he’s my dad. and he’s missing from home.
people close to him call him “fred,” “fredo,” or “pido.” he’s also been called “professor” (legit: he taught for a time at a college in my hometown). he’s also been called, “nonoy” and “manoy.” he’s the middle son in a family with nine kids. my lolo was uber-strict on his three sons, and dad felt the brunt of it, or so i’m led to believe.
because my dad didn’t get to do what he wanted, he gave us a bit more freedom. maybe too much freedom? almost direction-less? but i was too headstrong anyway, back in the day (ok fine, up until today), so i don’t think it would’ve made a difference if he had chosen to lay down the law with me. the most i got from him was, “look alive” or “always in a reclining position” whenever he saw me with my nose stuck in a book. which i promptly ignored.
dad was harder on my mom than he was with me. he used to tell my mom not to primp before a party because “no one will be looking,” which i thought was not very gallant of him. (not that my mom paid him any mind.) but my dad is also a big faker. secretly, dad pretty much thought my mom was a bombshell in her heyday. like a cross between marilyn monroe and audrey hepburn. he still carries a picture of her, in a swimsuit, in his wallet (ew. i know.) when she got sick, he placed photos of her, of them, on the wall next to her bed and would tell our caregivers stories about what she was like as a young woman. he’d say, “i married a beautiful woman, didn’t i?” like he’d just realized it. after 45 years.
my dad’s a closet romantic. he’d be annoyingly cynical whenever we’d watch rom-coms, finding a crucial moment to interject, in sighing tones, “myyyyy heeeeerrrooo,” or “and they lived happily ever after…for one month.” maddening. but this is also a guy who would regularly play “be my love, for no one else can end this yearning.” i mean, c’mon. (don’t me, dad.) he’d hum “i’ll find you in the morning sun, and when the night is new, i’ll be looking at the moon, but i’ll be seeing you.” (nemehn. kunwari ka pa, dad.)
he helped me make an urban garden for ma, when she got sick.
they used to sing duets, my mom and dad. they would fight, constantly. but then, later, he would cajole her to perform with him at a party. my dad is socially awkward, unlike my mom the social butterfly; but he loves to sing. and he also loves to listen to music: frank sinatra, matt monro, mario lanza, elvis presley, nat king cole, the platters, andy williams, george and ira gershwin, tony bennett, louis armstrong, paul mccartney, andrea bocelli, basil valdez, apo hiking society, ryan cayabyab, henry mancini. it goes on. he loves songs from the 1940s, marching bands, big bands, songs from his childhood. i got to know these songs so much that i sold him on spotify when i’d play his favorites.
people have accused me of not knowing my dad, and that’s probably true. i’ve only lived with him for less than half of his life. but i have my stories. some are secondhand: the not-so-famous kindnesses he did for people whom he had authority over, like our distant-relatives-turned-babysitters who never felt second-class in our home. or my cousins who came to him for advice. beneath the bluster, the sharp tongue, the ever-critical mind, the frankly-my-dear-i-don’t-give-a-damn, there was that. a streak of kindness.
some stories are admittedly me-centric. like how he knew, without me saying anything, that i was disappointed at not making the scholarship to the university i wanted to go to — i’d had a free ride all through grade and high school, but i messed up in high school (got tired or “rebelled,” in my good-girl way, and just got by sans honor roll in my junior and senior year). so he wrote the uni. in his deliberate, articulate way, he convinced them i was worth reconsideration and that he really couldn’t afford the astronomical tuition on public servant pay. they gave me a half scholarship. so i went.
i also have heartbreaking stories. i could tell you why i’ve been mad or sad at my dad, off and on, and especially these past few years. i could tell you how we’ve disappointed each other. i could tell you that after years of being daddy’s girl, we drifted apart. how i’ve been busy or broke and haven’t gone home to bicol since 2015 because one thing led to another thing and another thing. and nothing.
dad says he doesn’t want to travel, that it’s mom’s thing.
instead, he would give her money when she would go abroad with my sister, or when she would play domestic tourist.
instead, he collected stamps (a few mint condition, mostly tear-offs from posted letters) and used to write to a pen-pal in greece (mom must’ve itched to burn those paintings from the mysterious letter-writer—like she threw away all his love letters from ex-girlfriends. his revenge: adding “to all the girls i’ve loved before” in his videoke repertoire).
then again, he traveled for most of my school life; 23 kilometers from my hometown to his government job in the city. day in, day out.
and way post-retirement, he’s been traveling to manila to visit my bedridden mother — since her double-strokes in 2015. even though he himself is sick. even though he’s 76.
my dad left our apt in better living subdivision, don bosco, bicutan, paranaque the day after Valentine’s Day/ Ash Wednesday and hasn’t come back. that was feb. 15. he’s lost. ever since i could remember, he would sing the 7 Last Words at St. John the Baptist Parish Church for Lent. i hope he gets to sing again this year.
help us get him home.