When I was a child, I used to play with my friends after every class. We would play different games each day. But I only remember the game we play on Thursdays – the dakop-dakop. It was a predator searching for its prey type of game. My friends and I would play this high-energy game in the quadrangle of my grade school. I would scream, shout, and run as fast as I could so that the hungry predator would not catch me. When I am caught and become the “it,” I run faster to grasp my prey. Usually, everyone becomes a predator of the game before the first round ends.
My typical after-class routine ended on a sunny Thursday afternoon sometime in 1999. I so gleefully enjoyed playing dakop-dakop that I forgot the time. It was thirty minutes after five. I had already been playing for two hours. To my surprise, my father went inside the school campus to fetch me. He had been waiting for me for an hour outside the school. When he approached, he dragged me to the green grassy area, just about 100 steps away from the cemented quadrangle. He held his leather belt and smacked me in front of my classmates.
I was so embarrassed that I speedily ran away from him. I never wanted to stop running, but I halted suddenly. My heart was intensely pounding. I was hurt for being humiliated in front of my friends. However, it hurt more to know that my father hit me with a leather belt just because I was playing too much.
In that particular moment, I was really afraid to come home because I feared that my father would hit me more. My mother looked for me in the campus, and found me sitting on the bench under the aged mango tree. She consoled and assured me that she’ll protect me. My mother is always like that. When my father would inflict pain on me and on my brothers, she would always run close to us and hug us tightly. Sometimes, she spared me from the fourth and fifth strike of my father’s belt. Instead of me, she would be hit.
Eventually, I got in the car with my shivering hands and feet. I was gnashing my teeth. I was glad that my father was driving. His hands were busy maneuvering the steering wheel. He had no opportunity to slap me. I stopped crying, because if I cried more, he might hit me again.
At that time my thighs had violet-blue stripes that almost looked like the street’s pedestrian lane. Those stripes seemed like receipts of my payment for my fault. Silence deafened me as I recovered from trembling and crying. My elder brother handed me an ice bag to relieve the pain in my thighs. I knew he sympathized with me, because he had also felt similar pain several times in his life.
My mother told me that I must go to my father and say sorry. Up to this day, I don’t understand why I must say sorry after every “ritual of discipline” – a manner to express my father’s fatherly love. I’m obliged to say sorry with the fear that if I didn’t, I might be hit by my father’s mighty leather belt again. With fear in my face and heart, I approached my father and uttered the words my mother instructed me to say: “I’m sorry. I will never do it again.” My father would then let me sit in his lap and he’ll say the line I always hear, “pinangga man gud ka, mao bunalan ka.” “You’re loved, that’s why you’re spanked.” And my bruised thighs can prove it.
His rules are arbitrary, neither written nor said. I learned not to complain, do things as fast as I could, and always be on time. On the evening of the same day, I decided to never let my father inflict pain on me again. I admired my father for being a genius to equate love with pain. However, I later discovered that I was more of a genius because I came to realize that inflicting pain is not an expression of love.
I had hated my father for being a punishing father. I could never accept that he showed his love for me through smacking me with his leather belt. I wished he didn’t have any leather belt at all. I resisted accepting his love for me because I feared that its exchange is to be hurt again.
I grew up having one fear in my heart – to be hurt because of love. It seems that my father unwittingly taught me to doubt any man’s love. I learned not to trust any man who promised to love me. In the back of my mind, I mock the promises of love. If love brings pain and agony, I would rather choose to reject love.
Still, a part of me longs for love – the kind of love that brings happiness, not pain. Yet if my father is right about love, I think I’m strong enough to experience it. I just pray he is wrong. And that one day I can prove it to him.
Enrica Edralin is taking up Communication Arts in UP Mindanao and is a part-time English tutor.