Papa, I’m Proud of You
One night, papa lurked into my room with a downcast face caused by what it seems like to be an endless ripple of discouragement and disappointment. I can certainly sense a consuming frustration within the depths of his heart. My bedless cushion appeared to be the perfect spot for him to lay his troubles aside. He sat on the mattress and rested his back on the wall as he released a sigh of minimal relief.
“Anak (son), I feel awful about myself. I am exhausted by always feeling upset and insecure. It seems like ‘I am not enough’ and I will never be. I am starting to get anxious about whether my life matters or not. Am I doing my best to be a good father? I don’t know! Am I exerting extra effort to be a good husband? I don’t know! I feel inadequate . . . insufficient . . . even useless. I wish I can do more or give more to prove that I am worthy of existence.”
Here is a father sharing his struggles to his son and here is a son gently carrying the burdens of his father. For a while, I thought of the paradox that the son appears to be ‘fathering the father’. I somehow reflected that inside this fully grown man, is a dreadful . . . hurtful child.
Listening to Papa’s declaration of hopelessness, I cannot help but remember the entirety of his life. Not that I was able to observe Papa growing up but his personal stories are vividly engraved into my memory box.
Papa’s childhood was ecstatic. Growing up in a valley surrounded by magnificent mountains and refreshing rivers, he had his share of ‘Tom-Sawyer-like’ experiences like hunting birds, swimming with the fishes, climbing trees and cliffs, and having that divine moment of finding God while being lost in the woods. He can talk for hours describing his vivid youthful jubilee and somehow gave me this wistful desire to experience his exciting childhood days. However, behind those joyful moments are fearful and traumatizing encounters that still haunt him up to this day.
At such a young age, Papa left home to study in a farther town which means living with his ruthless uncle for the rest of his elementary and high school days. His uncle, who was a drunkard, would deliberately coerced Papa to do things that he is not supposed to do as a child. In one instance, in the middle of the night, he would force him to buy a bottle of liquor. Papa would walk through a kilometer of complete blackness with sinister dogs lurking around. In these times of tormenting strolls, he would pray, beg God even, to take his uncle away, yet to no avail, his abused went on until he reached his teenage years.
Noticing that papa is growing physically and mentally, his uncle, who is now becoming weaker, shifted to a different strategy. Instead of coercing papa, he made him his pal. He influenced papa to adopt his addictive behavior of drinking and smoking an excessive amount of liquor and cigarette. He opened Papa’s world to a life of fruitless indulgence. Yet, Papa enjoyed these moments so much that he became unaware that this would soon spiral him down the path of regrets and resentment.
During his college years, Papa transferred to a city about 7 hours away from his home. The city life is brightly lit with inevitable challenges and enticements. He was supposed to study, but, his counterproductive lifestyle from his provincial life pulled him back to that same routine of succumbing to the pull of alcohol, cigarette and even drugs. At that moment, financial, emotional and moral support from his parents is silent. This made Papa’s case worse than ever before.
As expected, Papa dropped out of school and found his way to becoming one of those earliest jeepney drivers traversing our city. It was a good profession given the fact that it pays the rent and can support his lifestyle. He will work hard every morning and spend the rest of his income at night. This wasteful cycle continued for years until Papa realized that his life was heading nowhere. Growing up in a devout Catholic family, he was taught to pray. It was his first time to talk with God after such long years of lurking into the hopeless world. Papa begged the Divine to show him the purpose of his life.
After a year, Papa met Mama and they became madly in love with each other. At that point, he became certain about the meaning of his life- he knew his purpose and that is to become a family man. They had four boys to nurture and love. Papa worked extremely hard to feed and support the family. His greatest challenges happens whenever employers would choose to lay him off. He would feel bad about his inadequacies and would feel worse seeing us in despair and in need. In those times of debt and of flatlined morale, he would go inside a Chapel to pray to God to help us get through a seemingly treacherous and miserable situation.
Yet in all those years of sacrifices, papa was not able to overcome his addiction to alcohol. Almost every night, he would go home and drown himself into a bottle of gin. I guess this was his way to relieve himself from stress. Yet, it puzzled me to see him an alcoholic having a deep devotion with God. Almost always every morning, before going to work, his love for us is expressed through kneeling down in prayer and whispering these words, “God, be with my family”.
As I reminisced Papa’s life, an incitement of admiration and appreciation beamed within the core of my heart. These strong emotions opened my eyes further and made me mindful of how deeply Papa influenced my life. Before having a teacher, papa was my story-teller. Before entering the Church, papa was my spiritual mentor. Before recognizing community service and nation-building, Papa taught me to love. Before knowing God and the bible, Papa guided me to have faith. I guess he spent most of his life lingering on his failed attempt to be successful, but deep within me I know that he is more than just a success, he is significant.
I slowly stood up from where I am. I gazed at papa with gentle eyes of care saying, “Pa, you might not be successful compared to the world’s standard, but you surely live a life of purpose and meaning. I am not ashamed of being your son. Thank you for loving us. I am so proud of you!”
I stretch forth my hand to reach papa. He held mine and I pulled him up. I guess what Papa needed is not to become successful. He hungers for a voice to assure him that his existence is not defined by popularity and prosperity, but rather by his selfless investment towards us. Most of us are driven by success, but significance has its way of leading us to a different path through which we receive fruitfulness not on how much we have but on how much we are willing to give.
Two days after, I was privileged to deliver my Valedictory Address to a couple of thousands of graduates during our University’s 102nd Commencement Ceremony. I find it symbolic that this triumphal event was marked not by a glorious ray of sunshine, but instead, it was hailed by a drizzling cold air that sways to and fro inside the huge, portable dome. The gloomy weather seemed to be expressing that sometimes victories like this are celebrated best not by great shouts of acclamation but by silent recognition of those people who sacrificially invested sweats, tears and drops of blood for us to complete another milestone in life. Our diploma is more than just a trophy of our success, it is a shared contract with several nobodies whom we consider a significant part of our lives.
My speech is a challenge to take the road less traveled. The road which I call ‘significance’. Most people who walked along this road were not known by the world. They do not have big names but they have big hearts. They are not monumental, but their silent life speaks of meaningful messages that inspire us to live a purposeful existence. In this rat race of almost everybody gnawing over methods and methods of how to become successful, these people remind us that we need to step back and assess what truly matters. Papa’s life is one epitome of such ideal. Papa is not a professional, not popular and not even prosperous, in fact, he is an alcoholic, flawed, broke, yet despite such painful contrasts, he managed to steer his wheels toward that road of meaningful fruitfulness. He took the road less traveled by, the road of significance, and that is what made the difference.
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