lead you to question not only your understanding of yourself as a person, a parent, a father, an adult, a provider, adviser, a disciplinarian, a role model but most importantly a human being who must learn love in its most unconditional form.
I do not joke when I say that my children have been some of my greatest teachers. I may have taught them their spelling, math, and many other things but in the process they taught me a lot and greatly shaped me as a human being.
Patience is a true virtue and is integral to being a father and a grown-up. When my children were young, I had to read over and over again the poems and stories they liked to hear before sleeping. I learned a lot of patience teaching them stuff, sitting down with them as they did their homework (especially math).
When they got to be adolescents, I learned to be even more patient as they went through their phases of being full-blown, angst-ridden, confused, inarticulate young people until they outgrew these periods. I had to learn to observe, withhold judgment, piece things together and make sense of what they were going through while being cognizant of their super-sensitive feelings. Having three children with four- and five-year age differences gave me the opportunity to know them individually as they went through their different stages.
Erica is the oldest and also the most energetic, impulsive child, and the one that challenged me most as a dad. She is very intelligent and talented. She excelled in gymnastics and even made it to the national team. But she was also a rebel through and through who liked to question conventions.
During her early teens, I saw her transform from a happy, normal kid to a detached and depressed one. She kept Lydia and me up worried many a late night as she went through her difficult phase of finding herself. At one point, she was doing quite badly in school. She abruptly wanted to change school in her third year of high school and transfer to one where she did not have to argue with nuns. It turned out to be a good thing in the end since she excelled in her new school and got into ADMU for college.
If life is a dark room where we as humans must enter and find our way without bumping into the furniture too much, Erica may have bumped the most among all my kids.
From Erica, I learned to set aside my preconceived notions of what children ought to be and accept what they are and work from there. I learned to let go of rigid expectations and simply allow her to become what she was/is to become. When she became pregnant in her mid 20s, I learned to immediately drop all emotional baggage that stood in the way and love her unconditionally and be supportive of her journey.
Erica is a survivor. She is a single mother to my grandchild Ananda. They are both very beautiful, most especially in the eyes of this dad/lolo. Both of them can brighten up any room.
She is fun-loving, although she has her serious side. She is a writer and writes her columns with great insight. I see more and more maturity and adulthood creeping in now that she is in her mid-30s. I can only smile.
Ala is our second child. She was always bright-eyed, and easy, although quite sickly. For a while we worried that Erica’s stellar athletic achievements would cast a heavy shadow on her. But early on, Ala made her presence felt as someone really different. She was calmer and quieter than her elder sister. She had a sense of wonder about everything. She had the sensitivity of an artist. I noticed that early on when I would see her cry to sad music. And she also loved to draw a lot. At the end of a school day, she would draw what happened in class on her diary in great detail.
Ala is also quite a determined person. When we moved to Sydney, she had decided to be an illustrator, went to school, topped her class and even got a state medal. She is one of the most hard-working, dedicated people I know who will do what needs to get done and excel. She proudly works long and difficult hours to support her artistic career. When she had her first exhibit last year in Sydney, I felt very proud of her, as she beamed while friends and strangers were in awe of her work.
As an artist, I often look up to Ala because I get reminded about the most basic things I need to do to be an artist. One is to keep showing up for the work and doing it with great dedication while learning along the way. I have also seen Ala grapple with the big questions of life and she has always chosen the noble path of what is right, kind and human.
Mio is “my only begotten son with whom I am generally well-pleased.” I like to kid him by saying this when I introduce him to people. Mio is a wonderful boy. He is bright, intelligent, curious, funny, charming and knows how to get along with just about everyone. Sometimes, I look at him and sing John Lennon’s Beautiful Boy, a song he wrote for his son Sean.
Early on, I noticed that Mio was not too fond of schooling although he liked to read and learn things outside the classroom setting. Mio can figure out anything he sets his mind on. I remember one night when he was 15 years old. At 11 p.m., he asked me to teach him the lead parts of the song Ventura Highway. He had just picked up the guitar that morning. I laughed and told him it was way too advanced for him. But since he insisted, I played it a few times as he watched very intently. Soon after, I said goodnight and went to bed. He woke me up the next day and excitedly played the song back to me flawlessly!
He plunges his whole being into things he loves. He likes to dismantle stuff and put them back together. He is also extremely creative and adept at action and time-lapse photography.
Today, he is a tall, lanky and handsome 25-year-old who drives a motorcycle. I worry about that often but so far, he has shown great responsibility regarding safety. I have seen him in his worst moods and in his best. As father and son, we share a special bond as the minority male members of the family.
What I learned from him is the art of letting go “without mercy” with regards to throwing away things. He saw me once struggling about which files on my computer I should trash and gave me that advice. I apply it now in many aspects of my life be it material, emotional, intellectual, attitudinal, etc.
From my children, I have learned a multitude of things. They are all different and I try to treat them as unique individuals. They all have their own pace of going about and figuring out life and what’s good for them. They are not static creatures, and their story is always unfolding. I thank God for that.
I read somewhere that in highly dysfunctional families, the narratives of its members never change. Once a loser, always a loser. Things do not change. No personal redemption ever happens. My kids are constantly learning and evolving and continue to surprise themselves and their parents.
As a father, I have also learned that love is only a concept until it is applied in real situations. My children have given me different situations to practice it often and in extremely challenging ways.
The one thing I still have a hard time learning is tough love, perhaps because no parent likes to be deprived of emotional connection from his children. But it is precisely because I love them that I must do it when I feel the need to.
One also learns how to sacrifice, to delay or even give up gratification as a parent. Sometimes, I feel fatherhood can be a thankless job. Rarely do children ask how their fathers are doing. Everyone can get too caught up in their own lives and get too busy.
Even if my kids are getting more independent, a big part of the money I earn must still go to the family’s needs. I can spend what is left after — that is, if there is anything left. Also, one must learn to be mature, to model what being a grown-up is like even if many times you do not want to behave like a grown-up.
Every parent strives to teach their children what love is about. But what we discover in the process of teaching is even a greater love than what we thought we already knew.
The Dalai Lama, when asked by a reporter what he thought of Mao Tse Tung (who was Tibet’s greatest enemy), once replied, “He is my greatest teacher.”
If raising a family were a school, I think I should be done with my PhD by now, considering what I have learned from my kids. No family is perfect. No father is, and I am the first to say I am far from being an ideal one. But even if there are still many lessons I must learn, I can say that the most important ones were those I learned as a father. Patience, love, affection, acceptance, sacrifice, forgiveness, integrity and being their constant cheerleader are some of them.
I may have thought I already knew these before I had my children. But it took being a father to make them very real to me.
Hopefully, this papa will never get too old to learn even newer tricks from his children as they continue to learn more from me, too.