Primed for middle age and somewhat going past it and that you are a father in exile, voluntary in some sense because you have, indeed, if it were true, chosen to go away to search and find some luxuries of life elsewhere in the hope that you can buy time and space to write your ambitious work about the terrors and surprises of being a Filipino and being part of an imagined reality we call 'the Filipino nation', you become sensitive to so many things.
Oh, I have been like this these past few days: sensitive, so sensitive to a fault. Words have been like blades, sharp and wounding, blood oozing in their edges like a Bushido sword.
When you have my age, you become ultra sensitive to the hidden and secret meanings of utterances even if, in Fernand Braudel's sense, the clear intention of our words is what, to him, would pin down what we mean and how to make sense of the world.
Braudel is historicistic, for certain, in the mold of the classical hermeneuts who were looking at the sacred biblical text as if they were fossils for us to look into and interpret the past.
Then again, we understand the point of Braudel as well as he looked at the world and the geographies of joy and sorrow he saw in the formation of a community or a new nation or a new country out of the political and 'national' aspirations of a people.
We see here, for instance, the hidden desire of Islam to create a world that is Islamic in much the same way that we see the imperialistic posturings hidden in the Christian sense of evangelizing the world, with rice and salvation bribes in order for the missioners to have something to report to their kings and patrons and popes and superiors in the foreign countries where they came from, the report, almost always, semantically hidden in such phrases as 'the number of souls saved' or 'the number of souls baptized.'
It is in light of "The Word" in these events that I tried to put some sense and meanings--or their semblance--to the utterances of my youngest child, a talkative daughter who likes to pose questions at a time that you do not know how to answer them because, for one, you are drowned by sorrow when talking to her even as you find comfort in her voice, tone, and pitch only a joyous child has. When I called her up the last time, she told me, "Tawagan mo uli ako mamamayang gabi, ha, papa? Please, kakausapin mo ako uli."
Those twin statements, from the exuberance of a child that did not see much of me while she was trying to make sense and meaning of her child's world through her child's words, were something that touched me so terribly, more because they have in them the hidden longing of a daughter who barely knew my face and pathos as she was growing up and I was not there, I was not simply there to lull her to sleep or to pick her up when she stumbled and hurt herself.
I left her when she was one, and I could not imagine the scene when I left that March. Now she told her tita, an aunt who takes care of her, "Pag nasa Hawai`i na ako, tita, padadalhan kita ng pera."
When I left that March, school had just closed, the first born done with his first year of college life away from home, the first born who chose to study in another campus of the state university in order to have his own taste of freedom college life offered; the second born was going to fourth year, and whose graduation in high school I would miss, my missing of this event and her confirmation and her graduation in the elementary and some others leaving me heavy traces of incompetence and guilt; and the last born having just celebrated her first birthday in a Jollibee store some months before.
I could not remember if she had uttered her first word at that time; but some months after, I would receive a picture of her scanning the pages of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the broadsheet spread on the cement floor. I only knew one thing: that we all cried on the night before I left, the long and sad goodbyes a ritual of hope and promise at the same time.
She quizzed me when I last called, the youngest daughter: "Saan ang bahay mo? Umuulan ba diyan? Umuulan dito e, bumabagyo pa! Anong ginagawa mo? Sinong kasama mo? Kailan ka uuwi? Nami-miss mo ako, papa? Nami-miss na kita e."
And then the exuberance of a child discovering many things: "Marunong na ako ng 'Bayang Magiliw'. Tumatayo ako sa bangko kapag sinasabi ko ang 'Iniibig ko ang Pilipinas'. Inilalagay ko sa dibdib ko ang aking kanang kamay, papa, kasi yun ang sabi ng titser."
"Tatawagan mo ako mamayang gabi, ha?" she reminded me. I remembered that she was in my mother's house to wait for her ride home, her school done and over with that noontime and she expected me to call her in our home.
Something hurt as I listened to her, deep in the guts, a pinch in the mind, a wound in the soul.
As I write this, I looked at the late moon rise, the comb-like light in the west standing guard, atop the outline of mountains so broad and so calm, like the sea that I knew was there for always beyond these sacred scenes. There are mercies and kindnesses, indeed, from the universe. I teared up for the lost times that have something to do with fathering from afar.
I knew, I knew: I was on a sacred ground at this sacred hour. On that nite, I had to wait for the opportune time to call my daughters and my son who were from afar. No, I was the one from afar.
A. S. Agcaoili
July 29, 2006