Tuesday, June 18, 2013
(Conclusion, continued from yesterday's post; you may scroll down for Parts 1 and 2)
As I write this chapter about my father, everything seems so anti-climactic. Thus far, it is like a badly-said joke without any punch line. Psychologists term it "coming to terms." Old folks say, growing up. Close kin say, bouncing back. Friends say, thicker hide. I say, answered prayers.
My father didn't change. I did.
Where I used to have blinkers and saw only his drinking, now with hindsight, I could see all the other sides of him too—clearly, objectively, sans the callowness of my youth.
Sometime between JC's third and fourth birthday, my father finally kicked the alcohol habit totally, cold turkey. Maybe because he was already feeling the early pains of cancer, which claimed his life a few years later, or because he didn't need it anymore.
Whatever. At that point, it didn't matter to me one way or the other. My father and I—well, he was my father. The stranger was gone forever.
And today, as I recall those years I spent with my father, my memories of him dwell wonderfully on the redeeming sober moments and all of his latter years: his frequent trips to my own home where he planted fruit-bearing trees in the yard, how he played with my sons, how he chatted away with my husband, how he braved those radiation therapies and surgeries, and how he left with incredible valor. I felt no trace of the agony that dogged me for years.
In fact, it took time before I could write the details about that debilitating syndrome which crippled me in my younger life. I had to look at pictures of snow to make me remember the depths of my feelings during that one last eventful attack in Chicago. It took quite an effort to describe the ghosts which terrified and hounded that little girl who, upon turning into a woman, escaped from home because there lurked a stranger.
Again, why am writing this at all?
I recently dug up a twenty-five-year-old, tattered little book entitled It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown by Charles Schulz. It is about this little kid Linus who, every Halloween, waits for the Great Pumpkin. Linus believes that the only way to celebrate Halloween is to sit in a sincere pumpkin patch and wait for it to come.
A person has to be very sincere in his waiting so the Great Pumpkin will not pass him by. In the book, it doesn't arrive, but Linus—whose childlike faith in someone greater, kinder and more powerful than anyone he has ever known—says with conviction, "Next year, he'll come. Just you wait and see!"
On the first page of the book is a handwritten message of my father, a confirmed book enthusiast till the end, to my son, JC.
"Dear JC, When you will be grown up and I will be gone, you will know what the Great Pumpkin is. Lolo Mateo."
I feel that the message was scrawled for me. I am grown up (well, how else would you call a golden girl?) and he is gone (fifteen years now), and I certainly know what a Great Pumpkin is. Like a Linus, I may have sat sincerely in a pumpkin patch for many years, waited, and kept the faith. Because one day, God rewarded me not in the way I wanted Him to, but in a much bigger fashion I never imagined possible.
My one regret is, I wasn't able to say this to my father before he left us all to be with our heavenly Father, "Thank you for the lesson of the Great Pumpkin, Daddy."
(“Gifts of Grace” Book 1, from where this chapter My Father Mateo was lifted, is now an e-book. So are “Gifts of Grace” Vols. 2 and 3)
Monday, June 17, 2013
(Continued from yesterday's post—you may scroll down for Part 1; lifted from a chapter of my book "Gifts of Grace" Vol. 1)
And so the disturbed, alcohol-phobic young lady nurtured the perpetual hope that one day soon, if she was good and sincere, her father would turn away from alcohol; or he'd stay the way he really was, at least, when her friends were around. Year after year, she prayed. And she waited and waited and waited for the answer. Either the father didn't know how his daughter felt or he just couldn't help himself.
From that cold winter night in Chicago, the distressed lady settled into a comfortable home-away-from-home with her foster parents—a childless uncle and his doting American wife. She made new friends, in all colors. She saw prejudice at close range—the contrast between the city's north white side and the south black side, where the ghettos were. On her way to and from school, she walked by bums in the park and celebrities at Sak's Fifth Avenue.
On weekends, she joined a church singing group. By day, she read glossy magazines and drama books. By night, she directed and rehearsed plays, then finished two more degrees. She wrote for a Filipino newspaper in Chicago and got engaged to her editor-in-chief.
In all those times, she didn't have another attack. So after five years in a foreign land, she came into her own and decided it was safe to go back home.
When she came back to the Philippines, the first order of the day was to marry her fiancè in Manila where they decided to make their home. But before she could get married, as a dutiful daughter, she had to breeze through her family home in the province, where there was a small get-together. Alcohol was served, a few toasts were exchanged. She braced for an attack. But none came.
At her wedding, her father donned his best barong, and was in his best behavior throughout the reception where alcohol flowed generously. She thought that maybe she was too in love to notice otherwise.
A new home, a new life, a new job—they all kept her busy and happy. Then her first son, JC, was born. Predictably, her father was the first guest. He took the bus all the way from Dagupan, where his office was. He had in his arms a blue life-size toy poodle for his first grandson.
Since then, he and his wife, would visit the baby most weekends. The new grandparents loved playing with and taking care of JC. Although there was no rule against drinking at his daughter's home, he would, every so often, go to the small sari-sari store nearby and when he'd come back, he'd smell of gin or San Miguel beer. But the young mother was distressed no more.
Finally I've come to the part of my story which I could clearly remember.
From that time, his change of mien—from the daddy I loved to the stranger I loathed—after a few gulps of alcohol did not trigger in me any adverse reaction anymore. Not even a slight symptom. The panic attack in the snowstorm near Chicago's Old Town six years earlier seemed too remote to remember. Before long, I could attend a party and banter with people in various stages of inebriation.
What was even more surprising was, I could already openly talk about my father's love affair with alcohol, without a tinge of the embarrassment I had felt in those dark years. And the most surprising of all was, my new friends half listened, like they did to a ho-hum small talk about the weather. I could almost read the word "So?" written on their faces.
My younger sister's reaction was even more perplexing. She looked at me like someone who just landed from Mars. Was my father's drinking binges then so insignificant that it was peremptorily dismissed? Was it not even passable material for gossip or scandal?
I think it was at those precise moments when I finally broke free from the remaining shackles of a self-imposed bondage. Everything that ate me up about the sot, the not-so-respectable stranger was no big deal to everyone who knew him well or didn't know him at all. No... big... deal!
So now, I ask myself, what was the fuss all about?
(Part 3, or concluding post, tomorrow)
Sunday, June 16, 2013
It was one of those bleary, snowy, and windy Chicago weather. Night had fallen and on the aisle of the crowded bus, I was squashed in between damp, bulky coats. Knowing the route by heart, I could tell we were approaching the second to the last bus stop before reaching the famous Old Town where I was to meet a friend. My estimate was another half hour before we got there.
A gaunt, rawboned middle-aged man came up the bus. In a gruff, froggy voice, he slurred his expletives about the piling snow, extinct taxicabs and the crowded bus. He reeked with alcohol.
Suddenly it happened again. I couldn't ignore the sensations. My heart thumped beyond speed limit, my hands were clammy despite the below-zero weather, my knees turned to jelly, my stomach churned, and my lungs gasped for air. I was on the verge of collapsing. In seconds, I jumped out of the bus before the doors closed. The only way to survive this all-too-familiar panic attack was to get out of that bus, away from that ghastly man, away from the nauseating smell of stale gin.
I didn't care if I'd be stranded in the middle of a deserted side road or buried in the swiftly piling snow, or suffered from frostbite. Any of these would be a fate better than being within the same breathing area as a ghoulish, croaking drunk.
I was, as far back as I could remember, unreasonably horrified of anyone who had imbibed alcohol.
I knew exactly why.
This problem, ridiculous as it might have sounded, stemmed from the man who, in essence, was closest to me—my father. He was, to my mind, addicted to alcohol. Nobody seemed bothered enough (not my mom, nor my siblings, nor my close kin) to suffer the way I did. Which was why it was only I who wanted to fly the coop, so to speak. With "The American Dream" as a convenient excuse, I flew to the US shortly after college graduation so I could be miles and miles away from home. I thought that if I didn't see him I'd be cured of this irrational fear.
But tonight, after one whole year in a far-flung foreign land, I was just proven wrong.
In the Philippines, I had some kind of a radar. I could spot a person who had drunk a little bit too much a hundred meters away. If he came any closer, I'd fold up, crumple and faint. It was an affliction I managed to conceal quite perfectly. I didn't know in whom to confide. More accurately, I was afraid I wouldn't be understood.
I remember vaguely how it all started.
Once there was this self-conscious, onion-skinned, precocious little girl who tried to excel in almost everything she did. To her, it was extremely important for people and her friends to think highly of her. So she wanted nothing more than a picture-perfect family, with parents she could be proud of and introduce to everyone. A smiling mother, who was a caring pharmacist, and a respectable father, who was a brilliant lawyer.
The mother was all she was meant to be. But the father wasn't one she could put into a frame, not when he partied with friends (for a part of him was footloose and fancy free) and had one too many. When he was his sober self, he was exactly what the little girl pictured in her mind—quiet, self-effacing, dignified and yes, respectable.
He would write beautiful speeches and letters. And he would talk about the poetry of Robert Frost and the ideology of Karl Marx. But during a party, in the girl's eyes, the respectable man turned into a loquacious, garrulous stranger who sang off-color songs, off key.
It wasn't that bad in the early days. The parties were few and far between. But as the little girl bloomed into a young lady, even more self-conscious than ever, especially now that she had new friends with fame, fortune, and picture-perfect families, the respectable father came and went.
In the mornings, at home, as he worked on legal briefs and pleadings, he was his ideal Daddy self, talking in hushed, polite tones. At night, coming home from a neighborhood get-together, he'd be a stranger. He'd smell of beer or rum or brandy or gin, trip over his own shoes, cussing at no one in particular. That was when the symptom of her affliction became more palpable: A little bit of a heart leap, until it progressed into a chilling, asphyxiating, and deafening knell.
Anger? Fear? Frustration? Shame? It was all of those things.
(To be continued tomorrow)
Saturday, June 15, 2013
I've been scouring my Bible looking for good fathers—well, good fathers with equally good children. Instead, I found really exemplary dads with, alas, bad children.
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
To my shame, embarrassment, and frustration, I sometimes morph into Eutychus.
Eutychus was the young man in the Bible who fell asleep and fell from the window ledge while listening to Apostle Paul do a lengthy presentation that begun in the early evening and lasted till midnight.
This accident caused a major commotion and disrupted Paul's discourse.
Saturday, June 8, 2013
Are dogs afraid of cats? Or is it the other way around?
I've read of both, but in our household, our Attorney II is terrified of one cat. And our dog has reason to cower in fear—even if it is in her very own doghouse.
We don't know who owns this cat, but he sometimes manages to invite himself to our garden and once, to Attorney II's own cage. He's definitely so much smaller than our pet, but he can truly be alarming.
Tuesday, June 4, 2013
Tim Tebow, 24, an American football player in the National Football League (NHL), is a Christian, and very vocal about it with fans, in clinics, hospitals, market places, schools, and orphanages.
He gets down on his knees and prays before every game. He had admitted being a virgin, and is willing to wait for marriage. He'd wear biblical references on his black eye paint.
Friday, May 31, 2013
Have you heard of Rizpah?
She's one of the least known women in the Bible, not in the same league with the popular Ruth, Esther, Mary, Eve, Sarah, and Hannah. In fact, she was mentioned only four times in the Old Testament, KJV (2 Samuel 3:7; 21:8; 21:10-11).
But zooming in on what Rizpah had done as a mother, a fellow mom like me can't help but be stunned.
Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Whatever Ate Vi serves on the breakfast table, I eat.
But my boys are different. They are all good cooks, so they relish cooking their own breakfast. Sometimes Tony makes a Spanish omelet; sometimes son #1 prepares pancakes; sometimes son #3 does French toast or a new concoction of last night's leftovers. All dishes are always well presented (like those I see on TV) on each of their plates.
Monday, May 27, 2013
After all, the kids are grown, the mortgages paid, and life's loose ends tied up (well, almost).
I am now, as I wrote in my book, What Me, Retire? . . .
Thursday, May 23, 2013
See this punctuation mark? #. For the longest time, I called it "Number."
Now here's a newer monicker with yet another usage: "Hashtag."
I don't do Twitter so I missed Hashtag's birth. But on FB, which I do daily, I began noticing the "Number" or "Pound" or now "Hashtag" appear in a number of messages, especially photo captions.
For instance, a young friend posted a photo with his family. Before the photo were these gobbledygook:
Monday, May 20, 2013
Today, the thinking, “Believe in yourself” is a campaign, or maybe even an ideology, to raise one's self-esteem, which is seen to have paramount importance in building a person's confidence.
Thursday, May 16, 2013
Spelling is kinda' complicated. Especially now that we have developed new, appalling habits of misspelling everything in text messages (which also often take the form of email and FB notes).
Yet we have the compulsion to make it even harder.
Cirio is a simple enough name. But it can still get mangled along the way:
Now, think about the confusing ones.
Sunday, May 12, 2013
The intense, oppressive afternoon heat made me closet myself in our bedroom with the air-conditioner full blast.
I visited a cabinet unopened in over a decade. Surprise! There sat manuscripts, clippings, and files I had stashed away for reasons I can't remember. One of them is a copy of a letter dated July 1999, which I wrote to the 15-year-old daughter of a family friend.
My friend was extremely distressed when her daughter joined the Atheist Society. A faithful Christian, my friend cried on my shoulder. Since her daughter was quite close to me, I decided to write to her:
A wise old man told me when I was your age, “The day you stop questioning is the day you die.”
I choose not to die before my time, so at age 54, I am questioning still—no longer about the existence of God, but about other things: 'If I ate 12 peanuts instead of eight, will my joints ache?' 'Have I taken my maintenance pill?'
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
I was ten and in 6th grade, and after class, my friends and I decided to spend our allowance that day on knowing our future. We had heard that the seeress had beautiful fingers and a crystal ball that gleamed.
Five giggly girls heard all we wanted to hear. She told me I'd marry a foreigner and that I would have a stormy marriage. At age 10, nobody worries about marriage, but I was excited to meet the foreigner I was to marry.
Sunday, May 5, 2013
Today, we thank the Lord for the grace of an active little boy who has just turned six.
We haven't seen him for 771 days, but he is in our prayers every day. May he continue to grow up knowing and loving Jesus more and more.
Our thanksgiving offering to Him who keeps us from falling:
For Adrian, this is what the Lord said about little ones: Mark 10:14 (NIV) “. . . Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”
Happy birthday little one!
Top photos: Gianina Chong
Friday, May 3, 2013
Some people don't like going to church.
“I can pray or worship God anywhere,” they would argue. In fact, some of them just turn on the TV set in their bedrooms, sing hymns, and pray with the people in the show, which is “exactly the same as being in church.”
There are many verses in the Bible that remind God's people to get together and build relationships. One is found in Hebrews 10:25 (NLT), “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.”
But the most surprising reason for going to church for me came not from the Bible but in a testimony of one of the members of our youth group in church.
In a halting voice, Olim said in words that I now paraphrase:
Monday, April 29, 2013
Sunday, April 28, 2013
Here's an invitation for all kids to come and listen to the story of a great flood in Mateo's town—and how great grace flooded our little hero instead.
Mateo, the puppet, and I will be there to welcome you and listen to the story as well. Please bring all your friends so we can have a noisy chat while I sign your books. If you wish, I can also let you in on my about-to-be-released new book.
It'll be fun!