Dad and little me.
Dad, you live on
PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez (The Philippine Star) - June 11, 2019 - 12:00am

It was in 2009 that we learned that our dad, Frank Mayor,  who continued to work and work out even at age 77, had terminal cancer. That was 10 years ago and though my mom, my sisters and I have gone on with our lives, there is always an empty place in the table that cannot be filled.

I think Father’s Day that year was nothing out of the ordinary. After we lost Dad, we realized that every Father’s Day, every birthday of a loved one, should never be ordinary — because it may be the last ordinary one. The next year, 2010, Dad spent Father’s Day in a hospital bed. And it was the one celebrated with balloons and cupcakes.

My dad started showing symptoms of his cancer of the pancreas during his birthday in 2009, which he spent in Las Vegas with family. My uncle Caesar Reyes and my son Chino noticed that he would pant after walking long distances, which used to be a piece of cake for him.

That September, Dad underwent “Whipple” surgery in Los Angeles, an intricate, lengthy procedure that was supposed to add years to  his life and improve its quality. Dad was in good spirits. The night before, we had all checked in at a hotel near the hospital, and Dad spent the night with us. 

As Dad was wheeled in for surgery the next day, we were shown to a lounge the size of a hotel lobby. We had an assigned table and the bulb on the table would light up with a buzz if any of the doctors needed to talk to the family — whether for good news or bad. We readied ourselves for a long wait, a campout. But after only three hours, someone already called out for the family of Frank Mayor. 

We looked at each other anxiously as we were led to a small waiting room.

The surgeon told us that Dad’s cancer had spread and that surgery was not going to help. He told my mother that Dad had six months, a year, two if there was a miracle. He was unequivocal about it. There was not a glimmer of hope in his eyes. He offered no alternatives but chemotherapy, but that, as a surgeon, his work was done. He had sounded the death knell on Dad even before he breathed his last.

In a sense, I felt that was the most painful part of our journey of grief. We were all so hopeful before the surgery, what we were worried about was the recovery from the Whipple, which Dad’s primary doctor had warned was “no walk in the park.”

We didn’t look at the danger at the tip of our noses — that in fact the life-saving surgery to excise the cancer — would not even be necessary because it was already too late. Too. Late.

When Dad regained consciousness, he looked at us like he had hit a home run. “Only three hours!” he said with his thumbs up. Our hearts took a nosedive as our tears surged. Oh my God, Dad did not know. He thought the operation was a success!

Eventually, he was told. It was my sister Geraldine, a doctor herself, who told him. As darkness settled outside his hospital window, my father asked if my mother could stay the night in his room. It wasn’t the practice in the hospital. But she was given permission to do so.

*  *  *

On Father’s Day the next year, 2010, my sisters surprised Dad with balloons and cupcakes. I was in Manila and I spoke to him over the phone. I hung up with the three words I always uttered whenever it was time to say goodbye to Dad ever since he moved to the US with Mom,  “Love you, Dad.” I had always meant it, but it was always a signal to hung up, to mean “time to wrap up the conversation,” “I have to leave for work now,” “someone’s on the other line,” etc. But this time, this last time, I was choking back the tears. I knew that it was just a matter of time and Dad would hang up on this world and that our conversation would really be over. My bit of advice for those who still have dads to greet this Father’s Day: Don’t rush the conversation. Savor it.

My dad died only three weeks after Father’s Day 2010. He was a week shy of 78.

*  *  *

Life went on, life goes on. For the first part of our lives, it was just Dad, Mom, and the four of us sisters. So Dad was truly the alpha male in our lives, the head of the family who was as sturdy as an oak. We never imagined this mighty oak could be toppled. And when Dad died, the gaping hole the mighty oak left was a cavern.

But he lives on in each of his daughters, and in his grandchildren. My son Chino walks exactly like his Grandpa. My niece Tricia has his big, deep-set eyes.

My sister Mae credits Dad for her work ethic, for her being very organized and punctual. I remember that when she was still working with the US Embassy in Manila, she would go to work come hell or high water. Not even a storm signal would deter her from being at her desk. Among the many awards she has received was the Franklin Award, named after Benjamin Franklin,  the first diplomat of the United States.

My sister Geraldine, aside from having my dad’s birthday, has many of his mannerisms, like how she rests her chin on her fingers when in thought. What delights her now is that she has inherited our father’s green thumb! Dad had always wanted to be a farmer, and he once told me he had originally wanted to take up agriculture (he ended up taking accounting, and became a corporate executive until his retirement).

“I seed my lawn myself every year and my grass is lush and velvety. My neighbors say the previous owners could not grow grass on my lawn, which is shaded by several century-old oak trees. I planted flowering plants and they grow back every year. The blooms are even bigger and more abundant every succeeding year,” says Geraldine proudly, noting she talks about her garden in New Jersey “the way Dad used to talk about the achievements of his daughters.”

The bunso, Valerie, Dad’s obvious favorite (I am not sure who his “secret” favorite is), says: “I got Dad’s sweetness without his temper. I am very demonstrative just like him. And I easily forgive and forget.”

Whether in Mae’s awards, in Geraldine’s garden (shaded by not one but many oaks), or Valerie’s sweetness and readiness to forgive, Dad truly lives on.

But you are still missed, Dad. Happy Father’s Day in heaven. Please continue looking after us, as you always, always, have.

(You may e-mail me at Follow me on Instagram @joanneraeramirez.)

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