by Joe Maroma
On my last birthday, my daughter abroad sent me a little book containing a collection of a father’s favorite quotations and personal insights as compiled by his children. One statement which both amused and touched me was this observation, “Life does not come with an instruction book - that’s why we have fathers!”
Suddenly I thought about my own father, as I often do, in a mixed mood of nostalgia, remorse and pride. I feel nostalgic because I miss him, remorseful because I did not do right by him, and proud because he left me a good name. My father passed away at age 50, in his prime and too young to die. Death came early and so quickly that I didn’t get a chance to bounce back from a truant life and make amends for my misdeeds. And I was the apple of my father’s eyes!
My father was a college undergraduate who managed to land a teaching job in our public high school. He was one year shy of a Civil Engineering degree when he forsook college for marriage. War came and when it ended my uncle offered to finance my father’s remaining year in college at the Mapua Institute of Technology. By then, he had two children, my older brother and I. My father took up my uncle’s offer but on the eve of his departure for Manila he looked long and hard at my brother and me, then turned to my mother and told her, “I can’t bear to leave you and the young kids.” As he unpacked, he said to my uncle who was around, “Maybe one of these boys will take up Engineering and give life to my broken dream.”
I went on to graduate as high school valedictorian. My father never influenced my choice of my career and when I gleefully announced I would take up Engineering at Mapua Tech his eyes sparkled and his heart glowed. But it was not meant to be. Two years into college as a scholar I fumbled and quit. My father’s spirit was broken but he was stoic and never lost faith in me. I went back to school, this time in Iloilo. I initially made waves by winning the presidency of the Student’s Republic, in addition to being Editor and Western Visayas Collegiate Chess Champion. When everyone thought I had regained my winning form, disaster struck. I went back to my erring ways. Broken-hearted but undaunted, my father went to see our dean who was his friend. My father told the dean, “I entrust my son to you. Please treat him as your own.” My father had a strong sense of pride and privacy and it was pathetic to see him muster the guts to yield me to his friend.
His health deteriorated until he died and while I was struggling with myself and my Engineering degree. My father stayed in the hospital only 24 hours. Before he breathed his last he had a blood transfusion and I went out to return the unused blood to the Red Cross Blood Bank. When I returned to the hospital my father was gone. I didn’t have the chance to say what I kept in my heart so long. I wanted to tell him, “Pa, please forgive me. I love you with all my heart.”
Finally, 5 years from his death and 11 years from high school graduation I earned my Civil Engineering degree and was awarded a medal as Most Outstanding College Graduate of my school. The honor was great, but too late because my father was no longer around to savor the taste of my victory and the vindication of his decision to abort college education for the sake of his children. The next day I visited his grave and, with my medal pinned on my breast pocket, I said, “Pa, I made it. I was not that bad after all. I wish you were here.”
I passed the board examination and I believe it helped when I prayed and asked the Lord to help me, not on my behalf because I was prodigal, but for the sake of those who loved me, most of all my father. And the Lord listened to me.
The years came and went and, to this day, the memory of my father still pervades a good part of my life. When times get rough and I get down on my knees to pray (oh yes, sinners do pray), I always add a plaintive plea to my parents, “Pa, and Ma, please stand by me.”
Ah, for the good memories and the lessons I will never forget! When I was in Grade II I chided my father over the way he wrote the letter P. When he asked why I explained it was not the way my teacher taught me. My father meekly reconfigured his P the way I said my teacher did. Years later he told me that my teacher’s P was ugly but he could see me at a tender age developing the fundamentals of respect for authority - a value he wanted to protect.
At one time, I overheard him telling my mother, “If the children err and deserve punishment, punish them outright. Don’t scare them with the warning that when their father comes home from work they would get their due.” He added, “I want my children to come running to me when I enter the house and not cower in fear at some nook expecting a whipping.”
My father was also my Physics teacher in high school. I finished at the top of my class with grades in the 90’s except in Physics where my father gave me an 85 for reasons of delicadeza. He spoiled my report card but stamped his character. By a quirk of faith I was with the same class as my older brother. In our time, the senior class teaching staff voted on the valedictorian. I was chosen but my father abstained. He later told me he would have voted for me but couldn’t stand the anguish of hurting the feelings of an older brother. He was one of those parents who advise their children never to hit or harm older siblings.
When I disappeared from my uncle’s house in Quezon City in my first bold try at adventurism, my father got on the first boat to Manila and launched a search for me, reporting me to the NBI and the Manila Police. He dropped by Mapua Tech to ask a few questions. When they were going through the rolls of past and present students his eyes got misty when he saw my name following his. I resurfaced at home weeks later and my father never uttered a word of reprimand. Although I saw the pain in his face I also divined an overflowing father’s love in his eyes.
I had a strange experience one night a few months after my father’s death when I stayed up late in the house of a friend to accomplish a take-home job entrance examination. At 2 in the morning I felt a hand on my shoulder. Thinking it was my friend, I said nonchalantly, “I’ll be done in half an hour.” When I looked back, my friend was fast asleep on a couch at the far end of the room. Deep in me, I knew it was my father, still caring, still protective, still my shepherd.
Those were the dark years. Sunshine finally came. When it did and as I saw the light at the end of the tunnel, I thought I saw my father’s silhouette where the shaft of light was coming from. Productive years followed and although indiscretions occasionally intervened I somehow managed not only to cope but even to excel. In the heady moments of triumph which were few and far between, I always paused and muttered, “This is for you, Pa.”
My life has been, and continues to be, a roller coaster ride through fame and shame. Once in a while I see a rainbow and they say it takes both rain and sunshine to make a rainbow. The wounds have healed, but the scars remain. It still hurts sometimes, as when I go up a stage to receive an award because I always longed for my father to pin the medal on me.
I recall a scene in one of my favorite movies where a father was admonishing his son for going against his father’s counsel. Time has blurred the details but I remember, the father, a letter carrier, saying in typical parental bearing, “Son, do you know how far I carried that bag on my shoulder just to provide for you - a hundred thousand miles!” The son replied, “Father, you could have carried that bag a million miles because it was your duty. I can never pay you back for what you have done for me. I can only repay you when I shall have raised my own children the way you brought me up.”
I think of my own children now. They have been through tough times but they have not lost their fine sense of homely values. My father lives - not only in me but in my children as well.
Indeed, “Life does not come with an instruction book - that’s why we have fathers. “