What it takes to be a man

Nonfiction by | April 18, 2010

I was six years old then when someone came knocking at our door around seven in the evening. I was asked to open it and so I did. After that, I saw myself standing in front of a huge man wearing a police uniform. That man was one of the people whom I feared the most, admired the most, and wanted to surpass the most – my father. He’s a huge, strict, man who had once killed a lot of people as a member of the army’s elite force – an example of this society’s idea of a real man.

“He’s back,” I said to myself as he stepped inside the house. He always left during the night for an operation and came back during the next night. But that time it was different; I noticed him trying to get something from his bag and giving it to me. It was the first time he had given me something after one of their operations so I excitedly tore the plastic bag that was covering it. There it was, in my little hands – a bunch of M16 bullet capsules. I didn’t ask him where they came from; I knew those were from the bullets they used while pursuing a criminal. I heard them talking about that mission before father and his companions left our house. I also didn’t bother to ask him why he gave them to me; I just played with them along with all of my other toys just like how kids should do it.

I never imagined him giving those to me. I’ve always felt that he didn’t like me. I don’t blame him though; he had this macho image to maintain while his son was playing with his sister and her paper dolls. I had no choice because my elder brother didn’t live with us back then and I wasn’t allowed to go out of the house. I had to play with someone. There was also this time when my father caught his own gay brother putting make up on me while he was babysitting me. But the worst reason of all was the fact that I was named “Bobbie” by mother – the name of my mother’s nail polish. Father always told me that a person’s name is one of the things that determine a person’s personality and future. He said all of my siblings have beautiful names because he was the one who had given it to them. He also said that my name will lead me nowhere and the only reason my mother kept on denying it was that she was the one who had given it to me.

Until now father always seems to prefer my elder brother Mike over me. Mike is the kind of guy who likes to hide his emotions from others, has a very promising career in politics, and is physically strong – the exact kind of guy that I will never become.

One day, while everyone in the house was watching me playing, Mike arrived because finally he was going to live with us. In an instant I saw everyone around me leave and go to him instead. As I saw his fat body approaching the house, the air was suddenly filled with the scent of competition – it smelled like fire and gunpowder mixed together.

“Left, right, left, right, left!” I can still hear those words I once shouted as father taught me how to march while I was wearing that mini-sized army uniform he got me for Christmas. He was preparing me to become a boy scout but my mother told him my body couldn’t endure being a scout. Right then and there I saw the disappointment that was engraved on my father’s face. I felt so helpless; there was nothing I could do to change the fact that I had a weak body.

I felt father’s attention slowly leaving me and going to Mike instead. Day by day it depleted until I could barely feel it at all. I wished I could endure hits from my father’s belt buckle just like Mike. I longed for his punishments so he could spend time with me. I missed those fading memories like when father and I sat on a bleacher watching basketball games which I didn’t actually enjoy.

I knew he disliked me because he was afraid that I would become gay; I had to prove myself but I didn’t know how. Every time I’m with my brother and father I’ve always felt I couldn’t connect to them. It was like I have to pass through a locked door that would lead me to them; I had to force it open. Those were the times which made me realize that I must struggle to regain the things that I have lost and the things that I want. I learned that one must struggle to become a man.

Bobbie Labastilla is a BA Communication Arts student of UP Mindanao.

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