TYBOX: Faded memories of dad

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews /26 June) — On Father’s Day last Sunday, while I was reading friends’ Facebook posts sharing memories of their father, I tried to remember memories of my father, but it was hard.

Dad passed away in 1999 and that was 22 long years ago.  I was 24.  There were very few memories of him because he was a different dad.  It’s weird now that as I don’t miss much of him, there are things I miss now.

Dad wasn’t the guy who spent time at home after work. He was always out, even on weekends, even on weeknights so there was no daddy helping homework time.

In the morning, I would wake up to find him in the sofa dozing off after a late night binge on Taiwan or HongKong TV series on Betamax. I guess he invented binging in the 80s before binging became the thing now over Netflix and K-Drama.  Sometimes when I turn the set off, it would wake him up, he would smile and go back to sleep. That was why we decided to get a carpool because he wakes up late and sends us to school late. That was the routine when we were growing up.

Dad always had the un-trendy cars.  We had this Volkswagen Passat with a brownish maroon color when I was in kinder.  In my college years, he got a Daewoo.  In between those years, he got cars from relatives who migrated, like the Lancer and Isuzu pick-up.

Even with two cars in the house, he was never one to teach me how to drive.  He would rather instruct me to wipe the car clean every morning and put water on its carburetor. Then I would just get behind the wheel and imagine driving these things.  Now, even if I had done driving school, I still couldn’t have confidence to drive.

While he was untrendy in cars, he was a trend setter on the mic and on stage. Social functions of his alumni or other groups would find him belt out a song or dance.  I can’t forget how he led a group of men dancing, dressed in tropical ladies costume. He was always the star.

But as I looked at the posts of my friends and relatives sharing pictures of bonding moments with their dads, I guess that was what I missed out growing up.

Dad didn’t have that great personal life with me.  Soon he wasn’t coming home much.  There were no more late night binging on Chinese TV series.  College also kept us occupied with many things, along with cable TV and my writing.

The last New Year’s Day that we had when you were still around, you dropped by at the house.  I stirred from sleep when you appeared at the door of my room around 6 a.m. You stood there and you went out and I just went back to sleep.

A couple of weeks later, you were hospitalized.  You didn’t tell us you had gallstones, and because you feared surgery, it was turning bad.  It was too late,. A couple of weeks later, I and some of the siblings saw you in the ICU bed slowly pass away.

I never had the chance to let off a lot of things in my chest to him.  And through the years, those thoughts and questions faded.  As family moved on, making it through tough times, I finished my degree as dad wished. Later, mom passed away. When there are family get-togethers, I found time gave us perspective, and things turned out fine.

And I realized dad meant different things to many, to family, to relatives, to his peers, to the Fil-Chinese community.  I guess that has been his life, and I had to let that be.

Somehow as I was adulting, I would encounter things that reminded me of dad.

When Zhang Yimou’s Hero was released, I watched this with Atenews colleagues. They teased me by turning off the subtitles and asked me to translate the dialogue for them.   I remembered learning Chinese dialogue from those Betamax series, as well as Chinese history, legends and culture.

When I watched Crazy Rich Asians in the theatre, I was the only one laughing when the opening song played out, a classic from Zhou Xuan, because it was a song dad and the old folks used to play.

When I chance upon Chinese history books, I would remember how one time, dad wrote by memory all 16 Chinese dynasties in the right order.  I didn’t learn much of Chinese history in school. I wish our Chinese schools could upgrade their history subjects.

When I see calligraphy on video, I remember dad spent time at the store doing calligraphy. He mastered it.  Many of us in the later generation do not know how to hold that brush.

When asked what my favorite film musical is, I like Singing in the Rain, thanks to dad’s collection of classic Hollywood films. I got to watch Ten Commandments, Spartacus, How The West Was Won, My Fair Lady, South Pacific and more. Dad opened the door to film history.

I listen to classic Frank Sinatra, his favorite.  But classic jazz from Simone to Coltrane are my cup of tea.

When I think of those times when dad was around, I wonder how I could preserve those memories.  There are still old video tapes of his dancing and singing here.  On a wider context, I wonder what the Fil-Chinese community here can do to preserve, or at best, continue the Chinese culture of the first and second-generation times, where the Fil-Chinese youth before can perform the Dragon Dance, write calligraphy, read Chinese,  speak extemporaneously in Chinese.

On a personal note, I wonder how much I take off from my dad. Many of his contemporaries are gone.  As a dad now, I worry about things that sometimes keep  me awake, and it’s tough without a dad to ask advice from. Sometimes I binge, or I read, and sleep and dream.  I thought, were these things dad worried about before and drowned them by binging on film?

I once dreamed of being with my dad, and it was a sweet memory that he smiled at me.  It was the smile he had when I was 4 and I went up the stage to sing at one of his group’s Christmas parties because I wanted their gift. It was the smile he had when I was about 9 when I confessed to my school’s guidance counselor that my dad always woke up late and that was why we were always late for school.

I’m still learning dad. I’m still learning. Smile for me in the cosmos while I’m here.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Tyrone A. Velez is a freelance journalist and writer)