PAPANG BERT

We all wish to have an ideal father in the family but the truth of the matter is we cannot choose the kind of father we are meant to have. Some of us are blessed to have one that lives up to our ideals and some of us are not so lucky. However, one way or another, we all have to deal and live with the father who brought us up into the light of this world – whether we like it or not – for the rest of our lives.

Papang – That’s what my three siblings and I call him. He has IIocano background but he was raised in Zamboanga del Sur where people speak Bisaya and in his early days he met my mother who is a native Zamboanguenia who speaks Chavacano. How he met my mother in Zamboanga city is another story. But, they finally settled in my mother’s hometown in a barrio called Paso Cania that is remotely twelve kilometers away from the city proper. My siblings and I were left in the company of Papang after the passing away of Mamang when I was six years old, which was pretty tough from then on.

As a father, I remember how Papang imposed discipline to my three siblings and I during our childhood days. All of us had a fair share in dealing his right hand which was our childhood enemy: his long, old, brown leather belt – for rectifying our misconduct. That belt was a loyal servant pledged to my father’s will for a better us; and a silent witness of our childhood experience, too. We could only do so much not to get caught in the belt’s trap by summoning saints through our silent prayer to stand before Papang during our ordeal, and the rest was finding an initiative to redeem ourselves. Of course, being the youngest, I didn’t want to get behind from my other siblings. I thought of saving the heaviest tears and cry before Papang would even hit me with his belt and the worst scenario I tried was using a paper board underneath my shorts which was an epic fail. We would eventually survive the pain in the ass, but none of us could ever endure his fierce look when we were scolded.

On the other hand, Papang’s strong and natural blow of a whistle straight from his mouth with the use of only his fingers and tongue was his distinct practice of calling our attention whenever we weren’t around in the house, especially whenever it was already time to take our meal or nap while all of us were at our neighbor’s house playing or doing some-kind-of kid-fantasy adventure with our playmates. As soon as we heard his call, we would leave our friends behind without reservation and hurriedly ran home. Believe me; defying the call was not an option. That’s how authoritative he was, and that’s how obedient we were to his command. We were always on our tip toes when he was around. We almost never missed our “siesta” and no nap entailed not having a pass to play out from home. Back then, we would pretend sleeping, but it’s too obvious for him to know that we were half-awake because of those little movements of our closed eyes. If we got unlucky, we ended up in deep slumber unnoticeably until we woke up late at dusk that we had lost the opportunity to play. Such was a struggle of children like us. When it was time to eat, we only got portion of food enough to feed our hungry stomach. It’s always our obligation to ensure we could finish the amount of food we put on each of our plates. Above all things, he hated to step even a single fallen grain of rice on the floor. If we did, we had to pick it up. We weren’t allowed to chew our food like a pig. Their generation and the people before them considered it closer to taboo. Though we weren’t raised in abundance, Papang would always manage to feed us enough ensuring that we were well fed three times a day, despite of our family’s financial bearing. Not only that, he could cook so well and we eventually learned to love vegetables from his Ilocano recipe of Pinakbet where we used to joke and described it as “sah’but” (grass) in our local language. Of course, all of us had to take part in the chores. My sisters took part in the cooking and setting up for the meal. My brother and I took turn in washing the dishes. Also, we never had the chance to complain what’s on the table. To complain meant to look for our own food or to end up not eating at all. That’s how sturdy he was. This practice has allowed us not to be too picky to food. Friends and workmates who know me pretty well can attest on my behalf for being accustomed to finishing my food at any cost and literally eating any food they offer.

At the time of this experience, our siblings and I could barely make sense towards his dealings with us and at some point, we were somehow envious of the freedom enjoyed by some other kids. He was the perfect killer of joy. As kids, we hated him for that and thought not having him around was tantamount to having our own freedom to do what we wanted. Not until he left the house for good in search for a better job that could sustain all our needs, it was the turning point in our lives. For the time being, we were carefree and worry-free without having to coop in the space he built for us with order. However, it also entailed breaking the order and building some walls between us that would cause our separation. Papang’s absence meant changes we had to accommodate in our lives. Consequently, having to move out from our small humble house and to live from a relative’s house for some time had to be an option. Little did we know by the time that we could eventually miss him, and would long for his presence. Gradually, as we were also on our own with the lives we built through the years, we learned to make sense of his teaching and practice in our own little way and such was his legacy to us.

Our lives in separate ways are inevitable and going back to the old days is not feasible either, but over the years we have tried building bridges to fill the gaps between us to compensate the lost time of being together. Distance has allowed us to be expressive which we haven’t been accustomed to demonstrate care or support both in words and in actions. As we all are getting older, we begin to be expressive to things we weren’t used to. The way I see it, I personally look forward to the days that Papang will tell the story of his life in details which almost all of us are pretty oblivious about, while we can only patch some memories of our past in making sense about the life he had before meeting Mamang and the life he had after meeting Mamang. Our non- demonstrative or non-expressive nature is always grounded from our parent’s background and their orientation into our family.

Papang may have been wishing the best for us in his prayers, but the rest is up to us to choose and decide to the kind of life we want. While it may be true that he can only do so much as a father, it is also true that to the person we have become, be it good or not so good, we are and will always be indebted to his influence upon us or his love for us in a manner he defines it and for that we are forever grateful to a father he is, and to a father he isn’t. #(6/10/2016)

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