When I was in elementary school, Father always gave me a new Parker pen to start the school year. I wanted the pens my friends had: those big, 24-color retractable pens that looked like spaceships. They were much cheaper than the Parker pens my dad insisted I use; instead of jewel cases and brushed-metal finishes, the pens I wanted were funky-colored ones that can be worn as necklaces.
I was about the only kid in class without the Big Fat Retractable Multi-Colored Pen. I was the kid with the Parker pen: it was so uncool, so nerdy, and I only had a single color. I didn’t have nouns written in orange, adjectives scrawled in green, and punctuation marks in violet or pink. What I had were notes and quiz papers in neat, even cursive, written in black ink.
I argued with Father over the Parker pens. The value of the pens weren’t lost on me, but I was always teased for not having the coolest pens around. Before classes started, Father gave me the pens for the term: the Parker with black ink for writing, a red Pilot sign pen for “exchange quiz papers,” and another Pilot sign pen – this time blue – if I were asked for a signature. I was not to lose the pen, and I was to ask Father if the pen ran out of ink. Most of all, I should keep my handwriting perfect. Father said that pens as good as a Parker are too good for scrawling or shorthand.
“But I want the big pens, Father, the ones my friends use,” I pleaded, trying to appeal to the strict countenance of my father with childlike – if not childish – innocent pleading.
“You can’t write with those,” Father insisted. The next day, the pens were near my school bag. The school year just began.
I never knew if Father was proud or appreciative of my career choices – he’s never showy that way – but I’ve always managed to go against the grain of everything he taught us. Yet for all that being prodigal or being a rebel is worth, there’s still something about Father’s way that makes things so different from doing things my way. No matter what I try to do though, Father almost always comes out right in the end. There were instances that Father was wrong, but those instances were too few and far between. They were pyrrhic victories, at best; Father being wrong came at the cost of my own ego, my own pride, and my own health risked just because I want to step over the lines he had drawn for me.
“You can’t write with those…” the stern voice of Father still follows me around, even if he’s a couple of hundred miles away, and I haven’t seen him for months. There are those times that I wish I’d disappear, just so that I could hear less of his “when I was your age” stories and not make me feel guilty at all about taking another free pen bought with his salary. Father probably has forgone many creature comforts over the years to give me what he didn’t have back in his youth.
I could imagine Father when he was my age. Like me, Father wanted to be a writer. Father wrote fiction, essays, poems… things I do these days, or at least what I try to do. Father did not have an audience; before the days of Technorati and blogger gatherings and workshops, Father’s typewritten works slowly gathered dust and mold in those storage chests back home. And here I am. Here I am with all the opportunities he didn’t have, with the kind of talent and skill he doesn’t have, and I’m wasting every single bit of it.
Frustration, maybe, or rage; or that for the longest time, I didn’t want anything to do with Father’s shadow. Deep inside, there’s that shame that Father will always cast a shadow upon me. That he’s bigger than I thought he is, was, or would be. The kind of frustration that there is in knowing that I failed where he succeeded, and I disappointed where he failed.
It’s the kind of conscienticizing monkey-on-your-back lesson Father specializes in. Father gave me all the pens and opportunities that he can possibly provide, and make me realize that I’ve squandered not only his money, but also my talents. I’m giving second-best, and playing second banana to just about anything and everyone. Whether it’s chores or school or work, I almost always end up giving the efforts of Father my second-best, or none at all.
There was always the right way to do things for Father: whether it was cleaning up the house, or that a proper pen should always be used for signing documents and for writing notes. It’s always Father’s insistence on excellence that seems to be the specter hounding me all the time. It’s not about being perfect, but being the best at what you do, and doing the best you can. And a fraction more.
I ended up becoming a writer, but those days of Parker pens have long come and gone. I use a pen so rarely these days, that I doubt if I can write anything longhand other than the three or four numbers I scrawl on the timekeeper’s logbook at the office. Worse, I do that “writing” with the six-peso pen brand Father dislikes so much. What more if Father saw me carrying around those Big Fat Retractable Multi-Colored Pens? I don’t think so… I can’t write with those.
After work today I passed by the bookstore to buy an imitation Parker pen. It’s nowhere near as good as what Father used to give me at the first day of school, but I’m hanging on to it for now. If not as a reminder of Father’s continuing lessons, I’m using it to write notes from now on.
Good pens should always be used for notes.