Photograph by Derek Thomson from Unsplash
Culture Spotlight

How to forgive the most important man in your life

The grownup daughter has learned to understand—now if only the child in her could forgive. Celine Lopez writes about finding compassion in adulthood.
Celine Lopez | Mar 26 2019

My father has been very ill the past three weeks, and I have not been inside his room. I have not mustered the strength to see him with tubes stuck in his frail body. His bones are so brittle now I could break his hands just by shaking it. I’m terrified, confused and sad—the basic emotions of a 10-year old who is learning about mortality for the first time. It shocked me that I felt this way.

I’ve lost my closest father figure. I’ve lost my bestest friend in the whole world. I’ve lost my beloved dog and long-time companion Milo whom I nursed for six months while he slowly succumbed to cancer. Each loss was gutting in its own way.

I don’t like saying the D word. I only drop that word—die—when I see a bad outfit. When it comes to linking the D word to my loved ones, I prefer to think they’re just away on vacation, too busy to send a postcard or make a phone call because they’re having the time of their lives. They remain close in my heart and my thoughts. I still remember what their laughter sounds like. I remember our private jokes and secrets. I remember their faces as if I had just seen them the other day. I don’t visit them in the cemetery and lay flowers or food on their grave markers. I don’t want to think they are forever gone.

 

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I don’t care if this makes me sound weak and facile. I’m a pussy. I am in denial. It’s what helps me get by each and every day they are not with me. I do what I gotta do. I’m not one to commemorate death.

My dad is hopefully far from that. He is improving and he sure wants to live. Since he was admitted to the hospital, however, I do think about losing him on a daily basis.

As an adult, my relationship with him had become strained. I don’t know how it all started but here we are. Stiff arms when I give him a polite hug, and awkward silence blanketing the few moments I see him every year. I reckon it’s the bits of disappointment here and there that gradually built up a wall of apathy.

We didn’t talk for years. Anyone who knew me before would know how much I adored my father growing up. Whenever he and my mother would fight, I’d always take his side—whether he was right or wrong. I would lie for him every time they would get into an argument, and I would stick to my story so fastidiously I would eventually believe the lie I created. Once, in a really bitter fight, my mother was ready to leave and she asked me who I was going to stay with. I chose dad without hesitation. This hurt her deeply.

I never really relied on my father for anything. He was a little boy trapped in a man’s body. When I started going to a fairly large all-girls Catholic school and I suddenly didn’t know how to fit in despite my confident personality, he gave me a Euphoria card. It would grant me access to the hottest club in Manila at that time, but also, he said, “This will get you friends.” Poor Louie Y had to watch over me, a precocious 15-year-old dancing, or rather flailing, the night away with buddies. To our defense, we stuck to iced tea and each other. The place was littered with my parents’ friends it wasn’t much different from dinners with them or going on a summer vacation. Same people, different venue.  All eyes making sure I behaved.

My mom semi-relocated to Guimaras when she became governor. My father stayed in Manila and us two troublemakers had the time of our lives. We watched movies, had fun dinners out, and yes, went to Euphoria. I was his buddy. He hated school as much as I did so school became an afterthought inside our little bubble. I don’t even know if my photo made it to the yearbook. I don’t even have a copy of one. My friend told me I was described as a part-time student. I don’t know how true that was. I was disturbingly proud though hearing about it then. I liked the idea that I was a rebel. In reality, I was a spoiled little party girl holding an AMEX since age ten. It’s true my AMEX today still says Member since ’89. I have dated men younger than my card.

I almost didn’t graduate. I had to tell the nuns I was deathly scared of my parents.  That I was having a hard time learning and excelling in school because of all the pressure. I lightly suggested there would be blood in their hands if I didn’t march. That my parents would exact a grave punishment that will mar any bright prospect I still had in life. True to their vows of being kind to all beings including monsters, they gave me understanding and “saved me” from my dictatorial folks. The nuns gave me fair but stern terms to finish the school year. They gave me a mountain of extra work to pass some of my classes. I was on the equator between freedom or another year in school with summer class included. To be fair, I did all the extra work with the fervor of a Fulbright scholar. I legit completed what was required of me.

I told my parents about these on our way to graduation. I told them if they got dagger looks, it’s because I painted myself as a child on the precipice of being sent to military school or worse. I left the worse part to play in their imagination, open for interpretation. I was already then an author and architect of my budding life as a Fitzgerald heroine.

“Are you out of your mind?” my mom screamed.

Of course I am.

“I did not raise you to be a hoodlum!” 

My mother was the complete essence of being an overachiever. I think a part of her died when she heard this. My dad secretly whispered to me that he was proud of me. Silently sent me a smile that said I would do well in the real world. I look back on this ruse with embarrassment and a fear that I have just pitched a tent in hell for myself in the after-life.

It did stay with me—the mercy and understanding given to me by the nuns. It made me realize I wasn’t stupid after doing all the extra credit work efficiently. I was capable of more. Very Jean Valjean vibes.

I therefore owe it to the nuns at school for giving me another chance. Giving chances then became a big part of my life. I forgave cheating boyfriends, loose lipped friends and staff who underperformed under my watch. So why the hell was it so hard for me to give my dad a second chance?

I guess because he was my idol and hero. He was so glamorous and charismatic. He made my life fun. However, when I grew up, I started to see his lighthearted ways differently. I started to resent him for not growing up and not being a safe harbor dad to me and my siblings. I couldn’t rely on him. “Be content, this is already his best,” my mother always told me. How she loved him.

In the past I think I was always competing with her for my father’s affection, especially when my grandfather died. In my self-pitying imagination I always thought she always favored my brother who was brilliant and proved himself to be a genius in business at an early age. He earned his first million at 16 by saving his allowance and flipping small pieces of land that he bought. I, on the other hand, had lost my baby girl privileges during college. My Amex stayed in my vault. I promised it will again see the light of day when I could afford to have a credit card again. It’s kind of hard to love someone who kept failing at life. I followed my brother’s example and work ethic. I didn’t want to become a loser.

How my dad and I grew apart wasn’t dramatic or controversial. Like I said, it was just a series of disappointments that eventually formed to a titanic coated ennui. The details don’t really matter at this point. I guess it hurts because he was in some way my best friend. And the closer you are to someone the deeper the cut.

Like any human being, he was not perfect. But because I put him on a pedestal I demonized him. It wasn’t fair. I was an adult. I didn’t show him the mercy and understanding the nuns in school showed me. I could forgive any Tom, Dick and Harry, but when it came to my daddy my heart was coated in ice. He was my father, he gave life to me, and I couldn’t forgive him.

When I see my mom tirelessly taking care of him I realize I’m still failing in life. I’m not the big person I was molding myself to be. Sure some of the transgressions were especially painful and broke my heart. But he is my father. Now as he convalesces, I can’t even tell him that I still love him the way I did as a little girl. I can’t have that conversation with him .I hope to God I get another pass to let him know that I’m proud to be his daughter. He had a strange upbringing and this was just what he could offer given his limited EQ. His mistakes, in his eyes, were not mistakes. They were things I should’ve just understood. I can’t let my daddy issues rule my life and make it an excuse for everything I’ve done wrong in my adult life.

The last time I saw my dad before this hospital confinement was when I was picking up my mom for lunch in their house. He was so happy to see me. I felt a tickle in my throat and my well-sealed eyeducts were starting to give. The following week, I heard the song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” four times: at a mall, as someone’s ringtone at a coffee shop, while I was at my accupunturist, and arriving at the airport on my way to Sydney. It was our song. We watched Wizard of Oz endlessly. Hearing it over and over again in one week made me feel something was about to happen. True enough, he contracted pneumonia shortly after.

Someday I wish upon a star

Wake up where the clouds are far behind me

Where troubles melt like lemon drops

High above the chimney top

That’s where you’ll find me

That’s my dad, always in his happy place. He hid his sadness at the bottom of his martini glass. It would never occur to me that the lyrics of this song would move my soul decades later. It is my father speaking to me.

As an adult he deserves to get the understanding and forgiveness of a grown woman and the endless love of a little girl.

Just please give me that pass.