Sunday, 17 June 2018


My colleague flopped onto her chair, after spending lunch break with her dad whom she hasn’t seen for at least a couple of weeks. Her old man ended up spending a good part of the hour on a conference call. Half-sulking, half-blushing, she said she stared at him all throughout lunch, hoping for a conversation, but was nevertheless content with his physical presence.

“I’d kill for that,” I said straight from the shoulder.

In fact, I’d kill all the men in my path to have an hour’s lunch with my father even if it was just to stare at him. I said that in jest, of course, but who knows what we’re capable of when what’s at stake is a short-lived reward of reliving time lost? 

I excused myself, went straight to the bathroom, and allowed myself a good cry. It’s my hayfever, I explained of my bloodshot eyes when I returned to my desk.  

Like others, Papa and I had father-daughter dates. We ate out, watched films (he preferred me as his companion as my mother would be asleep halfway through the film then ask him what happened the whole time she was dozing off), and went shopping (my favourite as I always came home with something as well even though the trip was for him). We went bowling, much to my chagrin at the time as my manicured nails would break and I wouldn't and couldn't show my annoyance so as not to disappoint him. A few months before he passed, we talked about my move to another country over coffee and cigarettes—I know it's not the healthiest of habits—but my smoking-and-coffee vice back then was a revelation to him: I wasn't his little girl anymore.

This framed photo of Papa is displayed on his old TV stand at my maternal grandmother's ancestral home. He was around 46 then. I'm on a mission to collect more of his old photos for future projects.

When I was studying for my pre-medical course, Papa, during one of his medical association conferences, would pick me up from my dormitory and take me along to either sit in one of the lectures or join him and his fellow physicians for dinner. It shaped my confidence to mingle with men and women of respectable professional standing, and I undoubtedly intimated to myself that I belonged there. At least that's what I thought. Before my stage father had images of me as a chanteuse, he thought I could be as brilliant as he was with a stethoscope and a scalpel. One afternoon, Papa took me as an observer while he removed a cyst in a woman’s breast. At the time, I was barely past my Human Anatomy classes where dissecting cadavers on a cold hard slab was my closest brush with human flesh. I barely saw Papa at the time as his medical practice was in his hometown in Mindanao, so every opportunity to spend time together was taken up, so much so that standing next to him by the operating table was considered quality time. 

No one will disagree that Papa's most looked forward to and major father-daughter bonding was him organising fundraising musical events with me as the singer, or him watching my singing gigs which I took up while in between jobs. To describe him as very proud of me was an understatement; he was astounded that someone like him who couldn’t even vocalise do-re-mi in tune actually carried musical genes and passed it on to me. When I was a young girl, Papa used to gather family members (and some neighbours, to my horror) in the front room of my maternal grandmother’s house so they all could hear me belt out Whitney Houston’s ‘One Moment in Time’. Now convinced he had a crush on Ms Houston, I would be teasing him about it if he were alive. With his head resting comfortably on our living room sofa, eyes closed, he would listen to me sing some of his favourite ballads after dinner or breakfast, which also became my rehearsal for recitals or any performances scheduled. Nowadays when I think of him, I close my eyes the way he used to. The only expression I can’t recreate is the faint smile on his lips—I have tears in my eyes instead. 

People ask me why I stopped singing. I give a list of practical don't-ask-me-again reasons, but the most profound which I'll only ever mention here is that that the person I'd love to hear me sing most is gone. There is no one else most impressed to impress.

I'd love to sit down with him and talk as much about anything as possible, not because we're running out of time, but rather because it is the only time. On the other hand, I wouldn't mind sitting next to or opposite him in silence while he goes through his morning ritual of reading a broadsheet from cover to cover while sipping a cup of sugary black coffee I just made for him. For reasons of family feuds and misunderstandings caught in a web of political and social turmoils (yes it's that complicated and I'm not exaggerating), I can't get near his resting place. I visit my father in my memory, from the first and last time I paid my final respect at his grave, and I don't want that slice of my last memory of him to slowly fade.

The other night, I found myself in exactly the same position I used to find him when watching TV: both legs resting on the coffee table, left arm placed across my belly supporting my right arm, and right index finger pointing upwards resting on my lower cheek as if in deep thought. It made me smile, for in the subtlest of manifestations, I am indeed my father's daughter.

For more of my tributes to Papa from previous posts:

Click HERE 

and HERE

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