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YOUNG BLOOD

Free will and broken bones

05:04 AM July 31, 2018

You know the phrase “following in your parents’ footsteps”? My father takes this mantra to heart and wants me to make it my life’s motto, too.

I have a military father who, for years, always went on about how I should become a soldier like him—physically fit, confident, snappy in uniform. It seemed like every conversation we had involved me being persuaded in some way to consider a profession in the military. Of course, I always made a feeble attempt to divert this issue by saying I intended to pursue medicine or law or psychology. But my quick-thinking father would always say, in a firm but amused tone: “But you can be a doctor/lawyer/psychologist in the military!”

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He had a point. But I knew in my heart that military service was not for me. I did not see myself as physically equipped for it. And though I have such high respect and admiration for those who follow orders without question, I must admit I am not one of them. There is a part of me that wants to guard my free will and that needs to question authority, especially if I find my personal morals and conscience outweighing my sense of obedience to that authority.

There are times when I would stare at myself in the mirror, trying to catch my father’s reflection in the boy staring back at me. I inherited most of my facial features from him—white complexion, oblong-shaped face, dark eyes spaced evenly apart, average-sized nose and lips. But apart from these, there is nothing else of my father in me physically. While he possesses that “power stance” most military men have—chin up, chest out, shoulders back and stomach in (though he can no longer comply with the last one because he is 50 years old), I have hunched shoulders and a boyish look bordering on androgynous.

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I am the kid who can’t go up two flights of stairs without gasping for air. I am someone who wouldn’t be able to stand seeing another person die in front of him, much less still keep fighting after that.

All this talk about me joining the military came to a sudden halt during one physical education class last December. Doing a sprint, I thought I would channel the superstar sprinter and world record holder Usain Bolt: torso straight and vertical, elbows bent at 90 degrees, shoulders relaxed and steady…

But then I stumbled. It wasn’t the first time I fell while running; the scar on my forehead is a badge of such childhood clumsiness. But this time, I had become Icarus, blinded by my own petty hubris. The fall resulted in a broken right clavicle that required me to undergo surgery. Of course, a broken bone is a broken bone that can only be repaired with a titanium steel plate.

Though I had to endure excruciating pain for a couple of days, the misfortune led to some constructive outcome.

It changed my father’s plans for me. He conceded to the fact that, with broken bones and all, I was no longer eligible to enter the military. Though I somehow felt liberated, I must admit there was also sadness in that, as it was tantamount to ending my father’s dream of continuing the military line in the family. I couldn’t help but feel a pang of guilt at how things had turned out. As an only child, I felt bad that I could not convince myself in any way to take on what he had wanted for me.

But my accident also opened another door: We began to relate to each other with greater openness and sincerity. I would like to believe my father is now learning to trust me well enough to let me take the lead when it comes to pursuing my own future.

Not all children are meant to follow in their parents’ footsteps. But we honor our parents just the same for the immense love they invest in us their children—and the understanding to change their plans and hopes for us when our own young minds beckon us somewhere else.

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Joeie P. Cuerpo, 17, is a Grade 12 student taking up humanities and social sciences at Corpus Christi School, Cagayan de Oro City.

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