The five year old me used to sit excitedly on the couch, watching as my mother relayed the more interesting details of the past few days to the man on the other end of the telephone. I only got to spend time with him for a month or two each year, either during the long, cold nights of the Christmas break or the blistering heat in the summer. I remember waking up early in the morning with a smile on my face, a rarity even in my toddler days, as I looked forward to picking up my father from the airport.
My father, like many other Filipinos, chose to work overseas. He labored for at least 8 hours a day in the emptiness of the Saudi Arabian desert just to put food on our table back in the Philippines… Okay. This is a bit of an exaggeration. My father isn’t a construction worker, coal miner, or some other physically draining job. He was an accountant, who sat at his desk reviewing statements, reports, and bank records whilst enjoying the constant stream of cold air from his office’s aircon. He may have had it better than others, but it was still a sacrifice.
He sacrificed not seeing me come home from school everyday so we would have enough money to send me to a good school. He sacrificed being with the woman he promised to love everyday, my mother, so he could give her a beautiful house and expensive jewelry. And I wasn’t exaggerating when I said that he worked to put food on our table. While my mother also continued working, her income wouldn’t be enough to sustain the kind of life they dreamed for us, and for me.
Growing up, I learned to associate my father with the material things and money he provided. Not as a hero, or an idol, or a role model. It’s only when he retired (quite early, as a matter of fact) in 2011 that I started to really develop my relationship with him. It’s only at that time that I began to experience and appreciate the non-material things he gave me. The hugs, the typical chiding about crushes and girlfriends, and the horrible sharing of embarrassing stories about me with our neighbors and relatives.
But I still consider him my hero. For sacrificing so much, even until now. For staying faithful to my mother. For giving me everything I have now, and I have ever had. For showing me what fatherhood really means.
But even the greatest of our heroes begin to wear thin. It’s particularly faster for middle-aged men who don’t exercise and have been smoking cigarettes for more than 20 years. I admit that I fear for him. Emphysema, lung cancer, or some other horrible respiratory disease immediately comes to my mind every time he coughs.
He’s not perfect. He’s definitely not perfect. But he is my father. I don’t know how much I have left with him, but he will always be my hero. Not the only one, but the first and greatest.
This post was inspired by a Daily Prompt: When you were five years old, who was your hero? What do you think of that person today?