During family reunions, my relatives always mention how much I look like my father. I inherited just about every attribute of Father except for skin color: the same thick eyebrows, the same dark brown eyes, the same deep voice. For all intents and purposes, I was my dad’s junior, his younger doppelganger, Daddy’s little boy. He clothed me in the same way he dressed, taught me to speak as articulately as he did.
I’m 24 years old, and half of my life was spent in a very unhealthy, emotionally draining obsession: to get out of my father’s shadow. I didn’t want to be the conduit to his frustrations and his ambitions. The loving, caring, decent, devoted family man that is my father took a back seat in my memories. It was nobody’s fault other than my own to remember my dad in such a different way.
It’s a kind of dreadful shame that I live the rest of my life for: to deserve being in my father’s shadow once again.
For the better part of a dozen years, very different memories of my dad come to the fore. There’s the imposing figure of my dad in the hallway, carrying the dreaded broomstick. There was my dad’s hand on my mouth every time I swore, or had something bad to say about anyone. Then there’s that dreaded memory of my dad in crutches, drunk with gin and his frustrations in life, with his hand over my shoulder trying to act like a devoted family man in a taxi on the way home. There were one too many times I saw my dad in the hospital and left him and my mom there once I ran all the errands. There were the arguments I had with my dad on a weekly basis: money, grades, expectations, ambitions.
My father is not a bad man; I just played the role of the bad son all too well. To get away from my father’s image, I grew my hair long to hide the face that was the spitting image of my father. I rid my wardrobe of the polo shirts and slacks and replaced them with black shirts, jeans, boots and heavy sneakers. The obsession caught up with me as I gave my dad bad grades, threw his lawyerly dreams out the window, and positioned myself in worlds like literature, advertising, and marketing. In reunions later on, my relatives caught sight of the long-haired addict in the corner.
Daddy’s little boy became everything Daddy wasn’t. I reeked of vice, I threw humility out the window, and ruined his dreams for him.
I guess that Dad couldn’t be blamed for looking at me along the same lines of how I look at him. There’s the sight of me trying to hide my drunkenness at 2 in the morning, or spritzing myself up with cologne and alcohol to hide the smell of cigarettes. Or dreaded memories of me going to a hospital for weeks with Mother trying her best to put me on the straight and narrow and for them to find out what was really wrong with me. Or me saying “No” to every offer to go out, to visit relatives, or have a good time. Or Father’s endless lectures on money, grades, expectations, and ambitions; in one ear, out the other, and back to square one.
Sino siya, my relatives ask during reunions. Only when I part my hair and adjust my glasses to a more reasonable height on the bridge of my nose do they say, Ah, siya pala yung anak ni Ramon. I look at my Dad and see a thoughtful smile, but deep inside, I feel a ocean of embarrassment welling up inside me. Somewhere along the line, I could have just made it easier for both me and my dad if I just did what he wanted. Then again, all Dad ever wanted from me was to have a life for myself that was far better than his. A law office, a big family, and honors were just options in results my dad expected.
I became my own man, but even then, Dad looked at me with pride. “Carry on,” he says, knowing that even if the fruit falls so far from the tree, there’s no question of where it came from. The obsession to get out of my father’s shadow turned into something I never expected: to seek Father’s approval and be deemed worthy of his pride. A dozen years of trying to not be like my dad was futile: all I ever did was to test Father’s love. Unlike my grades, he passes with flying colors. Here was the guy who fed me when his body can’t, clothed me when his budget was tight, supported me in decisions and ambitions that he didn’t like. Here was a guy who loved me no matter what. The shame that wells up inside of me is that for most of 12 years, I didn’t try my best to love him back.
I’m sure that the contentious, tempestuous relationship between me and my dad is best left for books, not for hastily-written essays on Father’s Day. I’m sure that nobody would give a second look at me and my dad if we ever did try to audition for one of those father-and-son commercials about coffee or bacon. I’m extremely sure, though, that in the next family reunion, I won’t be so embarrassed to entertain the thought of looking just like my dad, despite the fact that in many ways, we walk – and are walking – very different paths in life. The more I stepped out of his shadow, the more I became just like him. I guess the best thing to do now is to carry on.
Somewhere, I know that my father is reading this. To my dad, I love you. Happy Father’s Day.