I visited your grave last Sunday. Your apo, Estelle, bought one of the three flowerpots that we brought to cheer you up on Father’s Day. Your resting place at the Libingan ng mga Bayani is in dire need of sprucing up. How long has it been since we lowered your body down there? Sixteen years. We ache for you still. And now there are cracks in the black slab of granite that juts out from the ground, serving as a divider between heaven and earth. We promise to fix those cracks soon.
I miss you still, and always. I miss seeing you sitting on the bed, reading the newspapers while having your morning coffee. I miss the constant waft of smoke and the perpetual search for ashtrays, lighters, and smoking lounges to help you light up. I miss the books, piles of them, in the backseat of your car and in boxes brought in from travels abroad. I miss your booming voice, the softness of your hand, and how you would bravely hang on to a church pew to kneel slowly despite the stiffness in your knees.
I miss your smile that comes with the twinkle in your eyes. In the twilight of your years, that smile came much more easily, especially when you hear your grandkids in the room. I miss how you would pet our dogs, like they were children, and the way you would feed them hopia, the ube kind. I miss the scratching of your fountain pen on yellow pad, signifying the start of your column-writing duties. I still remember seeing you, seated and silent, during Estelle’s birthday party, when rock band after rock band slayed the air, punishing the entire neighborhood with noise. You sat there, because you try to be present in all of our birthdays, no matter what that entailed.
You died on December 14, 2003, in mid-air, as the plane was sailing through clouds from Tokyo to Bahrain. The pilot made an emergency landing in Taipei but your heart had already surrendered, and they pronounced you clinically dead at the hospital. I never had the chance to say goodbye and to thank you. If I had that chance, I would have said, “I love you”, over and over again. I say that to your grave now, hoping that divinity has its own Bluetooth system, so you can hear my every word.
I am now 57 years old, and thoughts about earthworms in the crusty soil feasting on my own remains would sometimes crawl in my head. Mortality and maintenance medicines have become twin realities of life. I try my best to make you proud, and to keep on learning like you have always done. Education is for life, you once told me. There is no reason to remain intellectually stagnant, especially given the endless buffet of information that technology provides. Facts are not wisdom, however. You had both, and I miss your attempts to explain the world to me.
I write this letter to you because though our father-daughter relationship was not perfect, you left me with little room to complain. It’s rare for a daughter to be scolded because of grammar lapses. You also scolded me once because as your media officer, I had to pressure you to respond to their queries. What did you say then? “Never let the media dictate public policy.” Something similar to that, I guess. It was a short, sharp, retort dished out with a glare. I never forgot that moment. I mean, how many daughters would have that kind of memory?
And so, I write you now with nothing but gratitude in my heart. To have a father like you, and a mother like Mommy, and with siblings who are among the kindest in the world, there is really nothing more to wish for. I pray that you are happy. I pray that you are able to read as many books as you want, smoke as many cigarettes as you can, and have heavenly conversations with intellectual angels like Shakespeare, Plato and Jose Rizal.
You did exceedingly well, as a writer, government worker and politician. You did your best as a father while combining all of the above. I am trying my best as one of your direct descendants. Though I must confess to having a few grammar lapses still, here and there. Ok, not just a few. LOL.
Happy Father’s Day, Amang.
I love you, then. And even more remarkable, I love you even more now.
Susan V. Ople heads the Blas F. Ople Policy Center and Training Institute, a nonprofit organization that deals with labor and migration issues. She also represents the OFW sector in the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking.