Forgiveness Comes From the Most Unexpected Place
“If you want to see Papa before he passes away, you better come home now.” That was my sister, Lina, on the other end of the line, on a cloudy winter day of March, 1991. Papa had a stroke two months earlier and was paralyzed from the neck down. Years of smoking and drinking finally took a toll on him.
With my 16-month old son in tow, I went back home to the Philippines for a two-month visit. Papa’s medical insurance had run out and he needed to get out of the hospital. But where would he go? He didn’t have a permanent home. His life had become aimless since Mama separated from him. He had been living with one relative to the next. Lina and I discussed where to place him.
Should he stay with my husband and my in-laws? My husband was still in the Philippines back then waiting for his sponsorship papers. But I would be going back to Canada after two months. I didn’t feel that Papa would be taken care of properly there when I left.
Should he stay with Lina? She was a stay-at-home mom and her husband was a nurse. He would feel more at home and he would be given better care there.
We decided to leave him at Lina’s place. Although it was the logical decision, I felt like I was turning Papa away.
Ever since I could remember I have always been fond of Papa. I was Papa’s girl while Lina was a self-proclaimed Mama’s girl.
My parents owned a tailor shop in Noveleta, Cavite. They were very well known in town. They garnered a lot of friends. It was the custom then among men to serve friends a few drinks of beer, whiskey or rum when they visit each other. Papa developed a drinking problem. He started beating up Mama when he’d had too much to drink. I was about eight and Lina was six when Papa came home drunk one night. He grabbed my majorette baton and struck Mama on the forehead. Lina and I huddled on the floor behind the couch, terrified. We couldn’t do anything to help Mama. We were frightened that he would hit us, too. He never did, though. Except for one incident that made me feel terribly guilty.
Lina and I were fighting one night. Papa overheard her answering back at me. He got really mad, led her outside, and made her stand still beside the banana tree. She stood there and whimpered while ants crawled and bit her legs.
I was in sixth grade when Mama left and didn’t come home. After a few days, she came to school to pick up Lina and me. She said, “I’m not going back home. I’m going to Manila to live with my sister. Do you, girls, want to come with me?” Lina threw her arms around Mama’s waist and said, “Yes, Mama! I want to come with you.”
Mama wanted Lina and me to stay together. “Either you both go back home to your father or come live with me in Manila,” she continued. But no matter what, she was leaving Papa. I was torn. I missed her terribly and yet I felt that we were betraying Papa if we left him. I loved Papa dearly despite his faults, but I understood that it was time for my parents to separate. It was no longer safe for Mama and it was emotionally traumatizing for all of us.
Lina wouldn’t see Papa when he visited us in Manila. Auntie didn’t let him inside the house. Mama allowed me to see him outside and we went to a nearby ice cream parlour. I was overwhelmed with mixed emotions. I was crying from the moment I saw him until he left that balmy afternoon. The pain was more than I could endure at my age. I missed him so much.
Mama and Lina felt a great deal of anger towards him. I realized that he hurt Mama and that it was not acceptable at all, yet I couldn’t get myself to hate him. How could I? He was my father. He taught me things that I didn’t know. He stayed up late with me to finish my school homework and projects. Mama never told us to hate him, and yet I knew that she was hurt knowing that I was still loyal to Papa.
Mama did the best she could to provide for us but making a living was hard. When Lina and I were teenagers, Mama decided to apply for a job in Canada. Lina and I went to live with Auntie. We tried our best to get along with Auntie’s family. After three trying years and feeling of remorse, I run away from Auntie’s home and went to live with Papa, much to Mama’s chagrin.
Lina and I gave Papa a second chance, hoping that he would change and get his life back on track. But he could not resist the call of alcohol. One night, he came home drunk, passed out on the couch, wet his pants, and was so embarrassed when he woke up the next morning. There was no beating that time and yet I understood what Mama went through during those nights when Lina and I were little girls.
We never told anybody about what went on at home in our childhood. We never even talked about it amongst ourselves. And I didn’t realize the impact of all of these on Lina until our early adulthood.
She was deeply involved in the Student Catholic Action and I was taken by surprise when she entered the convent. After only a few months of her stay there, I noticed the remarkable improvement in her personality. She couldn’t tolerate being in the presence of Papa before but she allowed him to visit her every month at the convent. I was amazed at how she had forgiven him after years of resentment and hatred.
After a year, Lina left the convent. She was young, confused, and thought that she wanted to serve God. I thought that it was God’s plan to make Lina’s experience in the convent to be her instrument to forgive Papa.
When Papa was out of the hospital and settled at Lina’s place, I went to visit him. I was humbled at the sight I saw. There was my sister, feeding my father and cleaning him up. At one point, she asked me, “Do you want to see his bed sores?” I shook my head and looked away. Why did I? I, who was always at his side? The roles were reversed. Lina was now looking after him.
I was not at Papa’s side when he passed away in June 1991, two months after I came back to Canada. I was told that minutes just before his last breath, he yelled, “God, please forgive me for all my sins.” I will never forget that. Just as I won’t forget how my sister forgave my father.