Letter to my father
BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - January 4, 2018 - 12:00am

For my first column of 2018, I decided to reprint a letter sent to me by my son, Roel, a Literature major from DLSU who is now an educator and writer. He decided to share his reflections evoked by the turning of the year, and a personal milestone he is about to embark on in 10 months:

“On New Year’s Day, when you called me back into the den as I was about to leave the house in the neighborhood I grew up in to head home, a photo of us from 2001 on both ends of the Abbey Road street sign in the City of Westminster caught my eye. You, beaming with pride, while I, too gaunt and fond of stoicism to mask (quite ineffectively) a lot of angst. As conversation drifted towards graceful acceptance of the inevitabilities of age, I began to understand what you’ve attempted to pass onto your children. Such as comprehending the certainty of mortality diminishes fear and drives us to love more fiercely, purposefully. 

I see this through the light in your eyes whenever you see my older sister and your grandchildren, each time my mother comes home from a trip, or when you saw your siblings on Christmas Day. I’m tempted to say it’s the same light in a seven-year-old seeing the Star Wars opening crawl for the first time, or a teary-eyed 40-year old re-experiencing it after a decade. But not even close.

Most of our conversations, which used to take place over the kitchen table when we’d catch each other grabbing a midnight snack before heading to bed, now occur too fleetingly during family reunions. You’ve asked me whether your age is showing, and I should’ve said I’ve never seen your face as fatigued as during a national low point definitely sometime between 2001-2010. You’d long shunned politics, having seen ideology traded for personal gain one too many times. Being called to a meeting in the name of supposed national interest, I saw you arrive home with a weary expression I’ve never seen to this day. You decided to shake it off not through our trusty remedies of the time – Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert – but through alone time in the mall. And shake it off you did, reminding me that living out a type of love for country that is tangible and uncompromising can be as real as an African American or, sadly, a populist dipped in Cheetos, becoming president.

Looking back further, I realize the distinction you’ve made between patriotism and nationalism. With the latter as frightening as an individual getting civic lessons from memes, you drove me to better appreciate our country’s culture. On the way to becoming a person excessively diluted by Western pop culture, I recall a conversation that turned into a feisty debate over dinner celebrating Aina’s birthday in 1994. I spent the entire time, annoyingly, raving about the recently-released Pulp Fiction. You listened with your usual patience, then shared how Lino Brocka and Peque Gallaga, who fluidly melded creativity and social relevance, remained your favorites. With my youthful arrogance, I rolled my eyes. But in the next few days, weeks, years, I discovered and relished those directors along with your other favorite Filipino artists. I soon developed my own sturdy taste in local arts, thanks to you. Which is why despite DC’s Dark Nights: Metal debuting in 2017, I answer without hesitation that Emiliana Kampilan’s Dead Balagtas was the comic book event of the past year.

I also proudly claim that the way I speak, both on and off the page, has my father’s unmistakable influence. No matter how much I agree with Dave Chappelle claiming in Bird Revelation that we have a responsibility to speak recklessly, you’ve shown that this must be done with equal parts dignity and making goddamn sure you know what you’re talking about. In an age of lashing out at opposing views with argumentative logic that would make Beavis and Butt-head sound like hall-of-fame debaters, your example has ensured I stay informed above all while remaining steadfast in the face of hysterical inanity that overwhelms most.

How you’ve actively extended your reach to allow it to exceed your grasp has shown me how one must naturally look way past titles and pretension, and of the value of understanding that much is expected of me, having been given much. Memories of arguing over the nature of Orwell’s Big Brother likewise ensure that firm ideals and critical thinking will serve me well, especially in a time of endless spin.

And in the year that I am to be married, I need not look elsewhere for an example of a substantial union between two equals. You’ve often remarked how fortunate I am to have found Agnes, who, like my mother does for you, brings strength and grace when I need it the most (the latter, most frequently). As I’ve appreciated taking risks and being well-conditioned to receive luck, the same way Frank and Amy from Hang the DJ believe there’s something beyond the wall, the example of my parents emboldens me as I start my own family.

Nothing is wasted; everything matters. Every conversation across a dimly-lit dinner table, each piece of timely encouragement, and every single embrace at the end of a long day. And until the next one. It all matters, as long as we understand the value of what is being passed on. All this, and so much more, I learned from my beloved father. My unflagging hero, lifelong mentor, and invaluable friend.”

While many make resolutions this time of year, this letter reminds us that valuing what we’ve learned, appreciating loved ones, and being grateful for all our blessings is a tradition that should not only be reserved for the first few days of the year. It is a habit that if made constant will hopefully enrich us both as individuals and as a nation. Happy New year to all!

* * *

Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com

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