My father, my cheerleader
Illustration by Hersam Sato

My father, my cheerleader

NEW BEGINNINGS - Büm D. Tenorio Jr. (The Philippine Star) - January 22, 2021 - 12:00am

His silent gaze is the pompom I miss each time I think of him, which is every day. His creased smile is the upbeat music I miss playing in my mind. Even 11 years since his passing on Jan. 18, 2010, I think of my father every day. My heart never forgets.

My father was my cheerleader. He tossed my spirit in the air every time I was under the weather. He caught me not with his hands but with his smile. His smile was the telltale sign that he had my back, that everything would be okay, that, when I was lost in thoughts and ways, I would be right back on track. Imagine, just his smile was enough to insulate and inspire me to go farther, to turn the mundane into something meaningful, to go on with life. No words said. Just his gaze. And his toothless smile.

When he smiled, I could see my own life reflected in his eyes. He celebrated my joys. And even without words, he did not only halve my pain, he owned it.

I did not have to tell him what ailed me; the Senior just knew how to turn things around for his Junior. I would just sit beside him in his wooden hammock under the himbaba-o tree. And I would feel all right. He had the power to put me at ease.

When I was kid, he was the human Medicol when I was running a fever. No problem if we couldn’t afford a pain reliever or analgesic. He would make pospas (porridge with kanduli freshly caught from the lake) and ask my mother to serve me the piping-hot, gingery dish. No apples and oranges to soothe my bitter palate. Just love. Sweet love.

My father was our family’s human medicine cabinet. If my brothers and I sustained cuts and bruises, he had leaves in the rice field that he would pluck and apply on our wound to stop the bleeding. In the absence of penicillin at home, he put medicinal leaves on my wounds. Garlic was the medicine for toothache because Gardan was way too expensive. If we had upset stomach, he would go to the neighbor’s house and cut a small piece of bark from the star apple tree. He would boil it in a kettle with a glass of water and would make us drink the extract. It was the bitterest cocktail I ever tasted. But it was one of his sweetest gestures of fatherly love.

My father had the natural capacity to simplify things for me. He was always there to tell me that if things were not necessary, I shouldn’t venture into them. He illustrated to me the difference between “wants” and “needs.” He taught me that decisions were not based on whims. To this day, when I go to the mall, market or grocery store, I only get what is necessary — because my father taught me to put it clearly in my head what was necessary, to always have a mental paktura (list of items to buy) of the things I needed to purchase.

He allowed me rooms for mistakes — even when I was already an adult. When I lived in a friend’s house in the neighborhood for almost seven months when I was in my mid-twenties, he allowed me. No judgment. He did not get in the way of my joy. When things fell apart between me and my friend, he picked me up in my friend’s place in his assembled orange bicycle. He carried my bag on his back and allowed me to pedal his bike. No words were said. I learned my lessons. He just smiled. In his arms, I was home. He was the first man to have ever loved me, albeit when I was growing up we were in constant disagreement about the alternative lifestyle I chose. He has remained the only man who would love me unconditionally. He was an ally. A silent one.

I shared with him my joys, my little accomplishments, my big successes. With my big and small achievements, he just patted me with a smile. He would celebrate me silently. Unknown to me, he would go around town telling his friends how proud he was of me. Long before “flex” became the byword of millennials to uplift their friends on social media, my father had already flexed me. Till the end, he was my cheerleader.

We think alike. To this day, when confronted with challenges, I solve them the way my father would have solved each concern, if he were still alive. That way, I feel reconnected with him. I feel good. I always felt good the way my father loved me.

When I was a child, he taught me to draw an image of a smiling sun on the ground, using a stick, when rains would not stop for days. I caught myself doing the same recently. In my pajamas, I went out of the house and, in our backyard, I drew a sun with brows, patrician nose and parted thick lips. Its hairs were straight rays, long lines that I wished would reach my father in heaven. They reached him for, after a while, the skies cleared. I cried. My father heard me. Even in things as simple as drawing a sun on terra firma, I remember my father.

My father sensed it when I panicked. He would hold my hand. Or he would ask me to lie on the sofa, put my feet on his lap and one by one he would reach for my toes and massage them. Next thing I knew, I had already dozed off. I would wake up with fears no more.

In his twilight years, we played games. In my desire to keep him mobile, I would dare him to cross the street with his walking stick. If he made it to the sari-sari store on the other side of the street, he would get P1,000 from me. No time limit. He would reach the store and walk some more in the neighborhood. He charged me extra for every meter he walked in our barrio. I gave in. If I could give the world to him, I would.

He taught me to be strong in will and conviction. He helped me build my fortification. By example I learned from him that words are alive and words have their own dignity. A promise should be kept at all times. That’s honor. And a promise said during good days with a friend should not be rescinded when times get rough. That’s dignity.

On the subject of commitment, he taught me to give my best shot in everything I do — even in love. And when high on love, he told me, don’t promise the moon and the stars. Keep it real. Only promise the things that you can give. Like love.

If only I could phone him in heaven, I would. I miss our long-distance conversations. He was a funny man. A raconteur. My gift of gab I partly inherited from him. I miss the sound of his laughter. He liked to ape voices of characters he watched on TV. He would talk to me in different voices. I would be in stitches. If only I could hear him again. If only I could hear his laughter again.

To be with him was to feel a semblance of heaven — peaceful, joyful, filled with love. I miss that moment every day.

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