I was barely a year-old novice when dad passed away. My last memory of him was at the gate of the novitiate in 1989, holding tightly my grandmother who cried as I began a life apart from them, but always with them.
He never liked Manila. He said that he would like to die in our town; near his beloved farm where he planted cacao between the lines of coconut trees. As an agriculturist, he taught me that the technique was called, inter-cropping; but what mattered to me was what he said when he brought me to those cacao groves, “I planted these when you were born. So that you will taste the best tsokolate for breakfast.” And so I grew up with homemade chocolate and I was part of the process of making the tablea. Once the pods were ripe, he would ask me to enjoy the sweet pulp. I would then spit out the seeds which he would dry under the scorching sun. He would then roast them on a wok. The dark brown seeds were placed in my grandmother’s antique stone grinder, which I suspected to have serviced even my dad’s family. My mom would add sugar to the rich chocolate and form them into balls. These balls were dissolved in a batirol and the dark liquid made my breakfast more than just memorable. It became part of my identity: no breakfast was as enjoyable as chocolate on sticky rice cooked in coconut milk (my mom still serves this every time I am home).
He said that he never liked the city. But his love for me was greater than any aversion. I didn’t know why because he studied agriculture in Araneta University in Manila. Perhaps, the slower pace of life in Bicol suited him well. Nevertheless, he vowed to send me off to where he believed I would be happier; he said that following my heart would lead me to my place under the sun. That was a little strange for me, because he never liked me entering the priesthood. He was not pious and religious. He would rather have his children closely around him. He was not particularly fond of goodbyes and physical separation. I was the eldest, and becoming a priest means supporting my family would now be the least of my concern.
I was in third year college when my dad finally came to terms with the direction my life was taking. I remembered sleeping beside him, with his arms around me; nothing was said. But I took it as a sign that it was fine to pursue my heart’s desire. Minutes before he passed away, my mom said that at his deathbed, my dad said that I should not worry about my family. God took care of them when I was away as a prenovice in Cagayan de Oro City, so He would also take care of us in the future.
My dad thought me a very valuable tenet in life: the poorer a person is, the greater care I should give to them. He taught me not to be intimidated by authority, but respect the one who serves people well. It is one thing I still struggle to do. I didn’t know if this is a good thing: the Church I love is very hierarchical; some church leaders would coax respect from their titles, than earning respect from what one does for others. Some feel greater because of the various titles they get from rigorous studies. I thrive with people who sees everyone as friends, regardless of educational attainment, career positions, family or political affiliations. I respect manang who sells newspapers for her children, than the president of the country who is corrupt. I respect the old who respects the young; but reacts to the old who disregards the young.
Why? Because that was dad to our family. He was father, but we didn’t fear his authority. When we were reprimanded we were admonished with a clear personal concern. He was a friend because he was not emotionally distant. My sisters would tell him their crushes, and he would wait for me when I returned home drunk, as high schoolers usually did. He never said anything about it, except that he told me what to do to become sober. When I went home after first year college, he instructed my mom to fill the refrigerator with beer. He told me to invite my friends over because it would be safer than having me somewhere else. He built a little barbecue grill for our pulutan. That was when I knew he granted me officially full responsibility. He gave me the stability I needed when I was at the stage of experimentation and adolescent crises. He taught me that my identity rested on the ones who love me and whom I love constantly and devotedly. In prayer, this was the source of my confidence: God loved and continues to love me; and so I am valuable.
There was one thing I regretted: I was not able to spend much time with him. I left in 1985 for Mindanao, so I had around 5 years without him. I remembered one Christmas in 1988. Our plane was redirected to Manila because of a storm in Legazpi City. I wouldn’t be able to return in time for his birthday on the 23rd of December. My mom said that my dad wept because he was excited to see me. I actually took the bus and made it to his birthday. When I arrived, he embraced me tightly, like it was the last time he was going to see me. I didn’t remember what we actually prepared for his birthday, but the warmth of his embrace was what lingered forever.
There are many things I still remember about my dad. Every member of my family will have many details to add. But a blog article is not enough to put in who and what he is to me. Who I am today is due to my fond memories of him.
But wait: I write as if that was the past. Yes it was, but dad’s life continues until today. Every time I find myself in a very difficult situation, I call on him the way I used to when he was alive. And every time I survive a situation I feel his presence wherever I am.
In the middle of great emotional turmoils, I usually would shout out his name. And I don’t feel stupid. It is one of those moments that I don’t feel weird.
Maybe, on Father’s Day, that is what I will do. My dad is my dad not just when I feel my life is going down the drain; but even in the most ordinary day of my life. It is true when we say, I love you forever. Death cannot defeat love.
Some dads leave a legacy like a track record; he left me good memories enough not to lose hope and more than sufficient to weather any storm.
On Father’s Day, I will drink chocolate in honor of my dad. Even if the doctor will condemn me for doing so.*
*I am diabetic.
**My parents wedding picture always has a place in my workspace. They share it with Mary and the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus carved by Jose Rizal.
*** My dad’s name is Jesse. My mom is Luz. Jesse – l, my name is taken from a combination of their names and as a combination of Iesu and Elohim (a remark by our Franciscan parish priest when I was serving the Parish of St. John the Baptist in Camalig, Albay as a church musician.)
So, the churros con tsokolate: to honor my dad.