Published on Page A11 of the November 21, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer
I HATE being pitied. Pity is only for losers.
I also hate being asked about my father, because the moment I tell people that I've lost him, I always see them feeling sorry for my misfortune, as if life without him has made me less of a person.
My family lost my father not because he's peacefully resting six feet underground or because he's working in some distant land teeming with dollars or dinars, or snow or sand. We lost him because we had to let him go: he couldn't be a father to two (or more) families. And from the time he left us, our lives have never been the same.
One basic lesson I learned from my values-education classes is that a father is the "sandigan" [pillar] while the mother is destined to serve as "ilaw" [light] of the family. In the absence of the pillar, a family's foundation is bound to collapse. I've witnessed many times when we almost keeled over, but still managed to survive by hanging on to the hope that the worst would quickly pass so long as we continued to help each other. In the absence of our father, my mother had to be the mother and the father, caretaker and a provider to her four daughters and two sons. Right after finishing college, my eldest sister had no choice but to suffer the dreadful curse of getting into the shoes of the original provider.
As early as my grade school years, I accepted our situation because I knew that I was not the only fatherless child in the world. I never shed tears over my father's absence since I had never been emotionally attached to him, which is hardly surprising since he only came home on Sundays and he never spent a few minutes talking to his children or asking how school was or if we had problems or if we wanted something and so on and so forth. For me, he was a complete stranger, like the old man knocking at our gate begging for a cup of water or the bill collectors handing out water or electric bills.
I do not exaggerate when I say that I knew my pet dog better than my father. The only thing I knew was that I was his own flesh and blood and that he is half-Chinese -- that's all. So when he left, I bravely told myself that losing him was no big deal, but eventually I was proven wrong.
All six of us children felt deprived of the tangibles and the intangibles other kids enjoyed. Like any other child, we pined for new toys and clothes, chocolates and candies, school stuff, etc. Like other children caught in our situation, we also searched for a father figure who would compensate for our loss. This yearning inevitably affected every aspect of our lives and we often found ourselves asking God why this had to happen to us?
My father couldn't be with us during our ups and downs. He did not see, much less appreciate how my mother strived to do various jobs, including the oddest ones which she would never have touched during her maiden years, just so we could continue with our studies. He didn't witness how his daughters willed themselves to earn their college diplomas so that they would not be dependent on their husbands when they got married.
Had he been around, he would have commended my brother for being so tough to be doing various jobs to help my mother or they could have had a man-to-man talk after my brother got busted by the first girl he courted. Since he was away, he wasn't able to scold his youngest daughter for having a puppy love at the age of 12 and coming home late so many times. He wasn't there to comfort my sister when her false teeth broke during her birthday, and he wasn't there to make her feel better when she painfully broke up with her first boyfriend.
I wonder if he's aware that he has a daughter somewhere in Japan who's just starting to fulfill her dream of being a successful engineer. I do not know where he was when we needed him so badly, such as when we were forced to leave our aunt's house. It seems that he did not care that not even one of his daughters had a debut party. Probably he is not even aware that he is now a "lolo" [grandfather], with two beautiful granddaughters.
The list would be endless if I were to write all the memorable moments that transpired in the absence of the most important man in our family.
I must admit that we couldn't help but feel the emptiness, the sense of being incomplete especially during celebrations on Christmas Day, birthdays, commencement exercises, graduations, Father's Day, etc. But maybe we should not rue the loss, for our gains were definitely greater. In fact, I want to thank my father for not being around because we learned to be more hopeful, patient, hardworking and independent. The less determined he was about caring for us, the more determined we were to survive by ourselves. We might have missed the most precious memories that complete families have, but we are still thankful for being blessed with wonderful people who filled the space left by my father.
Throughout the years, God has provided everything that we lacked. In losing our father, God did not allow us to lose our world but instead helped us to conquer it. God made us go through this difficult ordeal so we would prevail, not fail. If we survived the most trying times without him, we can definitely do the same in the future. I know we shall overcome. I know we shall prevail. God will always see us through.
Several years from now, my sisters will be walking down the aisle with their husbands. I hope and pray that they will find real partners who are worthy of their love and trust, real men whose manhood is measured not by the number of relationships they have and not by the number of babies they produce in the process, but rather by their ability to take one of the biggest responsibilities and most of all their capacity to resist life's temptations. It takes a real man, a real partner and a real father to do such things.
I used to succumb to self-pity upon seeing pictures of fathers and sons. But as I've said, pity is for losers. And survivors are definitely not losers, so feeling sorry for survivors isn't fair.
Chiden O. Balmes, 20, is a Bachelor of Arts in Public Administration student at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City.
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