Through a Spyglass Darkly

Nonfiction by | September 26, 2022

My father is a seafarer. For the most part of my childhood, I’ve only been able to see him once or twice a year, and only briefly. When I was told about his new job, the younger me had imagined that Daddy was going to be a pirate who will be setting off on a voyage to find treasure for me, thanks to the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise and my overactive imagination. Having an OFW parent is never easy on a child nor the seafaring father. The first time he had to leave, I was crying oceans almost every night for weeks. “What if he gets eaten by an enormous sea monster?” I frequently thought to myself. I couldn’t imagine how hard it was for him too, having to celebrate his children’s birthdays in the middle of the ocean, having to send a birthday message in a bottle, and having to look at his children grow up through a spyglass.

Now that I’m older, I realize that there are bigger monsters to worry about. Before I took the UPCAT in 2019, he told me that UP is just another school, perhaps in an effort to alleviate the pressure I was under. I replied that no, it isn’t – to which he replied “Yes it is, useless people nga karamihan sila.” I immediately knew what he meant. He has always been antagonistic towards UP students, as he had repeatedly said how some students are “baliw,” on a couple different occasions. In the irony of it all, several months later, his own daughter would pass the UPCAT and be one of those “baliw” and “useless” students.

I couldn’t blame him for not knowing who his daughter is. How does one get to know a person when both are oceans away from each other? The high tides and trade winds won’t allow it. One time, he sent me a message asking why it seems as if I’m drifting away, why we weren’t as close as we were before. The easy way out was to put all the blame on the distance and the tides pushing and pulling, hence slowly separating us, but I know all too well that distance and ocean tides weren’t the ones to blame. I could have said, “Because you support Duterte and defend his misogyny,” or “Because you share posts on Facebook spreading misinformation about the OVP,” or “Because you think student activism is crazy and useless when your own daughter is a student activist, but of course you don’t know that,” but I couldn’t. All I could manage to say was how college life in UP had kept me too busy.

This year, my brother and I flew to Baguio City, our hometown, to spend time with Daddy as it was time for his ship to dock. I call Baguio my hometown not only because it’s where I was born, but also because I take pride in being Kankanaey Igorot. We usually only get a month with him at most, but this time he was here for a generous two months before he boarded a ship again and began another journey at sea.

“Biglang nag-blackout, tapos dumami bigla boto ni Leni,” my father declared at the dinner table, referring to the 2016 elections in which Leni Robredo won the seat for the vice presidency. It was only a couple of weeks away before the May 9 elections, and political family discussions during dinner were, well, inevitable. Leni is running again, this time for the presidency, and my grandmother was a Kakampink, just like the rest of the family except for Daddy. Every evening, as the whole family gathered for dinner, Lola would bring up Leni, to which my father would never fail to refute: “‘Di ‘yan mananalo.” I kept quiet. I’ve never been a fan of confrontation. I don’t want to rock the boat; I just want to enjoy my bowl of sinigang.

Days before the Leni-Kiko grand rally in Baguio City, Daddy saw the materials I had laid out on the floor to make a placard. I didn’t tell him ahead of time that I was going. The night before the rally, he went into my room and said, “Bukas na yung rally, ‘di ba? Ba’t ‘di mo pa ginagawa ang placard mo?” I was caught off guard. Why was he encouraging the behavior he once said was useless? The following day, he offered to drive me and my brother to the venue. He also came back to pick us up after the event. We didn’t talk much about it, just a few questions on how it went and how we were.

Three days later, it was our flight back to Davao City – where my mother, younger brother, and I moved fifteen years ago when my parents separated – and Daddy was also going back to work and boarding a ship again soon. As I was packing my bags the evening before the flight, he saw the pink placard I had used for the rally, folded and slightly crumpled on the floor. “Hindi mo iyan iuuwi? Sayang, pwede mo ‘yan ipa-frame, remembrance,” he told me. I was stunned. It could have been a sarcastic remark, but I know that my father is a good man and he wouldn’t mock me like that. I didn’t know how to respond, so I just let out a little laugh.

I did bring the placard home to Davao, but not so I could frame it as a remembrance like he said. It might just be a piece of paper, but I choose to see it as the treasure Daddy had voyaged for many years ago across the ocean to find and bring to me. He needed to set sail all those years ago and he knew the younger me wouldn’t have fully understood why he had to do what he did. Even if he might not fully understand who I am and why I do what I do, it is more than enough for me that he sees me. Maybe he actually knows me, maybe he still doesn’t and just chooses to support me in whatever I do, who knows? The coast is far from clear, but he tries.

“Sa radikal na pagmamahal,” one side of my placard read. On the other side, I wrote “Pag- asa ay iiral.” With the loss of Leni and Kiko, and the seeming triumph of misinformation and historical revisionism, many of us don’t understand what went wrong. But I still continue to believe that the fight for the Filipino people to be seen and heard is far from over. These are difficult times for the Philippines, but we will keep trying.


Vida Sachi Daliling studies communication and media arts at the University of the Philippines Mindanao.

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