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A Father’s Day lesson

I learned a bitter truth one Father’s Day many years ago.

A father-and-son relationship will always be an ongoing struggle for both — unless there is a balance between the father’s desire to uphold parental authority and the son’s need to seek his own identity.

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I was a young father then: aloof, cold and prone to sudden outbursts of emotion toward my children.

I was also carrying traces of my earlier training in a regimented institution (the traditional seminary), where authority, embodied in rules and regulations, had guided our every move.

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Thus, in our household, I set rules for our growing children — a boy and two girls. And one of these rules was for them to ask permission should they wish to go out of the house.

My second child and only son Nico was only about 10 years old then. A bright and perceptive boy, he was at that stage of establishing his own identity as a person.

Already with a mind of his own, he was trying to break away from my paternal grip, yet still looked up to me as a male role model and wanted a piece of my fatherly affection.

On that particular Father’s Day, I was in my room reading a book when I realized I had already received greeting cards from my daughters but not from Nico.

I asked for his whereabouts, but could not get an answer from anyone in the house. My son apparently went out of the house without asking permission from me.

As soon as he arrived, Nico came to me sheepishly, obviously scared.

Before he could say anything, I asked him in a loud voice where he had been and why he had left the house without permission.

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Already overtaken by fear, he could not say anything. And so I continued yelling at him, until tears fell from his eyes. I then pushed him away and told him to stay in his room the whole day.

A little while later, my wife Thelma approached me with an envelope. Inside was a bar of Life Savers candy and a Hallmark card with a handwritten note that said: “To the best Dad in the world. I love you, Nico.”

I was touched by my son’s thoughtfulness, but my heart sank when I heard what Thelma had to tell me: “Nico had enough savings only for a card, but he decided on his own to include your favorite candy to surprise you. So he requested me this morning to ‘advance’ his school allowance and asked if he could step out to buy the candy. I gave him money and allowed him to go out.”

Realizing what I had done, I hastened to Nico’s room, embraced him and said through my tears: “Thank you, son, for the card and candy.”

I also owned up to my mistake and let out my sincerest “I am sorry.”

He hugged me in return. But I already knew then that it would take more than just a hug or words of apology to heal the emotional trauma I had caused my boy that day.

I went through a slow and painful transformation in the years that followed. I gradually changed my parenting ways toward my children and strived to become a more loving and understanding father.

I also gave more attention to Nico, engaging him in father-and-son activities such as playing backyard basketball, watching movies or simply hanging out at home.

My efforts paid off. In time, I developed a positive relationship with Nico that sustained him when he was wrestling with the adversities of school phobia and struggling with the ambiguity of his teen years.

Nico then surprised everyone when he took and passed a government eligibility exam to enter college, although he had missed out on a formal high school education. He eventually graduated with a degree in Information Technology.

After a brief employment in Manila, Nico tried his luck in the United States. He pushed himself hard in every job he took and endured countless hardships in a new environment without his family.

Yet, he survived them all, and morphed into the responsible family man that he is today.

All because I took to heart the lesson I had learned one Father’s Day.

* * *

Danilo G. Mendiola, 76, is retired from corporate work and considers writing as therapy. He has four children and four grandchildren.

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TAGS: danilo g. mendiola, Father's Day, fatherhood, High Blood, Parenting
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