Fathers, pt. 1

My dad, the poster boy for perpetual middle child syndrome.

I spent most of my childhood scared to death of grandfathers and I could chalk this up mostly to a young mind that was prone to stereotyping. When I was about 4 or 5, I had a box of Hi-C and a Little Mermaid mug. One morning I asked our maid to please get me my Hi-C in my Little Mermaid mug because I wanted to have it with my breakfast. My obsession with fastidious instructions goes way back, and now it’s paralyzed me to the point where I refuse to delegate even the simplest tasks.

That day, our maid came downstairs with a mug full of not Hi-C, but of Tang. It turns out my Lolo, as in my mother’s father, had seen her emptying the Hi-C into the mug, and quickly staked his claim over a drink that should have been mine. I’m not sure what happened next, but I haven’t forgotten that incident, so I guess I never forgave him for it. I mean, Hi-C is about 60% sugar. It’s crazy delicious! There is no substitute.

In my young mind, all grandfathers were the same. Stubborn, domineering, bordering on batshit crazy. I was 4 or 5, I didn’t know what senile meant.

Enter Tata. I guess I had trouble putting two and two together when it came to where I stood relative to Tata. He was a loud silver-haired gentleman, very distinguished, very refined, and he wore suits. He was a far cry from my Lolo who was confined to a desk in his bedroom slippers and pajamas. My Lolo used to call me over, and from a very close and very uncomfortable distance, have me name all the people in the pictures framed under the glass top of his desk. I could only put up with it for so long and lost it after about a year.

My Tata on the other hand was perfectly fine with YELLING at me from the opposite end of the room. Not talking, YELLING. While Lolo communicated with me via eye-contact and pointing, my Tata had zero sense of modulation. I was 4…or 5. I had no idea what deaf meant.

This one time, around the same year, we were all out having dinner. I saw a lot of both sides of the family because my parents hadn’t separated yet. Tata was on the other side of the table, I was next to my mom and my dad was somewhere or other surrounded by his miniature fort of beer bottles. At the next table was another distinguished gentleman having a lively and animated discussion with his own family, and I remember Tata craning his neck a little to have a look, then turning back to us and announcing “ANG LAKAS NG BOSES NG LALAKING YAN,” in what should have been his indoor voice. Of course, being Tata, indoor voice meant belting it out like a cheerleader.

At the same dinner, my parents were discussing—in their own indoor voices—the virtues of my older siblings, both of whom had already started school. They were both ruminating out loud that Nena was like this and Mon was like that, whereas I was busy ruminating on the intricacies of the shrimp puff on my plate. And in the midst of all that, Tata looks at me and announces, “I LIKE ALICE.” That was awesome, and that has always stayed with me, even two decades later, through condemnations and pronouncements that Tata was like this, Tata was like that; through petty arguments that justified my parents’ separation and the reasons for the distance between my self and my father’s side of the family.

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