November, 10 2015
When One is Distant from a Father

'My days of seeing my father as an idol are over. I've decided to remove him from that pedestal and now see him as a companion, the way a father should be.'

by John Patrick Allanegui
Issues // Relationship
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I consider it odd for a man, a husband, to live by the words of old wives' tales.
 
My father is just that – a man who believes in strange and often terrifying stories passed on by oral tradition from one family to another.

Do not go home immediately after visiting a wake. Do not open an umbrella indoors. Do not sleep on a bed that’s positioned in front of a door.

"Your hair is still wet. Do not go to sleep yet. It causes blindness,” he would tell me as a child, as if it were his most favorite tale of all.

There was uncertainty in the things he held true, and when I was younger, I used to believe in these expressions, holding on to them as if they were hard lessons to learn and accept.
 


Distance

There is no shame on my part in sharing the fact that I never really became close to my father.

Perhaps it was his frequent absence that left me to figure out how to emotionally bond with people or his superstitious belief of coming home to a house with a bed facing the door that kept him distant.

Of the things I truly know about him, I remember this one the most: He was once a journalist who looked around for stories that were later turned into bedtime stories by my mother. He had a complicated relationship with print paper because he preferred delivering his headlines on the radio and talking to callers about superstitions.

As a child, I considered my father as an idol and thought all of the people he surrounded himself with were out of his league. There was always this part of him I felt I could never reach. So I put him high up on a pedestal where I expected all the things from a father whose function was only to provide everything for the household.

When we are in the presence of each other, there is only silence. We rarely share photographs together, let alone selfies. As I work in a city far from him, he occasionally checks on me with a simple text message that often reads “Kmsta son (How are you, son)” without the proper vowels and question mark, making his message sound hollow and dull on my end.

In our shared silence and random exchanges of text messages, I can feel the distance that stands in our way. From where I am, I see a man who used to smoke one cigarette pack a day, a father who finds solace in protecting people with beliefs that have no place in the modern world.

The way I behave towards my father has often led my relatives to speculate that I love him less than I should, that I am giving less to a man who undoubtedly deserves more. When this happens, I do not react outright because I know my actions, or the lack thereof, do not justify the way I truly see him – a father who indeed deserves no less than whatever he has ended up with in our relationship.

Reaching out

In the last 12 years, only three things have happened between the two of us: I grew up, he grew older, and we only grew further apart.

The last time I came home to him, I promised myself to reach out to him more, to slowly wash away the miles in between us.
And so I did, not with stories, but with open ears to listen to him and rediscover all the things I’ve been missing out after all this time.

My days of seeing my father as an idol are over. I’ve decided to remove him from that pedestal and now see him as a companion, the way a father should be, whom I can celebrate with all the things that make him bold, strange, but ordinary.

The first

On a day that hails fathers all over the world, I am compelled to reflect on the questions that have haunted my relationship with my own. What are the things running through his head? Why did I become so distant from him? What else can I do for the both of us?

Whenever I think of these questions, I only return to the days when my father reminded me not to go to sleep when my hair was still wet.

In those flashbacks, there are moments of clarity that make me understand how my father expresses his affection to me through those bizarre beliefs and his own voice, rather than through the medium of anything else. Even though I may not completely identify all the things I can do to better our time together, at least I know that underneath those superstitions are his truths in love and his ways of reaching out to a likewise distant son.

"Your hair is still wet. Do not go to sleep yet. It causes blindness,” he reminded me the last time I came home, just after I stepped out of the bathroom and put out the lights.

This time, he also told me he has always wanted to travel far, but was never able to and that I should do it instead. So I assured him that I would travel north and sail to distant shores for him.

And when I do, I know that in spite of the superstitions he regarded as true, in spite of the distance I had once created for us, I will look back to this moment to see my father as the man I will always consider to be the first. 

John Patrick Allanegui is the managing editor of Verstehen. He tweets at @JohnAllanegui.

This story was first published in Rappler.com, a Manila-based social news network where stories inspire community engagement and digitally fuelled actions for social change.