Remembering Dad
PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez (The Philippine Star) - June 14, 2012 - 12:00am

On Sunday, my sisters Mae, Dindin and Val and I will be celebrating our second Father’s Day without our dad Frank Mayor, who passed away on July 6, 2010 — ironically just two weeks after Father’s Day and a week before his 78th birthday.

There is still a void in our lives that not even time has filled, the way the void left by a giant oak that has been uprooted stays hollow. We try to shovel beautiful memories into the void in an attempt to fill it up. But even those are not enough to replace the man around whom those memories are spun.

Dad was really the oak we leaned on and took refuge under till we were adults. Because of his character, his drive, and the tough love he often showered us with, he was a metaphor for strength: He was Hercules, he was Braveheart.

Dad raised us to believe that we could be who we dreamt to be. Ours was the quintessential middle-class family, but that didn’t stop him and my mom Sonia from giving us elite dreams and aspirations. He often counseled all four of us to live within our means (“Can’t afford it!” was his mantra whenever we would cajole him to buy us expensive stuff) but he never stopped us from dreaming beyond our league. He sent all of us to an expensive and exclusive convent school even if he had to burn the midnight oil for it.

“Study hard, work hard,” was his answer when I once told that I wanted to go to Disneyland or Switzerland, like my classmates. “Study hard, work hard,” wasn’t a secret, unpatented formula that my Dad had discovered. It was a formula his Post-War generation kept sacred but which the younger generation found harder to practice.

Dad made it easy for us to follow that formula. He made it like a rainbow that we should cross to get to our pot of gold. Thank you, Dad, for making us see hard work as a rainbow instead of a curse, a means to a dream instead of a nightmare.

***

All his life, Dad went the distance. To reach his goals and to fulfill his dreams, Dad would swim the extra mile, conquer both the depths and the distance, and though buffeted by waves and winds, would always emerge triumphant.

Dad in the late ‘60s.

When we were little girls frolicking on the beach, Dad, who willed himself to be a good swimmer to conquer his asthma, would plunge into the sea. We had barely filled our sand buckets when we would suddenly notice Dad already disappearing into the depths of the sea, till his head and the white crests of the waves near the horizon were indistinguishable. Just before we could ask the fishermen to search for him in their bancas, fearful as were that he was lost at sea, Dad would re-emerge from the waters, energized and exhilarated. Triumphant. He had finished the race, and he had won.

In 2009, Dad was told he had cancer of the pancreas. My first cousin Dawne Ancheta Both, who took on the role of a daughter in the early days of Dad’s illness, before his daughters could fly to the US, recalled in her eulogy for Dad on July 9, 2010: “On Sept. 24, I drove my uncle and aunt to consult with MD’s in LA. The doctors entered the room and told Uncle Frank of the seriousness of his disease, the options of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, another surgery… etc. The doctor asked uncle if he understood the seriousness of his condition and uncle nodded yes. Then he spoke, ‘After I go through all of that, will I be able to return to work?’ My heart sank… I gasped… and began to cry… What a man…”

(Later, Dawne, who lives in California, would find out that in his place of work, Dad’s name is still on the locker he once used.)

When, in his hospital bed in September 2009, Dad was told that the operation to take out the tumor in his pancreas was not successful, and that he would still need several rounds of debilitating chemotherapy to extend his life, he immediately asked, “When do I start?”

He never blinked, never flinched even when we asked him in his last month, when he was reeling from the effects of chemo, “Dad, gusto mo pa ba ituloy ang chemo?”

He looked at us sternly and said, “Of course. Is there any other way?” His doctor then told us, “If chemo is what Frank wants, chemo is what he’ll get. Frank is a fighter.”

He was going to fight it out, my brave and strong Dad. Still willing to go the distance to live another day, to see another rainbow…

***

Though he was stern with us, an immovable force, till we were young adults, our memories of Dad are sweet like cotton candy.

My sister Mae, who migrated to the US to help take care of Dad in his last few months, misses “the smell of his aftershave cologne, his singing, the way he sneezed. Seriously, his being very supportive.”

Dindin, a psychiatrist who lives in Philadelphia and who crisscrossed the US during Dad’s illness to visit him, remembers: “During Dad’s last Christmas, I was so sick with a cough, I stayed in a hotel to avoid infecting him. It lasted four days. I was in California but did not visit him. On the fourth day, I had to go to Dad and Mom’s apartment to get something, but did not want to have contact with him. But he saw me waiting outside the apartment, and forced himself to walk from his bedroom across the living room to see me. I couldn’t forget the fondness I saw in his face at seeing me. Because Dad and I were always at odds, every moment I saw tenderness in his face, I treasured it. Nothing was like this moment for me.”

Dad was hardly ever stern with Val, the bunso, like he was with his older girls. Val spent two months with Dad during his illness and was by his side when he breathed his last. “I miss his voice,” she says. “ The way he says ‘Hello’ when he answers the phone. How happy he sounds when I tell him about the latest achievement of my kids, and how he always ends a call with, ‘I love you’.”

As for me, I miss most the reassurance his presence (even if he lived across the Pacific Ocean) gave me. Whenever I would visit him and Mom, and my husband and son weren’t with me, he would tie up my balikbayan boxes and haul them off to the trunk of the car of my Uncle Jun, who would drive me to the airport. Later on, my uncle would tell me that Dad would instruct him to see me till the check-in counter and not just the curb because “Lampa iyan, alalayan mo.”

Seared into my memory were my goodbyes. The first in September 2009, after his surgery. The surgeon had already told us the end was near, just months away.

After I had sealed my suitcase, I quietly walked over to the wing chair where he was seated, watching his favorite ballgame. I knelt in front of him — I revered him for all that he was and for how he made us what we are today — and took his hand. I raised it to my cheek and let my warm tears say goodbye, thank you, I will always love you. I wasn’t sure I would see him alive again.

“Huwag ka na umiyak,” he told me reassuringly.

I saw him again seven months later, in a hospital bed. When it was again time to say goodbye, I told him I was sorry I might not make it to his birthday two months later (July 13, 2010).

“That’s okay,” he reassured me. “As long as your love and prayers are with me.”

“Always, Dad, always,” I answered him, this time holding back the tears. I didn’t want him to see me cry when he was at his weakest.

Father’s Day 2010 was his last. My sisters brought him cupcakes and balloons. He sounded upbeat when I talked to him over the phone.

Dad hang on for Father’s Day but passed away before his birthday two weeks later. I think it was because Father’s Day was OUR day — his and his four daughters’.

Dad, we will miss you this Sunday. We will celebrate your life and cherish your memory. With smiles and laughter. Because though there is a void in our lives, we know you wouldn’t want it to be filled with tears.

 (You may e-mail me at joanneraeramirez@yahoo.com.)

AFTER I BECAUSE DAD AND I DAD DAD AND MOM DAWNE ANCHETA BOTH DAY TOLD
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