When I look back on my life occasionally I tend to make a list of my losses and compare that with my list of gains. The list of my losses — and there are many — I try to do without remembering how I felt at the time. For the gains I cannot help the happiness they brought in the short- and the long-term.
My first big loss happened when I was six months old. I was born during World War II. One February night my father, grandfather, uncle and all the other men in our home were taken by the Japanese, brought to the Masonic Temple and shot to death. They never returned. For a long time we had no graves to visit.
I grew up in a family of widows. The only man I knew then was my grand-uncle, the husband of my grandmother’s youngest sister. We lived in the upper story of his house. I remember he was wearing light green pajamas and reading the newspaper. I was trying to crawl up onto his lap. He picked me up. I grinned and said, “Lolo Nick, what’s the name of your babies?”
He looked at me, smiled and said, “Your Lola and I have no babies, hija.”
I looked at him and said, “I have no Daddy. Will you be my Daddy?” He hugged me and kissed me maybe a million times. That night was the start of our wonderful relationship.
He would have me choose a doll then get dropped off at his office to play while he worked. We would go to Milky Way across Malacañang then for a chicken asparagus sandwich then to the movies — Lola, his wife, Daddy and me. When he had parties at his home I was always there. When he entertained, he insisted that I be around. I called him “Daddy” but when my younger cousins were born, they called him “Daddy Toot” or “Daddy Two” because they had a father who was alive.
In between these three big losses I lost a lot of people and things — husbands, children, friends, jewelry, paintings, almost all material things. Strange, as I write this I suddenly realize that the big losses in my life are the losses of my fathers.
Daddy Toot gave me one huge gift. He taught me how to drink scotch and water and not get drunk when I was 10 or 11. He said I had to learn how to hold my alcohol because when I got older many men would try to get me drunk and take advantage. That is a gift I hold precious until now, when I am too old for anyone to want to take advantage.
Daddy Toot died when I was 15, before I could even try to outdrink any man. I couldn’t visit him at the hospital when he had that serious heart attack that took him. He was my second big loss. I still don’t know how I took his death because, to this day, on Jan. 3 I remember with some pain his birthday and Feb. 15, his death day. I still miss him so.
I have a third holy father. This time he was a priest, an excellent one at that, my mother’s youngest brother. He played the role of my father, too. Already I was an adult, but nevertheless, he would come for Sunday lunch, bring us apple pie, have my car repaired, help me with everything he possibly could. He had a wonderful sense of humor and a great laugh. We had a great relationship, not without its ups and downs, but I loved him a lot and my children did, too. He died from his third heart attack when I was in my 50s. He had a beautiful, solemn but intimate burial in their Jesuit headquarters in Novaliches. My third father crossed over, too.
In between these three big losses I lost a lot of people and things — husbands, children, friends, jewelry, paintings, almost all material things. Strange, as I write this I suddenly realize that the big losses in my life are the losses of my fathers. The rest I had the energy to handle. Picked myself up, dusted myself off and began all over again. But never knowing my father except in my baby days, then finding surrogates for him and loving those surrogates immensely, are my three greatest losses. This means I never celebrated Father’s Day growing up. For that matter, neither did I celebrate Mother’s Day until I had children who were growing up. That’s about when Mother’s Day was invented.
Once I wrote a book on single parenthood. I did a lot of research. I found that people who are orphaned when young either by the death of one or both parents are always in search of the depth of parental love and so they tend to have multiple mates to compensate for that loss. That explained me to myself.
Whether you have a father or not, whether you’re a single mother or not, pour your heart into a celebration of Father’s Day. Our fathers — real or surrogate — are among the most meaningful people in our lives.