Watch Me Entertain Myself!

Sacha Guitry once said, "You can pretend to be serious, but you can't pretend to be witty." Oh yes, I'm the great pretender.
(pilot episode: 20 January 2004)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Some Kind Of A Love Letter

My dad was never the demonstrative type. Growing up, I resented him because he wasn’t like the ideal dads I watched on TV. But years later when I realized that he grew up without a father figure, I forgave him for something that technically isn’t his fault. The moment I let go of that resentment, I saw my dad in a kinder light. That’s why the day he tossed the car keys to me and said, “You drive the car,” I realized that he was actually saying, “I love you, and I trust your mother’s life and mine in your hands.” Or he was just tired of driving and wanted to sleep on the way home, but what the heck.

My mom was more hands-on with us. She was the one who knew it all, who helped us with our homework (especially math). Growing up I thought she had all the answers. But when my older brother and I were placed in the honors class starting when I was in grade five, I started becoming less dependent on what she knew, and slowly I heard the words, “We were never taught that” from her. I remember one day at the dinner table; all of us kids who were there had already graduated and were working. We got into a discussion about religion, and she was insisting on some teaching that was pre-Vatican II. I remember us reasoning out with her, that the Church had already changed its views on that particular issue. I remember her grudgingly ending the discussion with, “Oh?” and keeping her peace after that. From then on, she’d treat us not just as adults but also as equals. And when my dad died, she’d always ask me what I think and would sometimes defer to me for decisions. But my mom is still my mom, and I’ll always defer to her.

When my older brother and I were kids, our mom loved buying identical clothes for us since we were just a year-and-a-half apart. But we were as opposites as a Virgo and a Piscean can be. We shared a room for several years while growing up; his side was neat and orderly, while my stuff kept moving around. He was Mr. Popular in his class and was elected student body president when he was in grade 7; I was often one of the last to be picked for a team in any intramural sport. He excelled in school and was always top one in class; I had to struggle to scratch the top ten. I kept hearing my parents say, “Why can’t you be more like your brother?” So when he joined the grade school student council, I joined the theater group. I thought I had escaped his shadow. But in high school, he also joined the theater group. And we’d ride the jeepney going home after rehearsals ended late in the afternoon. During weekends when we had Saturday evening performances, we wouldn’t join the rest of the family for the 8am mass because we didn’t want to wake up early. So we’d both walk to the church for the 10am mass, and I’d always let my older brother walk slightly ahead of me. Soon people began to notice that he and I had the same gait. By college he pursued helping others by joining a catechetical instruction group, while I went full-tilt into theater. Today he still teaches high school kids, while I try to entertain folks.

My younger sister and I once had a major fight. But our parents raised us such that if we siblings would fight with one another, both parties were punished regardless of who started the fight. So we ended up not talking or minding one another. After several days my mom got so worried that she tried to talk us both into making peace with one another; neither of us budged. I think the silent treatment lasted for a week and a half. I don’t remember now how or who broke the ice first. All I remember was I got tired of ignoring someone who hitched with me in the car everyday going to work.

Our youngest sister ended up the most problematic. Funny, because when she was born she was the darling of all the adults in our clan. She was the prettiest, with the fairest skin among us siblings. Yet she turned out to be the most insecure. When her boyfriend got her pregnant, my very Catholic parents were even willing for her to be an unwed mother, just to prevent solving a mistake with a bigger one. But even after her miscarriage she insisted on marrying a guy that she knew her parents and her siblings didn’t quite approve of, because: [1] she felt our parents would be more disappointed if she remain unmarried; [2] she didn’t think she’ll meet another guy who would love her. When they said their vows in church I told myself, “I give them six months.” Eight years later they’re still married, even if my sister is in Singapore trying to earn a living while her husband works here.

My mom was especially worried that our younger brother would become a secular, drug-addicted socialist when he chose to study in UP Los Baños. But he ended up doing well in several bands. Unfortunately the band bubble burst when the acoustic craze took over. Plus with a baby to feed, he decided to settle down. The one who used seem so worry-free and happy-go-lucky turned out to be a responsible though unconventional dad who’s managed to retain his generally unflappable self.

Brian was four years old when he died. Our uncles and aunts all agree that among us siblings he was the most handsome with the sweetest disposition. My mom rationalized his early departure from this world: perhaps God needed another angel in heaven. And with a tearful farewell on his burial day, she let her lovely baby go to his Creator. (Which actually works out for me, because then no one would go, “You’re Brian’s brother?! How come he’s good-looking and you’re— oops, er, I think my phone’s ringing, excuse me!” Thank God for that. Literally.)

Our youngest was two when his older bother died on Dec. 26, so he got all of Brian’s Christmas gifts that year. After losing a child of their own, my parents raised him spoiled. But he had five older siblings putting him in his place, and he grew up fairly well adjusted. Except that he does have a stubborn streak and a temper that flares up once in a while. And I’m worried for him. He left his teaching job because he didn’t like how the school was running things. It’s been several years now and he still doesn’t have a job yet.

* * * * *

I’ve not officially come out to anyone in my family. I wouldn’t be surprised if they have an idea, especially my brothers and sisters since we have common friends. And you know the saying: “Mothers know.” As for my late dad, well, I’m sure he knows.

I wish them all my love this Valentine’s Day.

10 comments:

london boy said...

one of the best love letters i've ever read.

i miss my folks :(

bleubug said...

That was a very sweet Valentine's day reminiscence. I really enjoyed reading it, especially being an only child. Thanks.

MANDAYA MOORE: Ang bayot sa bukid said...

nice family you have there mr mcvie

leo said...

very pinoy but also universal. i can relate.

Ming Meows said...

telenovela ba etoh?

sige, aabangan na lang namin ang official coming-out mo.

dr magsasaka said...

Your siblings were not born yesterday. They know.

Why don't you surprise them by bringing home your boyfriend one of these days?

Lionheart : Richard the Adventurer said...

Happy Valentines...

Nice letter!

MkSurf8 said...

nice one. i also miss my family. ;-(

Toilet Thoughts said...

nice. It must've been a riot living in your house. haha.

Sometimes I wish I had older siblings who would bully me to death (just to get a kick out of family life, mine's too mushy). hehe.

~Carrie~ said...

Very nice entry, Mr McvIe