Saturday, December 24, 2011

An Open Letter to my Son (and the world) on Occasion of Christmas...

“IT’s been more than a decade since I stopped believing in Christmas. I am puzzled in the fact that my dad runs through the metro early every 24th to buy every kind of toy he could fit into his tightly budgeted salary, stuff them all in a huge bag made of raggedy cloth, park them in our front door and finally knock at exactly 12 midnight—only to pretend in front of his kids (and even to himself, perhaps) that it was Santa Claus who brought all those gifts… I do not believe in it, but Christmas might mean everything to storm-stricken families. Tonight, what are they going to have? That question, I admit, struck me deeply today.[--excerpt from my son DUANE’s Facebook post. Manila, Philippines]

DEAR SON,
The beauty and wisdom in being children is BELIEF, just because… Because kids believe in Santa Claus—their dads and moms believe in them, too. But that “belief” in Santa, isn’t really about Santa—it’s about belonging, love, joy, acceptance, being there, being “saved”…
     What could’ve happened if you didn’t believe in Santa, in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, in the thought that dogs and chimps actually can talk (yes, you did believe in those)—then you could’ve felt my pain. I could’ve handed you my sorrows because you understood those—you become my sounding board, my punching bag, my blues comrade. It’s all because our “realities” were one.
     But no, you deserved a break—you deserved some peace, you needed to play. I was happy that whenever there’s chance to frolic and have fun, you did. Each time a hiphop song came out of the radio, you went bouncing like rubber ball wherever we were: our tiny living room, my work place, jeepney and bus, moviehouse aisle, you were unstoppable. Funny that when that horrid July 1990 earthquake was rocking the `hood, you thought gods were dancing up in the sky. You exclaimed: “Gods will be done dancing soon, Papa…”
     Or what if, I told you, those rap lyrics were bad and violent, and maybe Batman was misogynistic or sexist? And Superman was a capitalist devil who invaded so many poor planets for their fancy pineapples and gold nuggets? Maybe you will understand me? Or will you simply resign in the corner (in the dark, like I was when I was 5), and weep because there’s no one to call a hero anymore? That all that I could share you were bad news? What if I simply handed you a grown up world’s bitter pill and said, “Hey son, this life sucks! Let’s be angry, you and me. Swallow this pill, you got no choice.”
     Your lolo always said that I was the most questioning, doubting child he had: I questioned many things when I was a kid—why a transistor talks, a car runs, an airplane flies, my mom weeps, my dad was always gone, the sky pours rain, the sea is endless, why my dad was always fighting with aunt about an ancestral house, why six kids share one Ligo sardines and one kid throws away pork chops to his dogs, why everybody hates Marcos when Imelda says “All Filipinos are my children”? Because of that, I felt the pain, and it tormented almost most of my childhood—I couldn’t understand the world of grownups. Why were they always complaining about stuff, and the only way that they could settle differences was to fight first?
     My dad or mom never gave me answers, or responses that would’ve satisfied my child’s mind. So I sought out my superheroes for sufficient answers. I found the time to find my Santas—my superheroes: Buck (the dog in Jack London’s books), Batman, Spiderman, Sgt Saunders (in “Combat”), Huck and Finn, Charlie Brown, the sirena (mermaid) and Darna, my komiks heroes. At a time, when I saw many children starving and dying in typhoon areas while politicians feasted in the palace, and barrios were bombed because tribes didn’t want to leave their land, I found solace in the thought that there might be superheroes who’d save these kids.
     And when I became a dad, I made it a point to share toys and burgers from my meager salary to/with these impoverished kids in “da riles” and squatter areas every time I brought you and your sisters your “pasalubongs.” Those poor kids called me “Ka Pasckie,” and it was like I was a savior to their days… and I believed I was Ka Pasckie all my life, like some superhero.  And it felt good to be one at a time when heroes were all washed away by monsoon rains and swept to oblivion by typhoon floods.
    So my son, it’s okay to be cynical because it gives you an other vantage view of life, the grim version of reality. But it’s also okay to believe. Balance keeps us sane, balance makes us write poetry or paint or craft a song. Artists are dreamers and realists that find peace in their work—it balances them, hence they survive. Because if they couldn’t—as did Van Gogh, Hemingway, Woolf, Plath, Cobain etc etc… their world will cave in. I was far from being those guys, but my world almost “caved in” in 1995—and I “died.”
     I wasted myself because I thought life was so real, so fucking painful that I couldn’t take it anymore. But why did I choose to call out loud to God (“If you are true, and you are such divine and superhero, fucking make me live again—because my kids believe in me, they need me, and I don’t want to go unhappy. Just make me live again, please!”)—God was my superhero and he/she made me live again because I wanted to be Santa knocking at the door on our Christmas eves again, or stay a Ka Pasckie in squatters areas. I wanted to share my little superhero-ness to the world…
     BELIEVE that it’s possible, my son. It’s okay to dream…
     Where do I find wisdom in life? In those poor typhoon areas: each calamity, these poor humanity weep—the truth cut them to pieces, they weep until no tears are left to shed… but on Christmas days and fiestas, they celebrate like there’s no tomorrow. They exalt life’s little blessings like a sack of rice or a small hand-me-down shoes or a toy actually came from superheroes and Santas who will be gone by the time the first rain comes down in July… And when the next devastation happens, they will take it—but when they survive, they will celebrate again.
     In an affluent country like America, most stopped believing, or we have become more cynical. We suspect control, abuse, and manipulation in all fronts. We stopped believing that there is a God… in saints, in Santas, in the beautiful pristineness of the past, in “politically incorrect” characters, in heroes real or imagined—we only believe in what we can touch but not those that we can feel… Hence we are sadder than the wounded but smiling and laughing humanity in 7,107 islands back home who still believe that some superhero will blow out of a bleeding rainbow and save them from misery—even for a day, a Christmas, a fiesta. They believe no matter how crazy things are…
     Believe, my son—because if we don’t, that dude that knocks at the front door on Christmas eve will not be a jolly old grandpa in red with a bagful of gifts—but a grim ripper with a box of misery. The world needs a break sometimes, and Christmas is the time to hang out and chill.
     Stay cool! Happy Christmas!
--PAPA
Asheville/Candler, North Carolina