by Carmelita Cochingco Ballesteros.
May 1, 2012
If I could get another chance
Another walk, another dance with him
I’d play a song that would never ever end
How I’d love, love, love to dance with my father again.
* * *
When I heard on TV that Jessica Sanchez is safe in the ongoing Season 11 American Idol competition, I stopped writing and watched her sing “Dance with my Father” by Luther Vandross on YouTube. It made me cry.
I searched for Luther Vandross’ original rendition. It made me cry even more. So I decided to set aside the article I was trying to cobble together for this issue. And write, instead, about my father and our Father.
Luther Vandross’ “Dance with my Father” reminded me of the poem I had written along with my students in Singapore in 2010. It expresses similar feelings about one’s father. While my poem expresses shock over my father’s sudden death, Vandross’ song expresses a child’s utter sense of loss and poignant yearning for a dead father, a yearning that could never ever be satisfied on earth.
I seldom write poems. Usually, I do so only while writing along with my students and trying to re-assure them that their teacher shares and understands both the anguish and the joy of writing.
Here is my poem:
by Carmelita C. Ballesteros
(Adapted from “Separations”
by Peauladd Huy)
The day came. It was a holiday.
Long weekend we’d all enjoy!
I’d spend it in my parents’ home.
I’d gone shopping
the day before. My heart
was happy; my steps
were light and bouncy.
I’d show Mother
the dress I bought for her.
I’d show Father
the watch I promised him.
Excitedly, I got off
the dusty bus, then walked
half-running towards our street
two blocks away. A cousin
was turning round a corner,
saw me, and asked,
Did you know?” I said,
“Did I know what?”
“Last night,” my cousin
chirped, “your father died.
Heart attack. Dead
on arrival at the hospital.”
I didn’t cry while writing this poem. Thus, I thought I had overcome my deep grief over my father’s sudden death. But while listening to Jessica Sanchez and Luther Vandross sing “Dance with my Father,” I suddenly found myself missing my father and wishing I could talk with him once again.
We are not a musical family. My father and mother never danced. Neither did my father dance with me. Instead of dancing, my father and I talked. We are a chatty family with loud voices. In fact, I would joke that my parents had built-in loud speakers in their throats.
If my father were alive and I could talk with him, I’d tell him that one of his grandchildren is getting married today. He and his bride don’t have much money, but they seem to really love each other. Some of us among his children are chipping in to help foot the bill.
I would tell my father that I have just launched a language and education consultancy not only to support myself after retirement, but more so, to pay it forward by sharing my skills and expertise in language and literature education with young teachers.
I would tell him that I didn’t know where, when, and how I would start operating my consultancy until one morning in late March when I woke up and had the great inspiration that I should start in my hometown – Nasugbu, Batangas.
Figure 1 The classroom that Blessed Teresa Consultancy – my consultancy – is renting at Adelaido A. Bayot Mem. School in Nasugbu, Batangas
A simple text message to my brother and sister-in-law got me an appointment with a school principal in Nasugbu. Happily, the school agreed to host the speech and writing classes I am offering for April and May 2012. Happily, my brother and sister-in-law have welcomed me with open arms, have housed me as a guest in their home, and have let me stay in their previously-tenanted house free of rent.
Incredibly, they have become my de-facto project managers, admin officers, marketing and advertising department, purchasing and supply division, board of directors, etc. They wear different hats. The amazing thing is that they know exactly which hat to put on as the need arises.
I could not have planned it better or wiser. Had I launched my language and education consultancy in Cavite or in Manila, I would not have had the superb customer base and splendid support that my hometown has blessed me with right now.
Just why do I wish to talk with my father again?
I’d like to tell him that I never faulted him for his shortcomings as a family breadwinner. I’d like to tell him that when he went blind, I was devastated but I didn’t know as a child how to articulate my pain and how to tell him that I felt his own pain.
I always felt close to him. He always listened to my chatter and never said a harsh word to wound my self-esteem. He always praised me in front of friends and relatives. He told funny jokes and laughed the loudest. He told fantastic stories which my siblings and I thought were fantasies when we were little. They turned out to be “tall tales” from current events and history.
I would tell my father that … I need him to wipe my tears… to share my pain… just when he popped out of thin air when my marriage crumbled and tried to help me pick up the pieces… I need him to laugh with me… I’d like to hear his crackling laughter again… I need him to be present for me…
What would he tell me?
Maybe he’d say that Our Father is here… for me and for all of us. Maybe he’d ask me to pray with him… Our Father in heaven… your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven… give us this day our daily bread… forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us…
Maybe he’d say that he is here, that Our Father is here in the persons of my brother and sister-in-law and in the loving embrace my hometown has welcomed me with. Here’s a poem that says it all:
A Home Song
by Henry Van Dyke
(1852-1933; American poet, writer, and educator)
I read within a poet’s book
A word that starred the page:
“Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage!”
Yes, that is true; and something more
You’ll find, where’er you roam,
That marble floors and gilded walls
Can never make a home.
But every house where Love abides,
And Friendship is a guest,
Is surely home, and home-sweet-home:
For there the heart can rest.