My Father Mateo (Part 2)
(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)