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Underwhelmed

Today, I met my dad for the first time in my life. And the experience was underwhelming.

I grew up without any father figure—you know, the hard-core authority you look up to, with a belt in one hand and terrifying knuckles in the other. No one pushed me to be active in any rough-and-tumble activities like sports; I wasn’t taught how to engage in hand-to-hand combat when somebody is spoiling for a fight, bragging when on the offensive or moving suavely when on the defense.

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This is not to say that I never learned to be a man (because I did, and all that came from my mother), but this is one kind of wound in my life that needed healing—the absence of a father.

I thought this invisible wound would be, at the least, soothed today. I was to meet my father for the first time in forever (with no reference to “Frozen,” but with reference to how I had never met him ever since I was born). However, it didn’t take too long to figure out that the event of meeting him just meant rubbing salt on this wound.

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Prepared, I was. I told a few of my closest friends about the prospect of meeting my father, and I asked them what I should do. Should I choose not to see him (after all, I have grown into the man that I am today without even a pinch of support from him)? Or should I be polite and kiss his hand, mano po (after all, he is still my father)?

Of course I chose to do the latter; this was not a misguided episode of “MMK” (and I didn’t want it to be like one either). And I hoped that for that simple Filipino gesture, he’d understand that I still had the highest respect for him and that he was not completely shut out of my life. I think that was clear enough to begin with.

But when our eyes met for the first time ever, it seemed as if I was never his son; it was like I was just some family friend, or pamangkin (nephew). It broke my heart.

“You’re studying in Silliman, right?” he said in our language. Those were his first words to me. Underwhelming. It was as if I were dead excited waiting for a baby to speak his first words, only to realize that the baby was mute. Except that my father wasn’t mute, he was just numb.

“Yes,” I replied obligingly, and didn’t add anything else. And neither did he. That suggested the beginning of a long night.

If there was any impression I got from that meeting, it was that I now knew where I got my quick wit and clever remarks. In other words, I got my “joker” personality from my father. This is one for the books, because other than his “man juice,” the only thing I had received from him was a P1,000 bill Christmas of 2010.

My father talked very proudly of his three children—my half sisters. The night was nothing but him sharing his life with his three girls, a few funny interjections here and there, and beer. It was some sort of getting-to-know-you game except that he was the only one playing it. He was a mouthful.

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“You’re not an alcoholic,” he told my older brother. “You only become one if you’ve drunk more than three bottles of beer in one sitting.”

“And don’t you drink that much?” my brother said.

“I stop counting on the second bottle,” he said. The people at the table, myself included, broke out in resounding laughter.

I did get to know him more, but I was hoping he’d want to get to know me, too. For the whole night, he asked me only these questions (not including the first):

“What’s your sport?” (Taking pride in being a sports enthusiast.)

“Scrabble,” I said jokingly, then added: “Swimming and badminton.”

He nodded.

“What year are you in again?”

“Going on third year,” I said, hoping for an inspiring remark.

He nodded.

“What’s your course?”

“Mass communication,” I said.

“Oh, your mom is Miss Mass Com, di ba(right)?”

I nodded.

These questions weren’t asked in succession. He turned to me to ask them only when the crowd at the table succumbed to silence. These questions, to me, sounded so elementary. Was that all he needed to know about me? Wasn’t he concerned about anything else? After 18 years, the only question he could muster involved the sport I was engaged in. I wasn’t even given the cliché “Kamusta (How are you)?” Underwhelming.

I was dying to know why he didn’t converse with me—as in a real, long conversation. Our interpersonal exchange of thoughts consisted only of the casual questions and the resulting nods. I had hoped for better. I sulked inside. I really did.

My timorous heart broke again when we dropped him off at the hotel where he was staying; it was possibly one of the last times I would get to see him again because his trip to Davao was scheduled early the following day. And it wasn’t the goodbye that broke my heart…

He said his collective goodbye to everyone and then turned his attention to my brother’s girlfriend in the front seat. “Hey, this will possibly be the last time I see you…” he said. I chose to not listen to him speak anymore, but I guess he continued his remark by saying, “so take care.” And then I decided to just blank out.

In my mind, I was telling him: “Dad, it’s the first time you have ever seen me in person, and it could be the last time you’d see me, too. Aren’t you happy you finally met your son? Don’t you want to get to know me more? Don’t I need to take care of myself, too? Do you even recognize my existence as your son, your supposed responsibility? Don’t you love me, Dad?”

I crumbled in the back seat.

At this point, I’m slowly coming to terms with the difference between “father” and “dad.” And at this point also, I’ve decided that for every time I called him “Dad,” I would be lying to myself. How can you call someone “Dad” when you have never been loved by him? How can you call someone “Dad” when your first meeting seemed to be such a casual encounter, and not something that would help patch up things, that would help heal past pains, and that would help soothe this perpetual wound?

I am frustrated, angry, and heartbroken. But I am nowhere near remorseful.

Father, I wish any bit of your soul loved me. But I’ve wished for far too long, and it’s time to move on from something I know that will never happen. Happy Father’s Day, anyway.

Val Amiel Vestil, 18, is an incoming junior student in mass communication at Silliman University.

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TAGS: Absentee Father, Father, fatherhood, Parenting, relationships, Silliman
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