Friday, January 11, 2008

Remembering my Father

I spent the whole day biking. When I came back to the monastery, I celebrated the mass for dead in the chapel. After a quick supper I went out for capuccino and a slice of brazo de mercedes. This is my way of observing my father's death anniversary.
Exactly 15 years ago my father died of heart attack. I was in Rome at that time and I had just arrived from New York where I spent my Christmas vacation. I had to go home immediately to Iligan. I presided at his funeral mass with 10 other priests concelebrating. After his burial I returned to Rome to finish my doctorate.

I was deeply affected by my father's death. We had grown closer -- especially the last summer I spent with him (which was in June 1991). I had just finished my graduate studies in Berkeley and came home for vacation before starting my studies in Rome.
As a little boy, I considered my father as a hero. He was fearless guerrilla officer during the World War II, and with his veteran's benefits he was able to finish civil engineering. I usually accompanied him to his projects - building roads, bridges, powerplants and dams. He often brought me along to church, to the barbershop, to the moviehouse, to the tennisc court and the restaurants. I wanted to be an engineer like him and he expected me to follow his footsteps. When I entered high school, I decided to become a priest. This disappointed him and at first he wouldn't allow me to enter the seminary until a priest visited our home and convinced him. He got angry with me when I was arrested and imprisoned for seven months during the eary years of martial law. Although, he visited me once in prison, the expression in his face showed anger and disappointment.

Through the years my relationship with my father became more distant. At 59 years old he had a stroke and had to stop working. My mother patiently took care of him but after she died he lived with my sister's family. I became very concerned whenever I heard that my father had conflicts with my brothers and sisters. He sometimes threatened to shoot them. He was an angry sick old man who had violent tendencies.
When I visited him that summer, I got so angry with him after seeing him slapped my sister. I decided to spend a lot of time with him at the beach and listened to his life-story. I found out where the anger came from. He was angry with his father whom he blamed for his mother's death. His mother died in an accident after a quarrel with his father over his infidelities. My father never forgave my grandfather. Years later the conflict worsened when his father deprived him and his siblings some parcel of land which they were supposed to inherit. The went to court against their father and they won. When my father married my mother, his father did not attend the wedding. My father harbored this anger up to his old age. And this affected his relationship with us.
Before, I left for Rome, I brought my father to my grandfather's grave. I asked my father if he was ready to forgive his father and reconcile with him. I waited for a long time and then he cried. "Father, for all the pain and hurt you have inflicted on us, I forgive you." The tears in his eyes softened his face. I could see the anger disappearing. He looked peaceful. The following day, I saw him walking with a cane, and smiling. He told me that the cane belong to his father which he kept. As we were walking down the street, we met an old friend and introduced me as his son the priest. I could see in his face that he was proud of me and pleased with me. I remember the gospel text: "This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased."
The last summer that I saw my father, he was at peace. He was freed of the anger that he carried with him for a long time. He learned to forgive and this led to an inner healing. He was ready to face death. And this is what I will always remember.

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