Today, someone is probably getting ready for her 18th birthday party. Her first pair of high heels? Check. Mani and pedi? Check. Gorgeous designer dress? Check. As long as everybody comes on time and brings the right gifts (no figurines, please) her debut is sure to be a blast.
But while that nameless debutante is preparing for one of the biggest nights of her life, here we are celebrating a loss that happened 18 years ago–probably around the hour of her birth–when a C-130 plane crashed in a Libmanan rice field. The past is riddled with holes and every now and then, we wonder how different life could have been if we slipped inside a different one. Sometimes, I wonder: maybe, just maybe, if the skies had been clear that night, would I be here right now? Would I be allowed out of the house in this short a miniskirt? In my life, the biggest hole is really the hardest one to get into.
It’s always hard to talk about loss, even one that’s so long ago. But for me, it’s plain hard not because it rubs a closed wound raw but simply because I find it difficult to remember anything. It’s borderline tragic that I remember someone’s death more than his life, especially when that same person gave me half of mine. It’s also slightly depressing that I don’t even have a photo with my dad (maybe I do but I’ve never seen it). Sometimes, it feels like he barely existed but then I remember that I’m here, with four happy siblings.
I could go on and on, complaining about what could have but didn’t happen, but that’s not really me. So allow me to re-post a little something I wrote last year about my dad. It’s the first time I ever talked about him and funny enough, it got published in the paper! One-time-big-time, ika nga! My brother said today is a time of prayer but I think this essay is especially apt for today. Because for me, this is the reminder that he lived. 😀
I HAVE exactly five distinct memories of my father:
1. Him helping me throw cabbage at the giraffes in Manila Zoo.
2. Me pushing him as he hugged me when I slept.
3. The long curly hair on his legs that looked like tree trunks.
4. Him slipping on the bathroom floor.
5. His death.
My father died on Dec. 15, 1993 in a C-130H plane crash caused by a typhoon.
Whenever someone learns that I lost my father when I was 3 years old, the initial reactions are always the same: “You were so young, do you remember him?” “?What was it like growing up without a father?” and “How did your mom handle it?”
Well, let me tell you, my mom handled it perfectly well–with the grace and determination any young mother with five little mouths to feed should have in a sudden crisis. I can write an entire book about her methods, but that should be left for another day.
I do remember my father, even though it was 17 long years ago when I last saw him. I remember him lifting me up on his shoulders, gently instructing me in our native Bicolano to throw the cabbage heads high at the expectant giraffes. My throws were too weak and he ended up feeding the giraffes himself.
I remember choosing to hug Mama instead of him whenever I squeezed myself in between them at night. I remember how as a toddler I got annoyed when he asked me to massage his feet after a long day’s work and how I would pull the curly hair on his leg in revenge. But he barely noticed since he would soon fall asleep.
I remember the smell of the bathroom after he used it and the anger on his face when he blamed everybody for leaving the floor wet after he slipped.
I remember waking up in the middle of the night with two of my uncles huddled around our bed and telling us that my father had died. I even remember the night shirt Mama was wearing at the time.
So to the people who will ask me in the future: Yes, I do remember my father. But no, I never knew him. Neither do I know what it was like growing up without him.
My mother never married another man. Instead she married us, her children–a commitment just as unwavering and hard-wearing, if not more. Never in my life did she make us, especially me, feel less loved and incomplete because we no longer had a complete parental set. She attended every play, dance recital, presentation and award-giving ceremony without fail. She became the addressee of the Father’s Day letters English teachers assigned every June. She took over my father’s construction company (and more). She fulfilled both roles of breadwinner and housekeeper simultaneously.
And then there’s my ever-reliable brother, our eldest. Between us was a seven-year gap that felt like decades. He seemed to be old enough to deserve my reverence but young enough for me to always turn to. He taught me about superheroes, wrestling and video games. He wore my father’s shoes during father-daughter dances. He stepped into the places where my mother wouldn’t fit. He even sported a daddy belly. Between him and my mother, I had an unconventional father.
I sympathize for my friends who lost a loved one at a time when they actually knew what sadness felt like. But it’s hard to miss someone or something I never really had.
This whole setup has been the norm for more than three-quarters of my life. And as far as parenthood is concerned, I don’t know anything lacking. This has been my life as I know it.
Apart from those five memories, everything else I know about my father comes from stories told by others and photographs as well as his tennis and bowling trophies. Most of them are secondhand information, given from a perspective that is obviously not my own. Learning about him is like writing a research paper: it’s interesting but rather too formal and technical. My father is a far-away concept, an object. Sometimes even calling him “Papa” is a tad awkward because it seems too personal.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not an ungrateful, insensitive child. I’m not as detached as I might seem. Sometimes my mind does trail off to what life could have been had he lived. My sisters and I would probably not be allowed to have boyfriends until we are well past 30. My brother would probably have shown more interest in basketball (father’s favorite sport, I heard) and engineering (his profession).
Sometimes my imagination runs wild, and I would launch into a soap opera where he would suddenly come knocking on our door, the sole survivor of the crash, still recovering from a bout of amnesia and relearning that he left a family behind.
But even with these stories inside my head, that’s all they will ever be. And that’s all I want them to be.
Looking back at my almost fatherless life, I don’t want anything changed. I’m wistful that I have forgotten the timbre of his voice. I’m sorry I never learned how it felt to see him in the morning. I feel guilty that I was too young to actually feel bad over what happened to him. But I’m not longing or itching to turn back time and alter everything. Life has been good to me. I can’t consider a life without the close and supportive bond that my family developed after my father left us.
To my father who gave me one-half of my life, I lovingly carry those five memories forever. To me they are proof that even for a short time, you existed. And that’s enough. Because you’ve done your fatherly duties and you’ve done your part in keeping us tightly together all these years.
(Sasha Lim Uy, 20, is a graduate of Ateneo de Manila University and works as an editorial production assistant in the Inquirer.)
“Memories of father “
By Sasha Lim Uy
Philippine Daily Inquirer, Young Blood section