ONE of the things I will never know is how my father would have responded to this pandemic. I’m guessing some Scotch tape would have been involved.
Adhesive tape was one of the few things he always had plenty of. He was so fond of the stuff that every Christmas, he would volunteer to make gift boxes from recycled folders and happily assist by handing over neat, evenly cut strips of tape while my mother wrapped gifts. He made her a box to keep all her gift-wrapping supplies in—of course, he covered it, all of it, in adhesive tape. It was very sturdy.
Had he lived to see this life-changing year he probably would have used rolls of tape to make a face shield or a door opener of his own quirky design. Or perhaps a plastic partition to protect passengers of his car. I would be very surprised if he wouldn’t try making (and tweaking) some of those dishes that quarantine-inspired home cooks now share so often on social media. But first he would have devised a recipe box or a kitchen utensils caddy from some recycled cardboard. And lots of tape.
To this day, my bond with my father remains the least complicated relationship of my life so far. My relationship with my mother has always been loving, even when I was a sullen teenager (I’m sorry, Ma!). But like any relationship involving two strong-willed adults, it has had its few moments of friction. Privately, my father commiserated with my mother about how arrogant and argumentative I could get. He told her, “I feel sorry for her future husband.” (Allegedly.) Yet in the nearly 30 years he was in my life, my father and I had fewer than five arguments that I can remember.
Most fathers with adolescent daughters and sons can appreciate at least one happy consequence of this pandemic. Now, thanks to the curfews and lockdowns in place, they know where their teenagers are, at all times. Bored but safe at home, instead of giddy but at-risk outside. One can only hope this reassurance eases a large part of their burdens.
In April this year, official figures placed unemployed Filipinos at 7.2 million, nearly 5 million more than in April 2019. Seven out of every 10 unemployed individuals were men. Seven out of 10 unemployed persons were between the ages of 25 and 54—likely to be heads of households or their main breadwinners.
During the weekend, I saw a young woman appeal for Metro Manila residents to buy some wooden crates her father had made. The pandemic had cut short his job abroad and sent him back home early, and he was trying to make something useful out of reclaimed boards. He was selling them for P300 a piece.
Imagine how challenging it is to be a parent in the time of Covid-19. Some of the familiar issues remain: how to keep one’s offspring from becoming screen-addicted; how to nurture a healthy sense of self-esteem when so many cruelties are so casually unleashed online; how to make sure everyone around them stays healthy and safe.
Add to that the new challenges this pandemic has birthed: how to forge a path forward when the future is more uncertain; how to be the still and quiet center in the midst of every family’s particular storm. Whether they are responsible for four or for more than 400, fathers these days carry far heavier loads on their shoulders.
As much as I’m relieved that he’s not around to bear this much strain, I’m curious about what my father would have made of this pandemic—what meaning he would have drawn from it. I am grateful for how he and my mother held our family together, surrounded us with joy, love, and some necessary silliness, and taught us the strength to press on.