Sunday, 18 June 2017


Just as the camera briefly hovered over the doctor's bag on top of the dining table, I burst into tears without warning. 'Doctor in the House', a BBC documentary series about a GP invited by families to investigate their health issues, was on that night. I normally would attribute the emotional outburst to an incendiary mix of hormones and fatigue.

That night,I had no reason other than I miss my father.

My dad was a Physician-Surgeon, or a GP, as we call them here in the UK. He wasn't able to specialise in a specific field of Medicine because he and my mother, who's a nurse, were offered posts at Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Health back in 1979. They were looking specifically for a husband-and-wife team. My parents made the final cut. By the time they decided not to renew their employment contract, it was 1989 and I was on my way to high school. Priorities have changed. 

His friends and classmates from medical school--at least the ones I met--have said that if my father managed to do further studies, he would have been brilliant. He wasn't the theoretical or overly academic type--just the man to turn to for practical applications and when all other options have been exhausted. As someone who originally wanted to be a mechanical engineer, he must have viewed human anatomy as a machine to unravel. 

Please excuse the red sofa (and my matching red shorts), my father's massive bling that I joked was his engagement ring, and myself for looking like a little boy that grew a Dora-esque hairdo. I left almost all of my childhood photos in the Philippines, I don't have more decent ones to post.

His name was Cosain. I have no idea what it means in Arabic, or if it's Arabic at all or an amalgamation of words in Maguindanao dialect. Funnily enough, when I googled it, the results came back describing a word with Irish roots. There's absolutely nothing Irish in him (as you can see in the photo), except probably his ability to handle his alcohol during his pre-Mecca inebriation days. As his Muslim name was very unusual and unique in my mum's Catholic hometown where I grew up, my school teachers had an excuse for word play. Perhaps with, or most likely without pun intended, he was 'christened' as Cocaine, at least on my report card. How my teachers managed to come up with the idea of a person being named after a type of recreational drug is beyond me (I came across the word cocaine in my father's Legal Medicine textbook when I was about eight ), but no one even noticed it at the time apart from when I mentioned it to my mother. She probably won't even remember this incident.

I've heard it said by others who lost loved ones that grief never really leaves you. It certainly has took up home in my psyche. Although I no longer think of my Papa--as I called him--on a daily basis, there are occasional reminders of him that turn me into an emotional wreck. I once cried in the middle of the men's shoe department of Harrods, surrounded by all the Guccis, Ferragamos, and Ballys that I wanted to get for him using my staff discount. Papa was a Rooster. In Chinese astrology, they're the dapper ones. He was fashion-conscious, with a preference for bespoke tailoring. When he passed, he still had several pairs of shoes he hadn't worn. In Islamic tradition--at least in the Philippines--the family has to give away all the material possessions of the departed save some personal effects that have sentimental value. I wasn't there when he left us; I could have kept at least one of his pairs. While waiting for my train at London Marylebone station a couple of weeks ago, my attention was caught by a display stand of Father's Day greeting cards. I don't remember giving him Father's Day cards. I phoned. Or did I? 

I last spoke to my father exactly 11 years ago today. There are things that are slowly becoming blurry, but the sound of his voice remains intact in my mind. It sometimes feels inaudible, so I close my eyes and play it back in my head over and over again until I can hear him clearing his throat before speaking up. Unfortunately, time is slowly disconnecting my memory from the sound of his laughter. It scares me to lose recollections of that part of him. But I'm at least still left with the physical reminder of his cheeky laugh: his gregarious grin immortalised in his photos.

He would have turned 72 this year. When I see men his age achieving long-held dreams or trying new interests for the first time, I wonder what else he could have become. Papa was constantly chasing new knowledge, endeavours, and skills. I inherited my appetite for reading from him. I can imagine he would be dabbling in social media if he were alive. He once had a Q&A health program at his local radio station where patients would phone in and he would either diagnose or give advice on air. He probably would have run for public office again, this time in my mum's hometown where he was intending to retire. Or he would have been a lawyer, because being a GP wasn't enough. Mama recounted, during one of those late-night conversations we have about him after his passing, that he was planning to enter law school. I'd say my father had a predilection for intervention--medically or legally speaking.

I think I'm not alone in going through periods during our growing up years when our knowledge of our fathers was boxed into details of what they did for a living, which school they went to, which hobbies they engaged themselves in if any, or maybe how they met and courted our mothers. Around the time my father died, we were just getting to know each other past the father-daughter familiarity. The generation gap was closing in--we were becoming friends. And I guess it's what breaks my heart: I lost my father and my friend too soon.

As I write this, I was chatting with my mother to check if what I knew about my father's history was accurate. One day, I may have no one left to ask about him. That drives me to write about my father as much as I can. One of my most treasured possessions is a pen that he left me. It's showing the years I've kept it. I thought it was just another random gift from my father; little did I know that he symbolically wanted me to tell stories, relive his presence in my life, and remember him in my own words.

His story does not end with his demise. 

Happy Father's Day to my own doctor in the house!

I also wrote a tribute to my father in 2013. If you have time, click HERE to read. Many thanks.

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