By Andrea D. Lim
I am enrolled in one of the private schools in General Santos City, a Protestant Chinese school in Barangay City Heights where more drivers and less parents send their children to school and pick them up when classes end. I contest to this generalization although I know it is true.
That is why I was not surprised with that frantic look my classmates and I shared when Ma’am Villa, our guidance counselor who I consider as my only true friend back in high school, announced to the graduating class a while ago that there will be a Father-Child Night next Saturday. We have dads who work seven days a week; even those who acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being still spend Sundays for money-making. If God can be placed in a lower rank He does not deserve in schedules and priority lists, how much more a daughter like me who is not able to inherit both Math and business skills of my father, an industrial engineer and a businessman?
Ma’am Villa gave us copies of the letter of invitation we have to hand to our dads ourselves. There’s no harm in trying, I assured myself. The next morning, I placed the letter beside the Bible Papa always reads every morning—the book he also used to propose to Mama—with a cup of coffee or tea at his side. I also told Mama nonchalantly that the event’s main objective is for our fathers to have an intimate moment before we graduate, knowing that momentous encounters with them seldom happen.
Mama knows how to listen to what my silence cannot help but say. I heard her reading the letter to my father thru the phone while I was studying in my room. She would make sure she called his office every afternoon so that Papa will remember the upcoming school event.
Final exams and requirements for graduating students made time seem quicker to pass by, and the next thing we know, it was already Saturday. I still have not heard from Papa if he can make it to the event or not. I am already fifteen, I reminded myself while preparing for the event. You should know by now that pain chooses no age. Get used to it.
And I was not alone in the struggle of begging for our father’s time. I forgot to observe the look of our teachers’ faces—the ones who helped in conceptualizing and organizing this event with objectives they feel strongly about—but not the statistics of attendees, specifically the fathers. Out of sixty-four dads who were expected to come to the school’s audiovisual room, only twenty-one came. Half of them were also late. Those students who have their fathers with them were sitting on the front chairs. The rest of the “fatherless” bunch like me were at the back.
It was not a pity party for us, though. We were not sure if numbness is also a feeling, but we were pretty sure Mano Po movies depicting the “Filipino-Chinese children’s plights” are overrated. We just mocked the whole event as too sentimental or imagined ourselves as parents of our future children. Will we also decide that our homes and businesses be established in one building? Will we impose Ephesians 6:1–3 all the time and not bother ourselves with Ephesians 6:4? Will we be able to identify more with the nature of a system where wealth comes from than our future children’s identities?
Papa came roughly ten minutes before the event ended. He was only able to attend the last part of the program titled as “The Confrontation.” An ample amount of time was allotted for the student and his or her father to find a spot anywhere around the campus where a deep talk can happen.
“I know the perfect spot where we can talk,” Papa whispered to me.
He chose a bench under the tallest tree in school: a pine tree that’s higher than the campus buildings painted in white. I called that tree as the heart of the campus on one of my diary entries last year.
These are the only words he said. I always view Papa as a man of few words that have always been not enough. I never thought it only takes two words for a warrior to remove an armor and look at crumbled walls as beautiful ruins.
He started to cry. That was the first time I saw him cry like a fifteen-year-old boy. I did too. There are still no words, even if the thing that has to happen is already happening.
After the closing prayer, we immediately went to the car and headed home. I sat in the backseat; front seats are for mothers who endure seeing their children receive tough love from their fathers. All I can do is watch him drive. Growing up, I was never sure if I own a forgiving heart. All I know is I carry a heavy one. But at that moment, I was certain I do, because all I can give to Papa is unconditional love all along.