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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Friday, June 24, 2005

entry arrow8:40 PM | Footnote to Fathers


I wonder what it must have been like, the first time Father learned he had a son on the way. My mother -- a young beautician who happened to be renting a nook in father's building when Father first fell in love with her -- was secretly pregnant, the belly not yet bursting too much with the bundle she had already named Alvin.

Father was a young man then, in Nasipit, a town in the outskirts of Butuan City. My mother told me she took my father's hand one day -- she was 29 and my father 30 -- and placed it wordlessly on her belly, like in the movies. And then he just knew.

Did father jump with joy? Did he cry? Did he kiss my mother and promise her, and the unborn child, a world without want? The details are lost to me, "because some things are better left unsaid," mother says. But it must have been a mixture of unexpected delight, tempered by a devouring fear simmering under the surface. For he was young, and what do young men know of fatherhood?

I look into my own life -- and I presume that the answer is, nothing much.

Nobody teaches anybody about fatherhood. What is perhaps the most demanding job in the world -- akin to that of motherhood (but, of course) -- is surprisingly a career one lands in like the proverbial bolt out of the blue. Almost always purely by accident, if one is careless and lazy, and think condoms are for sissies; and yet even when planned, it still demands the dilemma of cluelessness.

There is no surefire formula to a successful stint at being, suddenly, Dad. It is mostly a haphazard process consisting of trials-and-errors, many of them, with a stake bigger than anything, because what is the core for concern is a young child's future. There is no greater responsibility than that, having someone's future suddenly yoked to your life.

But don't take my word for it. While I have the greatest respect for fathers who truly shine in being devoted parental beings, I am myself no father at all. At 29, a perfectly marriageable age, I have no intention of "spreading" my "seed," as mother called it once.

"A child gives your life direction," an auntie also told me, after another endless inquiry about civil status. The answer in the singular did not please her; trappings of married life, child and all, did.

"But I have no plans to follow any path, much less a child's," is always my quip. Not out of disrespect, but out of carefully worded "escape" from well-intentioned, but unbelievably intrusive, elderly kin.

And sometimes, to a contemporary, I give this answer: "Don't you think there are already too many children, but lesser common sense, in the world? It's a crime to bring one into this all this mess." Sometimes I believe that sincerely; sometimes I think it is just all bull. Often I decide where I stand on whether the day is sunny or rainy. I tell you: no child, no direction. Hehehe.

Sometimes, too, I think I would make a good father. I am at perfect ease among babies and children. My nieces and nephews take to me like an overly tall teddy bear that they could confide and deposit their childhood secrets and kinetic sugar-induced actions in. I delight in their company -- but I think part of the appeal is the fact that I can love them as much as I want, and still know that I can come home every night to a quiet pad. I know there are some of you reading this who may think this confession selfish -- but there you go.

There is just no gravity in me towards fatherhood. I am in perfect contentment with bachelorhood. What I do know of fatherhood has always been a mix of hearsay, horror stories, Hallmark moments, and a thousand scenes of various fatherhoods offered by television.

Dean Francis Alfar, the Palanca-winning fictionist and comicbook honcho, writes about the delights and challenges of being a father in his blog Notes From the Peanut Gallery: "Looking back, I wish someone, anyone, had prepared me for what was to come. As the date approached I tried my best to act the part of a cool-dad-to-be, in control, knowledgeable, prepared. I only half-listened to the advice of other people, confident in my ability to figure things out myself. I thought, how difficult could it be? People have babies all the time. Was it as simple as I thought? Let me put it this way, if my hair wasn't shaved by choice in the first place, I would have torn it all out -- in clumps, by the handful."

He talks about getting a crash course on baby shopping: "When we brought our little daughter home from the hospital, the first thing I realized was that we didn't have a sterilizer for the bottles. So on our very first day home, I left mother and child and rushed to the baby section of Megamall with my dwindling money (unless you plan to have your wife give birth via albulario, the accumulated expenses pack a wallop) and bought everything I thought we needed -- sterilizer, more bottles, nipples, blankets, disposable diapers, wipes, bathtub, towels, socks, mini-tops, a bassinette, the works. And being so clever, I also emptied our bank account and bought things I later realized would not be needed for another six months or more -- large Duplo blocks, a funky stroller, floor pads, a stuffed toy 3 times larger than my baby and a Little Missy Cooking Set. Yes, I went overboard, but the lesson is clear. Understand exactly what you need, and have them ready when you need them."

He talks about the shock of finding out baby formula cost a small fortune. He talks about the meaning of layette. ("Do you know what a layette is?") He talks about the sheer paranoia for the quiet in the nursery while baby is sleeping. ("The odd thing about newborn babies is that they do not move when they're asleep and bundled. This caused me grave concern because, being the paranoid person that I am, I thought my baby had stopped breathing and had become victim to SIDS.") He talks about nipples and diapers. ("I should have watched [television commercials]. Why? Because then I would have known that nipples come in different stages and understood the differences among the competing disposable diapers.") He talks about learning to sleep between 45 minute intervals, and the value of humor in raising a child. ("In the course of the first few months, you'll experience things that may make you decide never to have any more children. The trick is to take things in stride and to keep your sense of humor ... It's important that your child grows up in an environment that is filled with love and laughter, so make sure to set the example. Unless you want to raise a serial killer. Or a congressman.")

Dean is a good father, and I envy him. Sometimes, reading through his missives, I want to be Sage, his daughter. My father, you see, was mostly absent when I was growing up, and by the time he died, I was already a hardheaded teenager who believed in no fathers.

But I believe Father's ghost still haunts me because this is perhaps his unfinished business -- winning back the love of his children, and perhaps even particularly mine. I bear his name after all. Fermin, his name, is also part of mine. And there are days when I feel him around me, and during these surprisingly comforting moments, the pain of the memory of having an absentee father slowly peels away. From the stories of his barkada, as well as that of mother and my eldest brothers, I piece together bit by bit the father I didn't know. One might even say I know him more now dead than he was alive. And even in death, he keeps surprising me with revelations into himself. The good result is of course the fact that I have begun to love him.

A year ago, I was invited to submit a poem for an anthology titled Father Poems, edited by the venerable Krip Yuson and Gemino H. Abad, and published by Anvil. I remember sitting down for that task, and in one go -- as if feeling father's ghostly guidance -- I wrote:

How to Believe in Ghosts
For Fermin

Father, there was no chance to believe
In the impossible: the freshly-dug earth, now
Your home, was mute as was usual, turning away
Even the last howl of mourners coming near.
Their black grieving did not understand, as we did, that
Ties which bound could come loose as the grass that
Would feast on your memory six feet above could, as
Ground swallowed-in the digging for mortal remains.
We are told, as the funeral flowers wilted in the sun, that
Memories should be immortal, but we prayed for no ghosts.
The dead should not speak. We prayed, instead: father, we
Forgive you, for you have sinned. And the burial
Became growing silence as we soon dispersed for lives spent
In battled reflections, the muteness of years bearing down
On children struggling to forget by the bottom of
Beer bottles, or the occasional want for punish. Soon, we
Come, year by year, to some bidding, somehow,
For holy days kept precise -- that last excuse -- to
Listen to some eternal knell your spirit might tell.
Our candles now burn low to capture some
Semblance of closing, the way the ghostly smoke
Wisp among flowers, down to the carabao grass kept
Trim. We wait, and we wait. And life and silence
Become memories built on flimsy hopes, as they must,
To resound to a kind of winged believing.
And then we learn persistence, by the passing
Of days, that even the living must learn to reclaim
Their dead, to Live, to now close
The prayers with which we can finally love
Our dearly departed.

This was my confession to a final belief in fatherhood, even from beyond. Somewhere, Father must be smiling at me.

Belated happy father's day to all.


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