Sunday, 16 June 2013

A Daughter's Tribute on Father's Day

Papa was in high spirits that day. He was back into competing at bowling tournaments--a hobby abandoned in the midst of his professional and financial crises. He was very excited, I sensed that he was in a rush to cut short the conversation because the ten pins were waiting. I greeted him again and hung up. I don't remember saying 'I love you.'

It was Fathers' Day 2006. Eleven days after, Papa passed away. He was 60. 

Born in 1945 in Pikit, North Cotabato in southern Philippines where Muslim separatist rebels have been operating, my father led a prismatic life. He learned to drive at 7 around the same time he learned to smoke. My grandfather owned a logging concession where my father used one of his father's 10-wheeler lorries to learn how to drive. I'm also questioning how he reached the pedals, but knowing my father, he would just find a way. You could say he had an early start. And an early vice.

He moved to Manila for university and read Accountancy. One day, my grandfather was hospitalised. Acknowledging his respect for the doctors who treated him, he encouraged my father to study Medicine. He was thinking of Mechanical Engineering after finishing Accountancy, but he was an obedient son.

Papa had his drunken version of the reason he went to medical school though. It was late 1960s and nurses then dressed in their starched form-fitting white uniform and a cap. He said he had to be around them. 

Papa's graduation photo from medical school, 1974

Papa was a full scholar so the money for school fees his father was able to save was sent to him as his allowance. But that didn't settle him to complacency. He loved earning his own money. So he was a cabbie when off school, and being the streetwise person that he was, he topped up his earnings by selling 'blue seal' imported cigarettes which were wily to get a hold of in early 70s Manila. Hate to admit it, but it involved underhand backstreet deals. But at least he didn't peddle drugs.

 He was a fashionista, if I may use the word on a man. Because his incoming was more than his outgoing, he had the luxury of treating himself to expensive buys. Gino was a covetable Italian-made shirt brand in the late 60s. He was the only one who could afford that amongst his friends. They started calling him Gino. The name stuck. It became his Christian name. I used to tease him that it was his gigolo name. One of my fondest memories was him slouched on the master's bedroom floor, his shoes strewn around him while he was cleaning them one by one--even if he hasn't worn them. He would have put Imelda Marcos and Carrie Bradshaw to shame. Papa's shoe collection was massive, he commissioned a carpenter to build him a shoe cabinet when our old family home was being constructed. My mother didn't even have one. I guess that's where my love affair with shoes began--in their walk-in closet where my dad's shoes were kept. Even up to these days when I walk into a shop, the smell of leather transports me to those times when his suitcase would smell of luxurious leather when unlocked. He never travelled and came back without a new shoe purchase. And his trousers! He only wore bespoke. The hem must fall correctly at a certain level. He was a sharp and particular dresser.

Post-medical board, he was assigned by the provincial health office at my mother's small town. He found his nurse. For life. I was born two years after.

Papa and me, 1977
  Being a Muslim in a small town in a predominantly Catholic country, Papa had to work hard on being accepted by the community. It was unheard of during those days for a young woman of conservative Catholic background to marry a man of Islamic faith. But he was unfazed. They married in Catholic rites. On my baptism, he asked the priest to solemnise the occasion by facing the altar which was the tradition before the current where a priest faces the parishioners. The priest was baffled. How could a Muslim man have known of that? 

Mama and Papa, 1976

My father did that to integrate. To him, a rite was just a rite dictated by a religion. This is the reason why I cannot fully comprehend the big fuss about converting to a spouse's religion. 

Suffice it to say my father charmed his way to my mother's people. He even took up the BatangueƱo accent and delivered it as a native would. And believe me, even Filipinos from other regions find it amusingly difficult to mimic.

He was generous. Too generous he gave away his Rolex. And the shoes he was wearing one night he was out because someone complimented them. He came home wearing that person's slippers. 

He would do anything for us. In Saudi in the early 80s, ice cream wasn't accessible in groceries if you live outside the city. I was 6, my sister was 3. We wanted ice cream. He drove us to Rafha to get some. It was just a 15-minute drive sans sandstorm, but he was tired. It was the best ice cream I've ever had in my life. Growing up, it helped shape my concept of a man being generous and it's not about him giving you the most expensive things. A man's generosity is him selflessly going out of his way and not being bothered by being slightly inconvenienced to make you happy.

He was a stage father. He believed in me so much, he was convinced I was the next big thing after Whitney Houston. Not true of course. He would've been thankful though I didn't end up like Whitney Houston. But he made me believe that I could be more than what I thought I could be. If all else fails, just treat yourself to a new pair of shoes, he bantered.

Papa in 1989

 Papa was the life of the party. Mama says he used to be the first one on the dance floor at Christmas dos. He was very popular among his friends and colleagues. 

If he wasn't attending an event, he was organising it. He collaborated with major pharmaceutical companies to hold medical missions and the local medical society to raise funds. Papa believed that everyone deserves an equal access to basic healthcare. He and his team would set up pop-up clinics in remote villages in his province to assist patients not able to travel into town for check-ups, treatments, and even basic surgery. My mother, a nurse, would sometimes join him. He made sure I had a role, too. Papa's other passion was music. Unfortunately music wasn't mutually passionate about him. So when he found out I could sing, I was constantly shoved into the limelight much to my vexation, as I'm an introvert daughter to an extrovert father.

I held a 'concert' for one of his fundraising events. My father meant business. I was imparted a small sum for my performance. The following day we were both out shopping for new jeans. 

He extended his healthcare program via a local radio show he co-anchored. There was a glint in his eyes everytime he'd walk out the door to the radio station. He discussed health issues and offered advice on air. He used to always ask me how he did--if his voice was radio material, if his delivery was confident, if he sounded he knew what he was talking about.

One of the best gifts he has bequeathed me and my youngest sister is our love for reading, which spilt over to writing. Aside from encyclopedic books about science and general knowledge, he gifted me with subscriptions to Time, Newsweek, and Asiaweek. He allowed me to skim his medical pathology books even if the contents were for adults only. Papa opened my inquisitiveness for current affairs and forensic science. He read and read, even in between patient appointments and arrivals, studying about medical conditions he perceived were beyond his expertise.

I respected, feared and loved him in equal measures. He didn't mince his words. He wasn't afraid to be unpopular when expressing what's on his mind. But he wasn't afraid to own up to his bad judgment either.

He once told me he wished Mama was more of a risk-taker. But then I thought it was a blessing she wasn't as she reigned him in. His political ambitions drove him straight to a head-on collision with his downfall. In a country where morons hold public office or a winner is sitting pretty just waiting to be declared before the elections even happen, my father's decision to run for Congress was a disaster from the very beginning.

The aftermath was consequentially devastating financially, professionally, and personally not just for him but for all of us. It was heartbreaking to watch a man once full of vigour, inspiration and fashion sense on the downward spiral. Papa would always come back from a fall. But one fateful day, on the 29th of June, 2006, he succumbed. 

Papa in 1992

I wailed when I was told the news. All sounds were blocked out. I cried to the point that I had nothing left to shed. In observance of his Islamic faith, he had to be buried within 24 hours. It would have taken me at least another 48 to get to him. I think I swore at him for his religion. I thought if he'd been otherwise, then at least there would have been a wake. I remember watching the sunrise that summer day and reality dawned on me that I will not ever see him again. Every time we would ask for anything from Papa, he would always say, "No problem." I wish I could have said the same to him when he needed to hear it most.

It has been my pleasure to have him for 29 years of my life. I wish he could have stayed longer though. But life happens. Or death. The last time I saw him five months before, we shared coffee, cigarettes, and a laugh. I felt like a grown-up. Oftentimes I wish we could do that all over again. Even just once. For old time's sake.


  1. What a wonderful post. It brought tears to my eyes. Your dad sounds like an amazing person.

    Big hugs. xx

    1. Thank you. Sorry I didn't mean to bring tears to your eyes, but I guess sheer sincerity and love brought that forward.
      He was indeed an amazing person. Sometimes I still find myself talking about him in the present tense.

      Big hugs too x


  2. This was beautifully written in many ways. It must have been quite hard to write all this as it must have brought up so many past memories. Your father as a man and his character really came through. We all like to think our fathers are good people but he sincerely does seem to have been an interesting and strong person. It made me smile and get a bit teary all at the same time...xx

    1. Thank you for lovely comments CSW.
      It was hard indeed to write this little tribute, but it's the least I can do for him. I thought it would be nice to introduce him to people who barely knew him, and to those who never met him.
      He was a good man, with quite a temper, but at the end of the day he was a gentle soul.
      Glad it made you smile and sorry it made you a bit teary-eyed x

  3. What a life your father led. Thank you for sharing this with us. I was pulled in immediately. Throughout I felt the love, admiration & the bit of fear you held in your heart for this man. He is always with you.

    1. Thanks for the kind words Kelly :)
      Papa was colourful, and it's lovely to hear that you saw those colours that made him an interesting person.
      I agree with you, he's always with me :)

      Happy Father's Day to your husband!

      MsMadge x

  4. ...all is well with Bloglvin...I unfollowed you then followed you again and today you were in my in box. Sometimes we all just need to "re-boot".
    Again such a moving post - thank you...

    1. Perfect! And thank you for doing that. I really appreciate it. Google reader will be gone soon anyway so it's best that we're keeping in touch via bloglovin.

      Thank you again!

      Have a lovely week ahead x

  5. oh wow...what a beautiful, sentimental post. You wrote this so well that it really portrayed what an inspirational, intelligent yet tender man your father was, and what a lovely relationship you had with him. I have a bit of a lump in my throat! Sometimes it's posts like this that put everything else into perspective, and I loved reading about your father's perspective on certain aspects of life - just treat yourself to some new shoes, I love it! I already follow his advice.......

    Thank you for sharing this babes xx

    1. My dad will be very happy to know that he's found a shoe disciple in you Colleen :)
      It's also his death anniversary month so I was feeling even more sentimental.
      One thing he didn't want to be was to become boring. I guess for the most part of his life, he managed to achieve that.
      Thank you for your lovely comment.
      Have a good week ahead x

  6. How lovely!.... I feel as if I know your father a little .... beautifully written with honesty and nostalgia. I loved how you described his leather shoes - and how he cleaned each one... I mean - how many men do that these days? ... Love the old-fashionedness of his habits!. It's wonderful that you have such lovely memories of him. xxx

    1. Thanks Jenny! He was really into his clothes and shoes. He loved shopping. He was worse than my mother.
      I think it's good for every girl/woman's wellbeing to have wonderful memories about their fathers.
      Have a lovely week!

      MsMadge x

  7. He sounds wonderful, you were lucky to have him in your life and this is a lovely tribute. I hope you buy new shoes on his anniversary each year.

    1. Thanks Sulky!

      And you just gave me an idea. In fact, an excuse to buy mah self a new pair each June. Perfect!



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