I'm luckier than most people. Unlike my husband, who lost his dad to cancer when he was just two years old, I grew up knowing my dad. Even if he was mostly away in some faraway country trying to make a living for all eight of us back home, I always had someone I could call Papa.
However, I don't recall having any of those storybook moments that are said to exist between a father and his daughter as Papa wasn't affectionate at all. Even when my siblings and I were kids, he didn't hug us much or say "I love you" often. The few times he picked us up from school, he'd be super late because he had made a couple of wrong turns. When we did something wrong, he didn't mince words or spare us his belt. He scared off boyfriends who visited us at home.
To say that Papa is serious and strict and not affectionate is an understatement. But at my wedding, he showed a different side. In his speech, he said he held back tears when he walked me down the aisle, but not because I was his favorite daughter. In his exact words, "Nakakalungkot din pala kapag isa-isa na silang nawawala sa iyo (It saddens me to see how they [my children] are leaving home one by one)."
Beneath the sternness that my siblings and I had witnessed our whole lives, Papa, it turns out, is just like any dad. It took time for me to realize that he just had a different way of showing his love. We may never have walked hand in hand or whispered in church or gone to the movies together, but if you really think about it, working miles away from your family, and coming home to a house full of almost strangers once a year was a big sacrifice. I couldn't imagine what it was like being away from Mama all that time.
Today, I get to talk to Papa maybe once a week when I visit him and Mama. Sometimes, we just mumble his and hellos; other times, we have a real conversation. And just as I'm about to leave, he packs some kesong puti or nilagang mais or mamon for me to bring home. To say that we are closer now would be untrue, but now that I'm older and looking forward to starting a family of my own, I can say I understand him better.
Like him, I am not the touchy-feely type, and I say "I love you" to my husband only after he has said it first. I am the tita my nephews and nieces shy away from, but when they need manila paper for school or a new pair of pants for their birthday, I'm the one who gets it for them right away. At work, you won't find me hugging or comforting a colleague who's having a bad day, but I will be the one who buys her dinner to make her feel better.
Looking back, the opposite of everything I’ve said about my dad ("I'm never going to be like him when I grow up!") is coming true. Papa's love may not be straight out of Chicken Soup for the Soul, but through the years, his actions have certainly done all the talking. I know, and I understand, because after all, I am my father's daughter.
(First Published in Good Housekeeping Magazine, Blessings section as "My Father's Daughter" in June 2008; adapted for use in Female Network)
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