"A father is always making his baby into a little woman. And when she is a woman he turns her back again."
"Be kind to thy father, for when thou were young, who loved thee so fondly as he? He caught the first accents that fell from thy tongue, and joined in thy innocent glee."
"A father is a banker provided by nature."
WHAT IS a home without a father, or a family without a provider? Would it smell as sweet, or feel as safe? Would its hearth burn as bright, or flicker softly in the cold of night?
For what is a house without walls, ceilings or floors? What is a room without the soothing comfort of its familiar, unbroken space? Would a chair at the head of a table still be a chair if no one sits there?
Easy to figure out that fathers, like our more beloved mothers, are angels on earth, too.
He was the strong, dependable figure of our childhood; the take-charge chap when the going got terribly tough; the go-to guy when things got intolerably rough. Wasn't he the original 24-hour Handy-Man? Mr. Fix-It, who patiently mended our broken hearts and bruised egos; who allayed our fears, dressed our wounds and wiped our tears when no one was looking.
He gave us a calming shelter from the storms of our simmering discontent; a gentle dwelling to keep us warm from the misery of our failures and excesses. Didn't he build our haven from the sweat of his brow and the pain in his sturdy joints? His generosity made it even sweeter, lovelier, second to none.
He gave us wings from which to soar to heights we wouldn't have possibly known in our age of innocence - ushering us into the wondrous worlds of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, Peter Pan and Tiny Tim, Kon-Tiki and Moby-Dick, Batman and Superman, The Flintstones and Charlie Brown, Sesame Street and Disneyland.
He opened our senses to the magic of poetry and music, the thrill of playing games and solving puzzles, the marvels of ancient cultures and recent history - introducing us to the ubiquitous little book which taught us about the power of words, and about laughter being the best medicine. Could he have been the Nutty Professor dressed in pajamas and funny overalls?
Fathers adored their first-born to bits; boy or girl didn't really matter. He was in a hurry for them to grow up, so that he could look at himself through their eyes, and know if he had done right. He wanted his spitting image in the little one whom he carried around like a priceless trophy; showing off to all and sundry the fair skin and high-bridged nose - an improvement of the race, definitely.
He couldn't wait to take them to places where fathers are supposed to bring their kids - the carnival or the zoo, Hong Kong or Cebu, the promenade or the mall, to church or to school. He was there to clutch at them when they were struggling to make the first stride, and to goad them into speech, making sure that 'Da-da' was the first word they ever spoke.
Didn't he take endless pictures of us as toddlers and adolescents; recording for posterity every step we took from the moment we could walk? He watched over us from the crib until we were old enough to sow our oats and go out on our own, never giving up on looking after us even when we've grown too big to cuddle and too worldly-wise for our own good.
He attended PTA meetings and helped us with our math assignments, patiently giving us cues while we labored on the multiplication table. He held our hand while our Worst Nightmare tinkered willfully with our tooth. He stood beside us at First Communion, led the daily prayers at Angelus, bundled us up for Sunday Mass and then treated us to toy balloons and cotton candy at the park.
He taught us how to ride the bike, mount a pony, recite a poem, fly a kite, make like Beethoven on the piano or De Niro in a school play, draw a picture like Da Vinci, swing the baseball bat like DiMaggio or match wits at the chess board like a genius. He educated us on the rudiments of knotting and unknotting a rope way before we became cub scouts and took to heart the oath to always be prepared for what lies ahead.
We watched the sunset with him, climbed a tree and broke a nimble leg in the process, walked the dog around the neighborhood, fed the birds and trimmed the grass, stretched the limits of our imagination dreaming up the movies in our minds and the love songs in our hearts. We ribbed each other hoarse silly over the silliest jokes, now and then weaving tall tales and gazing at the moon, our crackling laughter beatific melody to his ears.
He took immeasurable pride in our accomplishments, big or small, always beaming with delight whenever we hurdled the various tests of time and circumstance - kindergarten, spelling bee, dance recital, junior prom, the school bully, entrance exams, swimming lessons, first love, first job, first time everything in our youthful, exuberant state of being.
He was there at all the meaningful moments, looming large over us with his constantly reassuring presence, now and again not saying a word but nevertheless speaking volumes with his momentous silence. He may not have changed our diapers when we were babies or weaned us from infancy to precociousness, but he fed and clothed us to our hearts' endless desire; kept vigil for us when we were sick; pampered and spoiled us rotten till his back ached and his pockets emptied.
And then at some point, he goes away, often too sudden and too soon, leaving us poorer in spirit but otherwise richer in grit, and our existence is never the same. The void he creates is like a gaping hole in the ground, deep and hollow, irretrievable and irreparable; making us disconsolate and inexplicably lost in our own melancholy.
But then again, he never truly departs. He stays in our subconscious like a melodious refrain - the hero of our early days, our fountainhead of wisdom and caring, a solid rock from where we drew strength and resilience. He never leaves his place in our affections, even when all that stares back at us are photographs and memories that time will not, cannot, ever erase.
Copyright © 2006 Denn A. Meneses
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