‘Sabi ng Tatay ko’
“Sabi ng tatay ko triangle, hindi tra-yang-gel. Bakit naman daw yung pineapple ang basa hindi payn-apel.”—Grade 3 me to my teacher
I’d always known since childhood that my dad was my hero. My “sabi ng Tatay ko” anecdotes escape my memory now that I am trying to recall them. But I know that I would always start my stories with “Sabi ng Tatay ko.”
When I look back, it seems my relationship with him became a casualty of my growing up away from home. When I left for college, he was no longer there to shelter me, to decide for me, to help mend my broken heart. I had to grow up alone. Never did I think that separation would be an eye-opener. When I came back home, I did not know him anymore. He was no longer the man who danced with the four-year-old me.
What I saw was a man in a constant state of rage, at whoever was his target. He could spit out the vilest insults and strip you bare of your self-esteem. Gone were the days when I could open my heart up to him. Whenever I talked about what I thought was right, he was quick to shut me up. But given the freedom of speech I enjoyed at school, I would casually talk back to him, like I would to a friend when I felt that some points were amiss. He would ask me to shut up, or he would shut up himself and not talk to me for days. Semestral breaks and vacations were marked with bitterness, and so four years ago I decided I would no longer go back to Zamboanga. I did not return until last year, when my father died.
“Sabi ng tatay ko ‘Anak, lalaki kang matalino kasi matanong ka.’ Hindi naman siya nagkamali. Lumaki nga ako.”—part of my eulogy for my Tatay
Browsing through my journal today, I realize I have not tried to write my feelings about Tatay’s death. I have grappled with the idea that he is gone. Sometimes, I even forget that he now ceases to exist, that it is him I think about whenever there is a typhoon in Mindanao. Almost two years have passed since Tatay passed, and yet everyday still feels like he is just on a very long journey in the watersheds of Mindanao, prosecuting people as part of his job.
“Sabi ng tatay ko ‘Okay na akong mamatay. At least namatay nang may pinaglalaban.’”—on Tatay running after illegal loggers and kaingineros
Did Tatay feel alone and abandoned, the way I do now? He must have, especially after I decided to study in Luzon and work in Manila. Did he also feel like all things were meaningless because he did not live for anyone else anymore? Kuya and I had both graduated from college. As a provider all his life, Tatay always felt the need to be needed. He always thrived on purpose, so he must have felt crippled when I left his house for good, so much so that he decided to send a working student to school without my knowledge.
The thought of writing about Tatay’s death feels harrowing, like hitting a wall and finally accepting to myself that it is time to give up. I never liked the idea of giving up, and because of that, I have evaded writing about this for 24 months now. That way, I do not have to think about it, to chew on my thoughts, cry about the life my father would never lead, or wail if need be. I just cannot face the finality of it just yet. In my head, I still feel like he is just in Mindanao. I will see him on my birthday. We will drink our favorite Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and eat our favorite Choco Butternut again. We will have yet another fight over my journal article, and he will lash out at me and I at him.
And then reality will knock me over, almost always in the middle of the night when I am most vulnerable.
In his book “A Grief Observed,” C.S. Lewis wrote when his wife died, “Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything.” Tatay’s death is more pronounced when I think about my future. I have always pictured him being by my side, so I usually think about my future with him in it. It’s been a habit I have built through the years, and I bet it would take long to reverse it. Or will I ever?
I hate how grief comes in waves, toppling over my strongest façade. I hate how one moment I am laughing so hard over a “Friends” episode and then crying in the next; how I would be watching wedding videos and then bawling my eyes out as I get reminded that my Tatay will never get to see my milestones: the papers I will publish, the family I will build, the children I will have. No matter how badly my Tatay and I fought, I always pictured my future with him in it. His passing feels like I lost a piece of my heart. My happiness and sadness are punctuated by the fact that I will never see him again. I will never fight with him ever again. I can no longer dance with him, just as I did when I was four.
I wish I could say I’d still see my Tatay on my next birthday, so I could thank him for everything he had done. Or that I could finally introduce my husband to him. I wish I could start my sentences again with “Sabi ng tatay ko” without a twinge of sadness. I wish I could say that I can forget the pain of losing a parent, the only home I knew, but no. Tatay has passed, and two years later, I am still nursing a broken heart.
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Mayumi Hayag D. Teves-San Pascual, 27, teaches economics at the University of the Philippines Baguio.
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