On those particularly boring days back home, Father would tell us the story of his life. Born to a poor family, Father’s youth was spent on the hills outside the stead, gathering cassava alongside his father. When the crop of rice or corn did not do well for the season, Father and his father went through the laborious process of digging kamoteng kahoy to add to the dinner table. Some of the roots were eaten for the meal, although most of the roots were prepared, ground into flour, and made into cakes. The snacks were then sold at the nearby school.
Father tells the story of how he always wanted a pair of shoes, so he worked so hard to dig up as much of the roots as he can. There was no time for him to go to the playground: he headed straight for the bantay, with his schoolbooks and all, and with trowel and shovel worked the land with his father. The sacks of roots were hauled down to the farmhouse and Father helped wth the turning of the grindstone. Then he hit the books.
Selling kakanin pays a pittance, and whatever was earned paid for schoolbooks and the children’s allowance. A brilliant boy, Father burned the midnight oil to show his parents he deserved a pair of shoes. Yet no matter how high his grades were, Father always had to make do with the battered shoes his elder brothers handed down to him. Mended as they were, they barely lasted a week into the schoolyear before the soles started to split.
Father’s insecurity has always been his shoes; by the time he was old enough and earned his own money, Father became an expert in footwear. As children, Father always insisted that we buy this particular style of shoes, and that we always wear shoes. None of us would be caught dead wearing sandals or slippers. Wearing shoes became a force of habit, if not for the fact that Father didn’t want us to go through what he went through in his youth.
I somehow felt resentful for Father for telling us those “when I was your age” stories all the time, to the point that I led a path way different from where his puppet-strings led me. I was not going to be the conduit of his dreams. I grew my hair long and clad myself in black. I didn’t burn the midnight oil, I didn’t take a summer job, and I moved out of his house when the opportunity presented itself. The son he wanted to become a lawyer became a writer. I went against every expectation he had, giving his controlling fatherhood the middle finger, and did things my own way. I didn’t become prodigal or rebellious, but I steered clear of the path Father showed me.
So much so that for a time, I quit writing under my real name and insisted to use my pseudonym all the time. I stopped when I came to terms with the fact that the last syllable of my pseudonym stands for the name of my Father. No matter what I do, Father will always be that presence in my life, that I will always carry him with me.
I always wanted to be my own man, but even the most contrived attempts at being anything other than who my father is will always lead me to the familiar realization: if Father was insecure about his shoes, I was insecure about Father. Every story he told about his childhood made me realize that I wanted to be like him, that I was craving for his attention, that I wanted to live up to standards he set. The standards may be a little too high, but it always came push to shove.
Father wanted his shoes so bad that he went to the hills to break his body digging for roots. Here I am wanting to be a writer so bad that I break my body putting words together. There’s nothing to compare, and there’s nothing to suggest, except that we have so much – a little too much – in common. Whether I like it or not, the more I moved away from my Father and his dreams for me, the more I came closer to them. Rather than be my own man, the beaten path I took led me to the new ground Father made himself many years before.
No matter how much I tried escaping Father’s shadow, though, I always seem to be following in his footsteps. While walking down the beaten paths of young writers, my feet are still clad in the shoes of my Father. I still share the same taste as Father when it comes to shoes.
The towering, monumental, controlling presence in my life, the one who controlled my destiny, was still there no matter how much I tried to walk away from him. No matter how much I tried to walk away from Father, there was always a bit of him that I carry along with me.
I remember a time that I borrowed a pair of shoes from Father. “Do they fit?” he asked, telling me to walk around the living room and see if I stayed on balance, if his shoes were good enough for me. Years later, I realized that maybe, just maybe, I’m not good enough to be in my father’s shoes.
It’s time for me to create my own legacy, walk in my own shoes, and forge my own path… with the realization that the very path I’m making will always branch out from the path Father made for himself, and for us. It’s the only thing I can do to do my Father justice.
Happy Father’s day, Dad.