LETTER TO MY SON
Sunday, June 19, 2011
Since it’s Father’s Day today, I’m reprinting a piece that I wrote for my now-defunct column “Matter of Fact” (Manila Times, November 16, 1996).
LETTER TO MY SON
Son & Father, circa 1976
LETTER TO MY SON
TODAY, as I write this, you turn 25. I feel terribly old.
When I was 25, I married your mother, and a few days before I turned 26, you came along. I remember breaking out into a rash after coming home from the hospital the day you were born. It looked like chicken pox, but the doctor said it was just some kind of strong allergic reaction, perhaps brought on by the terror and excitement of becoming a first-time father.
You’ve had a pretty tough time. When you were a two-month-old fetus in your mother’s womb, she had to have part of her ovaries removed because of a spreading tumor, and you survived on the almost daily injections that your mother had to get in order to replace whatever it was that her ovaries used to secrete.
I wasn’t such a bad father in the first few months of your life on earth. I woke up in the middle of the night to mix your formula and sing you to sleep, and I put up with your milky vomit on my shoulder, and I even cleaned up your poo-poo. Greater love than this no father has, that he clean up his son’s poo-poo, gingerly wiping it off the little baby ass with a wet cotton ball.
But before your first birthday, a giant asshole declared martial law, forcing me to abandon both my marital and paternal duties. When we next saw each other, I was in the underground resistance, and it wasn’t an easy thing to take you out to play in the yard or the community playground. And then after that I was just someone behind bars that you visited once a week for nearly two years, and who brainwashed you into replying, when anyone asked where your father was: “Ikinulong ni Marcos.”
So you will understand why, when I finally got out, I was so disoriented, and such a grouch. I easily got angry with you for little things, such as insisting on watching Voltes V instead of joining your mother and me at the dinner table, or wanting to eat nothing but hot dogs. I never really hit you, but I can remember your tears and your terrified screams when I hit the floor beside you with my belt.
You must understand that I had no role model as a father. My own father, though he was caring and really worked to the bone for his family, was employed in the big city and came home to our small town only on irregular weekends. Once he took me and my brother to the local moviehouse to see Gunfight at the OK Corral. I remember that vividly because it was the only movie we ever saw together.
When I was 13, my father died. As the eldest child, I was like a father to my five younger siblings, but that’s not really the same as having a child of your own, being a real father. When you were little, I read Benjamin Spock’s Baby and Child Care, but I can’t seem to remember what I learned from it. All I can remember, for some strange reason, is that Spock opposed the Vietnam war, and he had the same name as this alien character in Star Trek.
Should I have given you condoms when you entered your teens? Should I have had long discussions with you on the nature of imperialism and the military-industrial complex? Should I have fought with the teacher who treated you unfairly or confronted the bully who roughed you up when you decided not to go through with your fraternity application?
Basically, I left you alone. I was bewildered when you joined Bible studies with Christian fundamentalists, nervous when you joined your first protest demonstration, proud when you became president of the College of Arts and Letters student council, amazed that you have taken up mountaineering as a hobby. But basically I left you to your own devices.
That was because I didn’t really know what to do.
When you went to college, I didn’t tell you what course to take. In high school you loved to draw, and I had hoped you would go into fine arts. But you chose to join your mother and me in “this damned profession of writing, where one has to use one’s brains all the time,” to use Ezra Pound’s apt description.
It’s a difficult enough profession as it is, since it can’t give you too many of life’s creature comforts, but it’s doubly tough for you because of the name you carry: Kris Lanot Lacaba. People are always asking how you’re related to the writing Lanots and the writing Lacabas. I can see how that can be such a drag.
Now you’re 25, and I guess your mother and I should congratulate ourselves because you turned out the way you did. You didn’t get into drugs, and you didn’t get into fights, and you eat vegetables, and as far as I know you haven’t got any girl pregnant.
Still, I can’t help thinking that I still don’t know how to go about fathering and parenting. There are many areas of our lives that are closed off to each other, and I don’t know if that’s the way things should be for fathers and sons.
We talk about a lot of things—movies, poetry, green jokes—but somehow we hesitate to talk about things that would force each of us to reveal messy emotions and embarrassing fears and our deepest loves and joys. I don’t know if your being a secretive Scorpio and my being a tactless Sagittarius has something to do with that.
But you’re flesh of my flesh and blood of my blood, and I guess that still counts for something in this world. I know that, if I’m too drunk to drive, I can count on you to drive me home, and you know you can depend on me to answer the phone for you when you’re expecting a call but you need to take a crap.
“Matter of Fact”
November 16, 1996