i remember when i was in pre-school back in the Philippines when my grandparents took care of me. i think it was pretty obvious what kind of person i’d be when i grew up because i would act up and never listened to anyone. the traditionalists could potentially refer to me as an “anarchist”, but I prefer the term “activist” or “palaban”. my parents would visit from their overseas jobs in Saudi and my dad would say things like —
“what if I died today?
this is the kind of daughter you want to be?
would you still act like this?”
the guilt trip would work because i would cry my eyes out. i’d be hysterical, throwing tantrums, and hated them even mentioning his death. Daddy would then say he’d stop talking about it just to make me stop crying. i would be good for a little while, but then i’d forget and be back to my old antics of talking back, sneaking out of the house to avoid naps, and hitting my nanny when she told me what to do.
we moved to Houston when i was about 7. other people would probably hate it when you come from living in a nice neighborhood and going to private school to living in a ghetto two-bedroom apartment behind a Fiesta…but Daryl and i were fine with it. we didn’t have a nanny anymore, but we finally had our parents. Mom worked all the time so Daddy was with us 24/7 — we had a blast. there were no more voice recordings on cassette tapes we sent overseas so our parents could listen to them when they missed us…we had a new life: just us, Daddy, and the indoor jungle gym we frequented down the street.
when I was in 4th grade, Daddy was still a stay-at-home dad. Daryl was a hyper 7-year old and Ken was a toddler. needless to say, we were a handful and Daddy was doing the best he could. he asked me for Ken’s Batman cup because Ken refused to drink anything if it wasn’t in that cup. Ken was throwing the biggest fit and when i couldn’t find it, Daddy was at his wits end. he got out of his chair and opened the dishwasher. there it was, Ken’s elusive Batman cup. he picked it up and tapped me on the head with it. not knowing his own strength nor predicting that i would brace myself, the cup shattered to pieces. i instinctively put my hands on my head and it added to the force…i needed 11 stitches on my right hand. my mom, being an OR nurse, was in the room assisting to fix me up at the hospital. i remember the look on his face when my hand started bleeding…like he regretted everything in an instant and he just broke the most precious thing in the world. i forgot about it immediately, but he never did. i think he was reminded that it’s his lifelong mission to always protect me…and protect me, he did.
as predicted, I became a rebellious teenager. i’d love to say that it was normal, but it was WW3 and 4 everyday between me and my mom. as expected, Dad was caught in the middle of it every single time. when I moved into an apartment my freshman year of college, he would show up with random appliances and groceries and would leave with the words —
“don’t tell your mom.”
it became our thing. i’d work hard to make ends meet, Dad would notice i was broke, he’d save the day, and i wouldn’t tell Mom. his surprise visits were my highlight. even when i faltered, he never treated me differently. when all the world would remind me of how i fucked up, it was like Dad and i forgot it even happened. it helped me get through in knowing that my dad always believed i could do better, and i was more than what i’d done in the past.
he would continue being my knight in shining armor even well into adulthood. i moved into an apartment by myself, with no roommates or boyfriend at 26. Dad and my brothers helped me move and on the first night, he had brought clothes to change into and house slippers. he expected to stay there with me to make sure the apartment was safe. Daryl made fun of him and told him to “cut the cord”. Dad laughed, but i think he was really serious. he got diagnosed with the Big C shortly after, and my world fell apart.
one of my best friends died the following year of cancer 5 months after being diagnosed, and my aunt was told she needed a colostomy to treat the cancer they found in her. i felt like everywhere i looked, there was the Big C rearing it’s ugly head. i was depressed and looked emaciated at 76 pounds. if he even mentioned being tired, i wasn’t eating. if he was nauseous, i was nauseous. even though i slowly became sadder and sadder, the more positive and encouraged he was by contrast. he would mow the lawn after chemo treatments and help anyone with their car or home. for a long time, many wouldn’t believe me when i said my dad was sick…because he simply didn’t act or look bald, pale, or frail like you’d expect from the movies. the only sign that something was off was that my dad went vegetarian…which by default is a complete red flag since he loved meat and was known to whip up pork chops and beef steak every week. so like a good daughter, i went vegetarian too.
i wouldn’t have moved to LA a couple of years later if it wasn’t for him. he urged me that life is short and i need to follow what i want to do with my life. i didn’t want to leave him, but i think he just knew that i wasn’t taking care of myself anymore. in LA, i could be far enough from him that i could forget that he was sick. and since no one around me knew him, i could live in denial and live in perpetual bliss that my dad would live until a ripe old age and attend his grandchildren’s high school and maybe even college graduations.
i met my husband in LA. i dated him a few years and i wasn’t planning on ever getting married. marriage just wasn’t for me. every phone call i had with my dad, he asked me or my husband to get married. every visit during holidays was the same conversation. so when my husband proposed, we decided to plan a secret wedding to surprise our families. i know my dad. he would give me every cent in his bank account to spend on the celebration and he and my mom would invite the entire world. we wanted it to be just his day, no one else’s, so we orchestrated the happiest day of his life so that he could walk his one and only daughter down the aisle in front of 84 of the most important people in our lives.
unfortunately, the universe had other plans. he fell and we found out that the cancer metastasized to his bones and his brain. i was devastated…i knew that meant it was going to be downhill from there. we decided to come home and tell him in person about the wedding so that it would give him something to look forward to. we videotaped the whole reveal and i gave him the best news he’s ever heard. he cried and said he was so happy…but under his breath, with no one else hearing but me and the camera, he said –
“now I am ready to go”.
i told him to shut up and stop kidding around…but i saw in his eyes that he meant it. i tried to forget it for the next 7 months in hopes that i just imagined it…he was struggling walking with a walker, and couldn’t even stand on his own. but just as he wanted, he escorted me down the aisle and swayed during our father-daughter dance with the biggest smile on his face.
i’ve spent the last weeks doing nothing but staring at his photos and the video from that day. it helps me forget the look on Dad’s face days before he got admitted to hospice. i Facetimed him and asked him if it was time for me to come home…he just looked at me silently, and i knew he was telling me what i didn’t want to hear.
i don’t want to think about him on a bed unable to move or keep his eyes open when i finally arrived. i don’t want to envision how much skinnier he had gotten from lack of appetite or his inability to eat or drink anymore. most of all, i don’t want to hear his moans of agony as he was struggling to take breaths the morning before he died.
even when he got diagnosed almost 8 years ago and i kept telling myself that he was dying to soften the blow, nothing could’ve prepared me for when he’s actually gone. everyone’s heard of a daddy’s girl…they’re related to one, dating one, bestfriends with one, married to one, or one themselves…but there’s no daddy’s girl quite like me. where every decision, every move, and every life choice meant nothing if it didn’t cause a reaction from my father.
and the most painful thing about him being gone is that there are no more moments of pride, disappointment, elation, or anger in phone calls or conversations we share from here on out — that connection and bond between us completely dissipated. the day i was so afraid of even hearing about at as a child is finally here…and no amount of crying or forgetting or pretending can make him take it back.