In elementary school I told everyone that my Tatang is a pharmacist. He was the one who attended to us when we were sick. He knew exactly what to do: what oils to use - camphor or aciete de manzanilla or coconut oil - to massage our aches and pains away. He knew what leaves or roots to boil to make poultices or to mix with our bath water. Culantro for chicken pox, guava leaves for wounds, etc. We ever rarely went to see Dr. Tioleco or Dr. Munoz. Our Tatang was our healer.
In high school, I was told that my Dad was not a pharmacist; not a college graduate. In fact, he only had a fourth grade education. But how could he have known so many things? In my young mind, I couldn't yet apprehend his passion and will to learn; he read voraciously! I couldn't yet apprehend his passion to serve God and serve community, his adherence to John Wesley's teachings, his obedience and faith in the Methodist God.
As a teenager, I preferred hearing the story of how he almost became a movie star alongside Rogelio de la Rosa. He was after all a very good looking man. Street children used to call him Rock Hudson! I thought that if he had chosen to become a movie star, we'll be rich and I'll be happier. I would have preferred telling my friends that my Dad is a pharmacist or that my Dad is a movie star rather than saying "My Dad sells Bibles."
Notice the shift from Tatang to Dad? That's how I was in my teens. I wanted to be hip like the other kids who spoke English and called their father "Dad" instead of "Tatang".
In hindsight, I realize that my Tatang is a Healer. No wonder we had a constant stream of visitors at home. People were always wanting to talk to him about their problems: from how to raise pigs and chickens or how to solve church politics or how to mediate between parties in disagreement. He prayed for them or quoted Bible passages, or offered a mini-sermon. Later on he also became a lover of birds and orchids, fruit trees and whatever plants he could grow in his small piece of land.
Tang already knew about sustainability even before it became a buzzword. He was into recycling and composting before everyone else was. He hated wasting water or wasting anything for that matter. Ever the disciplinarian and prudent one, I learned my habits of thrift and neatness from him.
His busy-ness in helping other people became a source of tension later on between him and my Mom. As each of the kids flew the coop, he became busier in tending to the people that came to our house for his counsel while my Mom felt lonelier without us kids. She longed for his attention and affection.
As I think of my Tang today, I see a Wounded Healer. His father died when he was only seven years old. Thanks to my courageous and strong Apu Sinang, her sons learned how to fend for themselves at an early age. The boys learned how to shine shoes and sell cigarettes on the street.
I am grateful now that he became a serious Methodist later on and lived a life of faith and service to the God he came to know through the lens of his American-patterned education. I am grateful that he chose this life rather than the movie star life. It is the straight and narrow life that served his family well. It is what he knew best.
Even though I came to eventually decolonize this history and how it came to shape my own life, I am coming full circle yet again. This time with Grief and Praise, I honor my Dad's life and legacy.
In his woundedness, I saw mine. And I can see how important it is now to share these stories about him from the place of Praise and Love because Grief has brought us healing.
May all that we Remember and Re-member bless us.