January 7, 2004 was a very cold day for me. That was the day my father died.
I don't know what made it worse, the fact that -
a. I found out about it through messages left on my answering machine,
b. we haven't spoken for years,
c. I'll forever live with the guilt of being a horrible daughter
d. I'll never know if he still loved me as much as he used to
I know, I know, all of the above.
Right from the start we never had a typical family. Although we were small - my parents, brother and me - we weren't as close as other families I've observed. Filipino families are already generally distant to begin with, at least while I was growing up. You will notice the absence of the constant hugs in the Western world and definitely a scarcity of "I love you's" uttered, whether in heartfelt talks or a casual end to a phone conversation.
My father was predominantly absent while I was growing up. For as long as I remember, he hasn't held a job but he was always away for some reason. Most of the time he was at someone's house playing mahjong or out in the racetracks. He specialized in spending money and living a hedonistic life. At the other end of the spectrum, my mother worked all her life, providing the whole family with all our financial needs and then some. The nature of her job called for crazy work hours, such that she'll be gone before we woke up and we'll be asleep by the time she gets home. So my brother and I grew up with the nannies (we had 1 each plus another person we shared).
Weekends were no picnic either. We very rarely went out as a family, and when we did it usually meant with just our mom and the nannies. We grew up getting used to this way of life, accepting it as a norm. Thankfully we had a huge extended family, so cousins and uncles and aunts are a-plenty. It seems funny now but I remember that I bawled my eyes out when one of the nannies was asked to leave, but didn't bat an eyelash when my dad left after he and my mom had a big argument.
I don't know if this is typical but daughters are supposed to be closer to their fathers and sons to their mothers. This sort of applied to our family because my mom knew all my brothers' friends and was present in all his school activities, while she didn't really know what was going on in my life. Meanwhile my dad treated me like his baby and people teased me about being his favorite. I resented this.
I badly wanted my mom's attention, and I seldom got it. I've resigned myself to being the my dad's pet, however meaningless that was to me.
My move to the States was a big milestone. I felt free! I didn't miss my family as much as I should. I seldom gave them a call. When have I become so cold? I found myself missing my boyfriend and my friends more.
After several years my parents decided to migrate here. I admit that I wasn't overjoyed with the news. First of all, I knew they would disapprove of my living situation. Then I knew it will be a huge responsibility on my part.
The first thing my dad did upon arriving here is demand that Rich and I get married. I tried to explain that the only reason we weren't married yet is that we were waiting for his previous marriage's annulment, because I wanted a church wedding. He didn't care so we got married in the State.
I had to put them up in an apartment, because my dad cannot live with my husband. It's not that they didn't get along, but my dad wants a place of their own. Then he couldn't understand why I cannot buy him a brand new Camry. And provide gambling money. And drinking money. My mom, who hasn't cooked all her life, learned how to cook to be able to feed themselves. She learned how to do housework, sometimes looking pitiful, because she wasn't used to it. One of the funniest moments we shared was when she placed a carton of eggs in the freezer. Even I
wouldn't do that!
Amidst all this, my dad had a falling out with his brothers and sisters here because they would not buy him a house, visit him weekly and give him a car, since he's the eldest in the family and the others are seemingly well off. Having lived all his life in a culture where the eldest is revered, he had a hard time accepting the fact that people have their own lives and feel they do not really owe others anything.
He got in a downward spiral until he and my mom decided to go back to the Philippines for good. Rich and I tried to assure them that this would be best, because we have a very nice house there and they have 2 maids at their beck and call. I also offered to send them $1000 monthly which would enable them to live like royalty there. This was about a third of what I was spending for them here. Although my mom understood, my dad took this harshly and accused me of just wanting to get rid of them. I honestly loved having my parents around for once, but I must admit the financial burden was stressing me out. Especially since he had a heart bypass operation here and I ended up with the hospital bills. So they left, with my mom crying and my dad stoic and silent.
My mom and I grew closer. It was strange hearing her end our phone conversations with "I love you", but I was thrilled. We were finally becoming a real family. My dad still didn't talk to me, even refusing to go to my church wedding, which finally took place last 2002. My mom visited me for a few months every year, and I take heart in the fact that my dad always tells her to not speak to his relatives and just stay with me the whole time. At least he didn't forbid my mother to be with me. Being the stubborn mule that I am, I refused to make any efforts at reaching out to him. In the back of my mind, I always thought that we will get together someday and hash this all out and become a family again.
Until I got the phone messages.
During my three weeks stay in the Philippines for my dad's wake and after the funeral, my mom, my brother and I have become tremendously close. We shared stories about my dad, caught up, cried and laughed together. I slept in my mom's bed every night, and my brother picked me up every afternoon to hang out. We visited my dad's grave every morning. I know they feel sorry for me for not having made up with him, and I appreciate the fact that they didn't make a big deal of that. Surprisingly, I am not terribly wracked with guilt, because of the stories I heard about him before his passing. Of course I'll forever be sorry that it had to end this way, but I cannot turn back the time. All I can do is take good care of the remaining relationships I have, and cherish these moments with my loved ones.
I'm sorry Daddy for not being a good daughter. I promise I'll be a good wife, sister, mother and friend.