“This is story 5 of 9 of my Tatay’s Series. This is my way of honoring Tatay’s life and legacy. It wouldn’t be right if I DIDN’T give him his own series and avoided writing about his passing all together. But I’m also aware that this is something I need to do for myself – to put my grief, anger, and emotions all out on the table, instead of distracting myself with work and other things to avoid the reality that he’s gone.” -Marinelle, LoveYourzStory
Have you ever heard the cliché saying that the secret to a long life is to think positively? I used to laugh internally when I would hear people give that advice. Not because I don’t believe it’s true, but because my Tatay’s personality was a contradiction to this belief and he was old as shit. He was known to be hot headed, blunt, short tempered, and at times too prideful. But on the flip side he was chill, tender, inquisitive, creative, and playful all wrapped into one. His personality quirks is what made Tatay “Tatay.”
Growing up with Tatay and having him live with my family and I for a period of time, I knew that he was very particular about almost everything. From how something is cleaned, to where an object is placed, all the way down to what he decided to wear, Tatay was very distinct about it all. It was just known by all of us that that’s how he was, and if he didn’t like something, oh you’d definitely hear about it. Like the time my parents got him new sunglasses when I was about 5 years old. I remember them presenting it to him, and instead of kindly declining, he got upset. He went on an irritated rant about the glasses. He only wanted to wear his Raybans that he’s had since my dad was a young kid in the Philippines. Tatay’s train of thought was definitely “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” When he had his mind set on something, there was no telling him otherwise.
What I admired most about Tatay was how strong-willed he was, especially when it came to him aging. “Tigas ng ulo” – hardheaded, is probably the best way to describe Tatay when it came to him getting older. He was walking all on his own with no assistance until he was about 90. For the record, his cane and walker was always there, he just refused to use them. To him, it was almost insulting to ask him to use either of them. He was strong, and even if his aging said otherwise, he resisted until he couldn’t resist anymore. Even when he would “use” his cane, he wasn’t even really using it. Tatay would hold the cane, but most of the time it wouldn’t even be touching the floor. It was kind of like his safety net. He had too much pride to use it entirely, so he would only use it if he really needed to – which was rarely. I feel like he held the cane just so the aunts and uncles would stop pestering him about using it.
Even when he was nearing the end of his life, Tatay’s spirit was still strong. He still wanted to sit up, get up on his own, and walk. It was hard to see him in denial that his body was failing him. Even at 98 years old, Tatay couldn’t seem to processes why his body couldn’t move the way it used to. He didn’t want to accept help from others, even when it was apparent that he needed it. And even as his body got weaker, his drive to be independent was still there. If anything, the weaker he got, the more he wanted to do things on his own. The last 2 week of his life, any time someone visited and said hello, he would try his best to get up on his own. It was painful to watch. Tatay would grip the bedside handle bars with two hands, and wince at the pain as he gathered all of his strength to hoist himself up… unsuccessfully. The more you told him no, the more motivation he had to try to sit up. How do you tell someone who is so mentally and physically strong that their body can no longer handle it?
But that was my Tatay – Strong willed, independent, stubborn, motivated, and knew exactly what he wanted and never hesitated to voice it and let you know what he was thinking. He didn’t give a shit if what he said made you feel bad, he said exactly what he was feeling, completely unfiltered. Usually Tatay would give this side of himself to his children, Tita, and doctors and nurses – basically anyone trying to help him and tell him what to do. His grandchildren and great grandchildren got the best parts of Tatay. With us, he was playful, curious, and always had a smile. His personality was like a light switch, and his grandchildren always saw the best part of him “on.”
Despite the language barrier, Tatay was able to have a loving relationship with his great grandchildren. They didn’t hesitate to give Tatay a hug, bless him, or sit on his lap. His love was louder than words. His cane – that he never used – would be the object he would use to play with them and get their attention. There would be times where I would observe Tatay looking at all the kids with awe and admiration, a small smirk on his face, probably not even knowing which kid belonged to who, but still seeing the beauty in life and their innocence. He was always on the sidelines observing, waiting for his moment to troll one of the little ones.
Tatay was extremely creative. All around his house you would find things that he put his special touch to. He had stuffed animal tigers that he sharpied black eyebrows on, he had a butterfly hanging from one of the lights, he even stole Jacob’s Woody action figure to be the driver of his SF Giant’s jeepney. Yes, cut off the legs and everything so he could jam it into the driver’s seat. When Jacob asked about his Woody doll, we didn’t say a word. When my sisters and I would find these little touches of Tatay around our house when he lived with us and in his own house with Tita, we would laugh. He definitely liked things a certain way, decorating was no different. He was a fan of little trinkets, especially if they were animals.
There was one fall where Tatay had a pamphlet of different pumpkin carving faces. It was a basic newspaper that he probably received in the mail and thought was cool. He had a tiny pumpkin that he had in hand, and was telling my dad that he wanted to draw a face on it like the newspaper. My dad told him that he should let us draw it because all 3 of us are pretty artsy ourselves. However, we quickly told our dad that if Tatay wanted to draw on it, he should be the one to do it. We didn’t want to take away his opportunity to design his pumkpin. Tatay had a worn out sharpie in hand, and he looked at the newspaper for reference. He drew, looked at the newspaper, and drew some more. He embarrassingly laughed and said something along the lines of “forget it.” When we looked at the tiny pumpkin, Tatay had made an even tinier face. And not only was it about 1.5 centimeters in its entirety, it didn’t even look like anything in the paper, let alone a face. We looked at Tatay with kawawa eyes, and our hearts melted. The attempt was cute as fuck.
Even if drawing wasn’t Tatay’s strong suite, he still managed to create things around the house that were beneficial to him. On his 98th birthday, my dad found a string on the chair next to Tatay’s bedside. That’s the chair Tatay would sit in if he didn’t want to be laying down. My dad quickly realized that the string that was on the inside of the chair was purposely put there by Tatay himself. For what? What would a string on the inside of his chair possibly do for him? It was his water holder. We all gasped in shock yet admiration that at 98, with his health declining, he was still trying to make some DIY projects around the house to make his life easier. That’s what I loved about him. He still managed to “Tatay-fy” things. You just knew that he couldn’t resist to put his touch on things – partly because of boredom, but also to make it more convenient.
God, I miss him… He was my pessimistic, grumpy ass, loving, smiley, curious, cute ass Tatay. And I loved him for the good, the bad, and the ugly – every part of him. He was real as hell with sharing his views on aging. He didn’t hesitate to let you know his honest opinion on anything. Even if it wasn’t what people wanted to hear, it was what he believed. Through it all, whether he liked to admit it or not, he still managed to find joy in the simplest things. The excitement in his eyes when he saw animals, saw a familiar face, or when you offered him french fries is a sight I will never forget. As I get older and reflect on Tatay’s personality traits, I see that I’m actually a lot like him. I’ve inherited the Jacinto moods.
When I start to think about how Tatay left this Earth in the middle of a pandemic, I start to get angry and depressed. I know it’s basically pointless to dwell on things that I can’t change, so I’m trying to remember happier times. I remember we visited him 2 months before he passed away. He seemed to be in a happier mood, was more active and sat in his chair, and was making conversation. He was so chill with both of his feet propped up on his bed. Marielle decided to get his attention for a picture, and as he smiled, I decided to photo bomb him. He makes a grunting sound, “Aray! / Ouch!” We all gasped in utter horror. Everyone is starting to yell at me and blame me for hurting Tatay. I felt so guilty but swear I didn’t even touch him. When we look back at Tatay, he’s straight cracking up – I knew I was innocent! I knew he was truly my Tatay because he was finding so much joy in trolling me. He laughed and laughed. And Marielle caught it all on camera.