On days like these, he feels particularly blessed. He can stay out as long as he reasonably can and indulge his passion (golf) without having to worry about displeasing a wife or attending to someone else’s schedule. True, such liberation came at a painful price but he has come to terms with his loss and is now truly appreciative of his freedom.
On his way to shower, he stops to check on his two sons, strapping teenagers now, who no longer sleep before dawn on weekends because they had spent the hours after work and school hanging out with their buddies. A wave of tenderness passes through him as he watches the two in various states of dishevel and sleep. Several times the previous night he had waken with a jolt, conscious that the two boys were not yet home, hoping fervently that the phone will not ring to deliver bad news. He tossed in his bed, trying to go back to sleep, but instead vivid memories of his own boyhood – and all the crazy daring that he and his friends did – teased him to wakefulness. He was able to go back to sleep only after he heard the front door slam and both his sons were home safe.
He had planned on running a few miles this early morning to prepare himself for a marathon in a few weeks. But it is the Saturday of his younger son’s volunteer service and Sonny knows that he would have to cook a hearty breakfast – sinangag, sausages, and scrambled eggs, plus pancakes slathered with syrup –so that the son’s energy level will be up to par with the heavy task ahead. Helping build low-cost housing is, after all, super hard work for a kid who has never done it before. And then there’s his cough which has gone on for more than a week now and that worries the father. Just a few nights ago, he was running a fever and Sonny had to make him drink that nasty flu medication that taste awful even with sugar added to it but which works wonders for the body aches and sleeplessness that the virus imposes.
That night, as he monitored his son’s fever, Sonny felt once again the clashing of regret, misery and loneliness that he used to feel so often (but with markedly decreased frequency now) when the reality of a womanless household – and raising his two sons as a single father – came crashing down on him. He looked back to those few times in his youth when he was sick and his mother doted on him so lavishly. His recovery always happened quickly, he remembered, after his mother rubbed his back gently with Vicks Vaporub. He considered doing the same thing that night for his son but he knew it would not be the same. Years of cultural brainwashing on how a male should act had robbed him of the wherewithal to give his sons the tenderness that his mother provided him. It is his failing, he realizes, and he is constantly making up for it in other ways that do not make him uncomfortable.
With breakfast ready, Sonny wakes up his son who responds with a lot of grumbling. A half hour more of sleep would have been possible but the father’s tee time was getting closer and he had to make sure that the boy wears old clothes that can be thrown away afterwards. He shakes the older son half-awake and makes him promise to be home by midnight so the three of them could go to mass together the next day. More grumbling and half-hearted assents. Sonny grabs his car keys, strips his grocery list from the refrigerator door, turns on the dishwasher, and leaves for a full day of golf with his buddies.
He comes home loaded with groceries; mostly snack foods, TV dinners and soda, so that his sons and their friends would have something to fill them up when they hang out there on schooldays. Too tired to cook dinner that night, Sonny nonetheless takes the time to marinate the meat for next day’s meal, before driving out to a Chinese restaurant with his younger son. He washes the food down with beer, the perfect denouement to a hectic day, before he realizes that he is not setting a good example for the boy, who is just about to get his driving license. Even if the beer did nothing to inebriate him, he makes a show of not driving after an alcoholic intake so they linger in the restaurant just chatting about anything and everything, the way fathers and sons do when they are together and are close enough to communicate. It is during precious moments like these that Sonny actually enjoys – or even prefers -- single parenthood, because he and his boys do not have to tangle with conflicting messages and clashing moods.
But of course those moments often drift by so fleetingly. Back home, the carpets need vacuuming, the bathrooms need scrubbing, and the kitchen needs a thorough cleaning. The laundry has piled up, the backyard requires weeding and the boys need a stern talking-to so they would clean their rooms. Just like any woman having to juggle a full-time job, a household, a family and a life of her own, this single father, who was once a powerful leader of men, grits his teeth, rolls up his sleeves and buckles down to work.
First published in Filipinas Magazine, June 2002