The first time I wrote about my dad it was about the events that unfolded when he had a stroke. I wrote from my perspective as his eldest daughter coming into to his aid at a life altering moment in his life. I believe I will always have this perspective since this is my role in his life; everything that centers on my Dad will always be from the point of view as his daughter–regardless of age or time.
His role in my life had always been that he was just simply there.
In truth, I’ve learned more about my dad as an adult more than as a child. In the first few years of my life when I began to collect memories, he was a figure who I only got to see every year when he came home to the Philippines. He would arrive at the house twice or maybe three times a year. I remembered that he’d arrive sometime during the summer, and when it was the holidays. This may have been within a span of 3-4 years. I remembered one time when he came home on an emergency leave from the Army because my mother was in an accident (she was hit by a bus on a busy street in Manila). I wondered sometimes what she was doing in Manila that day, but the story about that accident was always vague. There was one memory that I can recall, and I must have been only 6 years old. My dad must have taken me to a U.S. Embassy or the nearest military base after we visited my Mom at the hospital. We were in a cafeteria, and I was looking at all the food that was laid out. They were all quite foreign to me, and what I mean by foreign was they were all American food. He grabbed a few snacks, and we sat down at a table for two.
“Jeng, would you like to try some milk?” he asked.
“Milk?” I asked him back.
“Yes. See in the states, kids your age drink milk from a carton, and not the powdered kind,” he answered.
He showed me how to open the small carton. He split the top folded lid in two, and pressed it back to create a spout, and he then stuck a straw in the spout, folding the lid back into it’s place and the straw stuck out from it.
He handed me the box, and said, “here try it.” I took a sip of the cold milk, and wanted to vomit immediately.
It was the most disgusting thing I had ever tasted in my life.
“Meh, yuck. I don’t like it,” I responded. My dad laughed his toothy laugh, his eyes squeezed tight as if he had just seen the most hilarious thing in the world.
My dad was there when the first time I had ever tasted milk from a small carton.
He was there when I discovered that I was fearful of heights, and he guided me carefully when my legs were frozen and couldn’t move past the bleachers.
He was there to remind me that I shouldn’t bring snacks and eat them at church. I told him I didn’t want to starve during midnight mass on Christmas eve.
For every little tiny event in my life, he was there.
Just as he was there, cane in hand, as he struggled with the loss of his left arm from the stroke as I graduated with my first Masters.
The truth is, my dad would be the first to proclaim and admit that he is not a perfect man, and that his faults were that of his own. To many, such faults may be detrimental to one’s character, but to me, they make him a beautiful human being–capable of admitting to his shortcomings, and yet evolving every time. There are people in this world who struggle with this truth, and they live their lives leading others to believe that they are perfect, and pious. In truth, they are far from it.
People often think that in order for a child to grow up perfect in every way that they must be raised by perfect parents.
I believe that good human beings capable of love, acceptance, happiness, gratitude, a strong moral compass are raised by a parent who does not fear admitting to imperfections, or faults, and they possess an awareness that we are here on this earth to learn about life.
There was one time when my dad came up to visit the year I was graduating with my Masters, we were sitting at a bench at the Santa Claus house in North Pole, Alaska. We watched people walk by us to stand in line to get their photos taken with Santa. The place is busy during two times of the year: summer time when tourists came by, and Christmas time when the locals face the blistering cold to get their annual photo shoot with Santa. As we sat there, my dad noticed a family standing nearby. There was a mother with her daughter who was a young woman. The daughter was in a wheelchair, and from the looks of it, I gathered that she had cerebral palsy. My dad looked at the Mom and daughter with interest.
“You know those like the young woman in that wheelchair are teachers in this world,” he said.
“Why is that?” I asked.
“We all come into this earth with a purpose to learn. That’s the norm for all of us. But, there are those who come into this earth for a greater purpose, and that is to teach us a lesson,” my dad looked on, “they exceed our knowledge, and in a different world, they are considered mentors and looked highly upon. They may not seem like it here in this life, but they are,” he said.
“The question is what are they supposed to teach us,” I said.
“Struggle, patience, kindness, sacrifice, sometimes pain, perseverance. Everything and anything you can think of. They sacrifice the human experience for the purpose of teaching those people around them,” he answered. “Remember that one woman in a coma, and the husband and her family fought over who has rights to make decisions for her?” he asked me.
“Yes, I believe it was a case of her husband wanting to turn off the life support because his wife would not have wanted to live that way. But, her family wanted to keep her on life support because they felt that she can recover from the coma,” I answered.
“You see what she did? She tested her husband, and her parents–and that led to a court case where the question of who has the right to make decisions for her. Her case impacted not only the court system, but also challenged those people around her–who loved her,” he answered.
I looked at the young woman in the wheelchair, and her mother who was gently wiping her daughter’s forehead that was dewy with sweat.
I understood then what my Dad was talking about.
Just recently, my niece wrote about my Dad for a project for one of her classes. I almost forgot how before the stroke, my Dad lived a full life before I, and my siblings were born. He was close to 30 years of age when I was born. My niece’s project consisted of an interview of my Dad who talked about his life, and his service to the military. One of the most profound sentence that my niece wrote was “[w]ith the lasting memories and experiences (both, good and bad) that Mr. Delcastillo modestly discloses during the interview, he is happily retired in Anaheim, California with the love of his life, and continues to be an active, loving father to his five children along with twelve grandchildren.” What is profound by this simple sentence is that my Dad acknowledges the imperfections of his life, and the fact that he is alright with such truth.
What my dad taught me most of all is other than the love a father professes to his children, and grandchildren, such truth only makes us that much better at students of life.