I miss my father
(My Panorama column for Sunday, December 12 – two days before my father’s 7th death anniversary.)
Seven years ago today, my father was two days from death’s embrace. Blas Fajardo Ople died on the 14th of December in 2003, aboard a plane that was enroute to Bahrain from Tokyo, Japan. My father had a fever, but decided to push through with his flight. He was in Tokyo for the ASEAN Summit with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. The members of his family thought that it was just one of those trips – he has taken several of them as senator, senate president, and as foreign affairs secretary. Coming back was a given. When he came back in a coffin, it was too much to bear. My mother was devastated. None of us got the chance to say goodbye.
I was waiting for him in Bahrain. As chief of staff, I was sent ahead to prepare for his arrival. I remember it was after midnight; the sun had yet to stretch its rays. My mobile phone wouldn’t stop bleeping. A deluge of messages mainly consisting of “Kamusta na si Ka Blas?” turned into “Our deepest sympathy” within an hour’s time. I didn’t know what was happening. Drowsiness turned into dread. Soon enough, my phone rang. It was my brother, Bulos, calling all the way from Los Angeles, California. “Toots, wala na si Amang,” he said. I wailed.
I remember when the hearse bearing my father made its way from Malolos to Hagonoy in Bulacan; houses were cloaked in black cloth, residents were outside to wave goodbye, and candles of all sizes lit the way. I also remember that same hearse passing underneath what appeared to be the biggest Philippine flag I saw in my life, right in front of the Department of Labor and Employment. I remember seeing his coffin lowered at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, and a folded flag being given to my mom.
I have been to several funerals since then. The most recent one was when one of my father’s dearest friends died. His name was Capt. Gregorio Oca. I was at the back row of the chapel when Capt. Oca’s daughter, Marissa, spoke. She put on a game face, read and adlibbed her way out of what I knew to be an emotional moment, and delivered her remarks that brought many of us to tears. I knew how it was to be in her shoes.
When I ran for the Senate under the Nacionalista Party, I would find myself yearning for my father. He was and is my rock. Before I spoke at rallies, I would speak to him first, in the silence of my heart. “What should I tell them?” I’d whisper and call out to him and ask for guidance. His answer was in the stilling of my nerves once I gripped that microphone and started to talk. .
When I lost the elections, I felt no bitterness or anger; only the deepest gratitude. Running in the 2010 elections was a decision I made to advance a cause that I believe in. It was a cause shaped by my father’s own hands. He was the Father of Overseas Employment. He created that program when he was Secretary of Labor during the Marcos Administration. Till his last dying breath, I knew that all his hard work over a span of an entire lifetime was meant to enrich the lives of Filipino workers here and abroad. I ran to make sure that there was someone there who cared as much about that cause of overseas workers as he did.
This Tuesday, my father’s friends, relatives, colleagues, and admirers will gather once more to celebrate mass by his grave at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. Mass usually starts at 9 AM and is followed by a modest breakfast. I am certain that he would be happy to see old friends, colleagues, and family members sit and chat, with even less hair, and slower gaits, but retaining the same happy memories of Ka Blas as a man, as a leader, as a friend.
I miss my father. The void never gets smaller. It helps that I see glimpses of him in my daughter, Estelle, when she’s resolute in her work. I see glimpses of him in my nephew, Carlo, who is adept at public speaking and quite advance in his appreciation of new technology. I see him in the love of my brother, Felix “Toti” Ople and sister, Dalisay “Baby” Ople-San Jose, for our hometown of Hagonoy. I feel him in the love of my brothers and sister, cousins, nephews and nieces. I see him in my mother, as she tries her best to gather us all for Sunday lunch, and in my Uncle Bernie who looks and sounds like him. I see him in his best friends, people who think about him and still love him long after he’s gone. It’s been seven years of not forgetting, but of loving him more and more. I love you, Amang. (Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me on Twitter via www.twitter.com/susanople.)