It's been 40 days since my dad passed away. This is pretty significant in Filipino culture. Tonight, we are having a mass and dinner for my dad. There will be quite a few friends and family there. I've been asked to say a few words, which has caused me to stress out a little bit. But it reminded me of a piece I wrote the day after my father died. This was meant to be more cathartic than anything else, but I find it appropriate given the significance of the day. I also allows me to put a little bit of closure on the open-ended blog post from a little over a month ago.
I will not be reading this at the event tonight, but I felt, at the very least, this tribute should be read by those who would like to read it.
So, without further ado, here is the tribute I wrote for my dad: Dr. Demetrio L. Peralta Sr.
I’ve been asked to write a tribute to my father. I will attempt to do the man justice, but I feel out of all the family, I am the least qualified to write about him. Being the youngest child, the baby of the family, I have obviously known Dad the least amount of time. I do, however, have a bond that no one else has: I was born a mere hours after his forty-sixth birthday. We will forever be linked in this way, as will my daughter be linked with me. (She was born on Dad’s seventy-sixth birthday). As I write this, all our birthdays were this past weekend, with my father passing on All Saints Day.
Over the past four months, I have spent more time with my dad than I have in the past four years. I’m not particularly proud of that fact, but then again my dad was not an easy guy to know. Sure, for the past decade, he and mom were gone most of the year in Las Vegas. But he has always been a man of few words; stoic, usually sitting near the picture window in our dining room looking out on our wooded backyard. Occasionally, there would be bursts of absurd silliness that did not jibe with the rest of his personality. (My dad attempting to hypnotize lobsters, for example, would be near the top of that list.) Obviously, meeting dad later in his life, close to his 50s, my view of him is vastly different than some of the other folks in the family. But here is my recollection...
I will perpetually have this image of my father wearing his straw cowboy hat and using his riding mower to cut the grass at his office. I remember his sneezes - yes, sneezes - always coming in threes and loud as all get out. I will remember the way he pulled up his pajama bottoms - a small twist and a pull up, the same way I do today. I’ll remember the funny way he would deal with wrong numbers, yelling the word “NOBODY!” into the phone, leaving my brother and I wondering what the question could have been to elicit that answer. I remember him devouring macadamia nuts by the jar. I remember flying kites and tossing Frisbees in our backyard. The way he packed his luggage months in advance for a trip. I remember watching him interact with friends or guys at a hardware store or repair shop. The way his voice would raise an octave when he spoke to them and how his jokes always seemed a little bit off. I remember him watching Big Time Wrestling, sitting forward in his seat and miming the body slams ever so slightly by raising and lowering his shoulders. I remember traveling through Europe with him and mom, thinking back that I was totally unappreciative of it at the time. Being seven, all I cared about was getting a new toy from the marionette shop in Paris or a metal train set from Austria. I remember him leaving a wake up call in Monte Carlo and in his thick Filipino accent asking the front desk to be waken up at “Pour o’ clock” and getting increasingly annoyed when they couldn't understand him. I remember doing the rounds with him at Southwest General on Saturday afternoon and then heading to a matinee of a movie that was I’m sure a penance for him to watch. I remember him getting lost between the over-sized punching bags at Sea World’s Capn’ Kids World.
And I will always remember the look on his face whenever he interacted with one of the grandchildren, most especially my own children. His demeanor would change, his face would light up and he would instantly become a young man right before my eyes. I’m heartbroken that I won’t be able to experience that with my new child due in the spring.
This was the Dad I knew.
This marks the first time I have had anyone in my immediate family has passed away. Over the years, I’ve always wondered how I would deal with it. Would I be scared? Would I feel ridiculous or embarrassed as if I were part of some cheesy Lifetime flick? Looking back, I am glad I was afforded the luxury of going through the dying process in this way. Dad gave us so many memories in the last days of his life, so many moments to look back on. I am thankful beyond measure for that. I am grateful that Dad allowed us time to accept his departure and process it. I am also thankful that he allowed me the opportunity to share the experience of the death of a loved one with my own children in this loving and peaceful way. Dad has taught me that there is nothing to fear of death. That death is simply a transitional period that can be full of love and light. I am somewhat envious of him as he begins this new exciting journey without us. I can only imagine what he may be thinking, what we would want to tell us and what the look on his face would be.
So as I begin this new day, one without my father, I think to my own family, my own mortality and how this pattern of loss and sadness will be destined to be repeated again. Surrounded by my loved ones: My children, keeping watch over me, perhaps to the point of pulling their hair out from frustration. There would be frantic outbursts of emotion ranging from doubled-over laughter from unearthing some long forgotten memory, to unquenchable sadness, realizing that an end was inevitable. My wife, somewhere in close proximity, would be sighing and wringing her hands, mentally reviewing the ornate tapestry that we have woven together for over half a century. And even though I won’t necessarily be able to react and interact like you would all like me to, the love will be palpable. If I could speak, I would tell my children all the lessons my father tried to impart to me: to be good to one another and to other people. To take care of each other. To have confidence in themselves, always. To work hard and live their lives honestly. Most of all, I would remind everyone to pray for one another and to pray for me.
I wish I had used my time more wisely with you Dad. But I am thankful for the time I was afforded. Thank you for everything you have done for all of us over the years. I love you and we will all miss you immensely.