Friday, June 16, 2006

In Praise Of All Fathers (And Their Mothers, Too!)

TO CELEBRATE Father's Day, here's a reprint of my column in Sun.Star Cebu (February 11, 2003) which I wrote six days after the birth of my eldest son, Gabriel Ollivan:


On the day I was to be baptized, my mother had to whisk me out the window. My father was dead drunk at the door, that’s why. It’s one story I wish to hear straight from my father’s mouth, as though getting the long and short of it were my birthright.

If he saw the film Road to Perdition, my father would have deemed Paul Newman a saint. Amen, thus he could have sworn to what seemed to him a gospel truth after Newman’s character intoned: “Sons are put on earth to trouble their fathers.”

Short of committing parricide, my father and I have done everything in the book to break the tie that binds us. Osmosis is a process easier to understand if the precision with which we break each other’s hearts were a mutual experiment. Yes, being a pain in each other’s neck is a science we’ve raised to the level of art.

How my father lives up to his name, Severiano. It’s overkill to go into details. Suffice it to say that what my father and I do exceptionally well is run of the mill. The movies and the novels have wrung the topic of father-and-son conflict dry, certainly. Look, the slim copy of Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons still groans on my shelf, so plump with its dog-ears.

Suffice it to say that as long we’re together, there’s no need to bother about news of an impending global war. There’s always a booby trap in each other’s way, and our silences can be so companionable as though we were the only ones left walking in the ruins of a bombed city.

If there’s anything good at being my father’s son, it is in the way he has inspired me to be ruthless in steering out of his shadow and toeing along the lines of a character in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man who said, “Be your own father.” Along the way, I’ve learned to swallow more than Ellison’s words. Yes, even though nothing is harder to take than softening one’s heart for the sticky stuff called tenderness.

Or something like forgiveness. This, I now know, must be fierce— a lesson I took time learning from my mother who’ve loved and endured without apologies such a man I thought only my grandmother can. If goodness prevails over all things gone awry, these two women in my father’s life can swear.

When my wife underwent a caesarian operation last week, my father stayed outside the hospital. So typical of him, so I thought until my mother told me nearly a week after my child’s birth that it was my father who rushed to the nursery, even risking one of the nurse’s ire when he went beyond the sterile area in his excitement to get a closer look at his grandson. He was relieved, so swore my mother, to see my firstborn safe after my wife’s ordeal at the operating room.

Stories, so I wish to tell my son Gabriel Ollivan soon, must leave a lot of room for revision.


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