On losing a father
HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE - Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) - August 26, 2012 - 12:00am

In the early evening of Saturday, Aug. 19 , my wife texted me that Jesse Robredo’s plane had crashed in Masbate. I immediately called friends who might know more information. Even if it seemed like I was in hyper mode, I was also in a state of shock.

The name of Jesse Robredo has always come up in the NGO and government circles associated with honesty, dedication, service and good governance. Everyone liked and admired him. If Jesse Robredo supported any cause, we knew that it was a right one, a worthy endeavor. He was one of the silent, good guys who delivered without fanfare but with great tangible results and with far-reaching positive consequences.

He was an easy guy to like. In person, he was always smiling, easy to talk to and really listened to anyone who had something to say. He was never dismissive. One got the feeling that he was a mature person with great compassion who was always helpful. He could act quickly but he could also pace himself if he had to take the long road and the long view to make sense of things and make things happen. He never gave up.

The pain of losing him hit me in two ways. As a Filipino, I feel that we have lost a good public servant. He was one of PNoy’s cabinet secretaries who got the job done and never called attention to himself. I always felt bad every time some two-bit politico would question his credentials in the Commission on Appointments or some know-it-all AM radio commentator would belittle government efforts where Jesse was involved. He was a man who gave his heart and soul to anything he did and I felt that he was underappreciated.

During the last elections, his name was floated for a while among the NGO community as a possible candidate for President or VP. He had the qualifications, surely. Many of us were very excited at the idea but fate had other plans.

On another level, a personal one, Jesse’s sudden demise was even harder for me to take. Every time I hear of a plane crash, I feel it on the gut level. My father died in a plane crash with the late President Ramon Magsaysay in 1957 when I was five years old. That crash was the start of an unexpected journey that my family and I were forced to take. March 17, 1957 was the day that altered our lives forever as a family and as individuals. To borrow writer Joseph Campbell’s metaphor, that day, we were all kicked out of Eden.

There are other similarities. Jesse Robredo, his assistant and the two pilots flew out of Cebu. So did the Magsaysay entourage. Like in the 1957 crash, there was one survivor in this recent one. Both Magsaysay and Robredo were loved and admired by many and were taken early in their lives. And to make the connection more personal, my father, who was a servant leader like Robredo, was so named “Jess.” Both were also considered by their alma mater as exemplary Ateneans.

I was trying to imagine what it was like for Jesse’s wife and children in Naga waiting, hoping for the best that their loved one was alive as the hours and days wore on. I thought of our own family’s experience. That March 17, we first heard the news that the plane was missing in the morning. It was in the late afternoon that we received confirmation that the plane had crashed. Initially, they could not find my father. My mom and siblings must have hoped that perhaps he had survived and walked away from the site to get help somewhere. When his charred body was found, one of my brothers speculated that perhaps it was not really him even if his perfect set of teeth gave him away. The death of a loved one, especially when it happens so suddenly, is too hard to comprehend, much less to accept easily.

I read a tweet from Ces Drilon last Monday where she shared that her own father had died in a helicopter crash and his body was never found. That is even harder to take. How can anyone fully accept a life-changing event like this without the evidence of seeing the loved one’s lifeless body? How does one deal with a “missing” status emotionally? Does one just accept that he is dead without incontrovertible proof? How long does one wait before giving up? Will one ever know for sure?

When you lose a father at a young age, it leaves a gaping hole in your being. My friend Harriet Hermosillas calls it “father hunger.” That’s what it felt like to me. I was lucky I had father substitutes to fill up part of the void left by my dad’s passing. But to a great extent, I dealt with it by having what one might describe as “an imaginary continuous dialogue” with my dad especially when I needed his guidance. His sterling reputation and the values he stood for were quite clear to me, making it quite easy for me to deal with moral questions. Even if I had spent very little time with him, I just knew how Dad would have handled certain situations. The stories I had heard about him made that possible.

Often, he would appear quite suddenly in my dreams. I would be somewhere and see smoke billowing not far from where I stood. It was the crash scene, but instead of the mountain where it actually happened, it would be on flat land. I would see him coming out of it wearing his white sharkskin suit, the one he had on when he was last photographed before leaving Manila the day before the crash. He was fit, handsome, smiling and exuded a reassuring fatherly warmth. We would not talk. I was a little boy and I would simply walk with him. The dream would almost always be in black and white. When I woke up, I just felt good and assured that I was OK.

To the Robredos and the families of the two pilots, I cannot possibly fathom how hard it is to deal with what you are going through. All circumstances are different. But I hope that knowing other people have gone through something similar helps somehow. I wish you healing and love. I hope this outpouring of sympathy coming from an entire grateful nation gives you comfort and help ease the pain of loss. It will take time but with God’s help, it will happen. Slowly but surely, even as the pain of loss will not go away completely, it will become more bearable.

The road is long and arduous. The doors of Eden have been shut. You are now forced by destiny to take a different, unplanned and unexpected journey.

And just as my father’s short but meaningful life played a big role in shaping me, do take comfort that your dad’s legacy of goodness, love for country and his decency as a human being will guide you as if he were present with you. You can be sure of it.Acts of love are seeds planted and they always bear fruit.

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