Me and my dad’s infinite playlist

I know the earliest parts of my life by its echoes. The clicking of my mother’s heels late at night meant that she has arrived home from a long day at work. The grumbling orchestra of my father’s stomach early in the morning, as I lay down on his lap watching TV, meant that he had been drinking beer the night before.

Perhaps it is no surprise that I am guided through my earliest memories by sound. My existence is predicated on it, after all. My parents met because my father dialled the wrong telephone number. It must have been my mother’s honey-warm tone, or the way she said “Hello?” with a slight twang. The man who would be my father, a bad boy from the projects of Quezon City, had an ear for music, and he promptly fell in love with the sheltered kolehiyala from the South.

I am always met with silence when I ask them what happened between the phone call and the wedding. Things I did know to be true — my father loved to sing. He was a part of his college glee club, and would unwind after a long day of taking care of me and my sister by singing the greatest OPM hits of yore. “Just hang on,” he would sing after Gary Valenciano in a baritone. “Who knows, we might get there.” My father’s celebrity avatar, however, was the just as kalbo, just as guwapo, and just as babaero Rico J. Puno. “Bakit ba ganyan ang buhay ng tao? Merong mayaman at merong api sa mundo.

Dissonance in music is one of the art form’s great mysteries, but even at 11 years old, I knew it when I heard it.

I got to know them because my father sung, no, belted their songs out to the unsuspecting neighborhood of Zone 11, Pilar Village. He had stacks of karaoke VCDs. There was no Magic Sing then, or we probably couldn’t afford it, so my father bought the best mic he could afford at Odyssey, a music store, and he sang to his heart’s content. I always thought he was happiest singing.

The VCDs and the Odyssey microphone were the first things he asked for when we met again for the first time. This was right after my mother kicked him out of the house. Dissonance in music is one of the art form’s great mysteries, but even at 11 years old, I knew it when I heard it. The slammed doors, the drunken slurring, the clicking of room locks, the sound of the TV left on because someone has been sleeping in the sofa, again, for the nth night.

“Wala na ba talaga?” my father asked. “Wala na nga,” I snapped back, the irate teenager. “Sorry, daddy,” my younger sister said. “Talaga? Sayang, ang mahal mahal pa naman nun.” My mother had agreed that we should see our father on Sundays, every week. In these meet-ups, my father would bring albums of rock bands burned into mp3 CD’s — anything I would request, he would scour for. In 2005, we had no Spotify. These CD’s were a big deal. Especially because the boy I had a crush on liked Yellowcard and The Used, and I had to get on that, stat, so I could turn it into a YM status.

Throughout the years, I saw my father less and less. From every week to every other week. Then every month. I grew up and forgave him, at some point. Turned twenty, probably. Then I saw him every couple of months. Eventually he started seeing someone, too, just like my mother. Then I saw him once a year, at Christmas. Then none. At some point, I felt like he gave up on us. The man who once put song in my heart has been silent for a while now.

How does one come home to a place that’s not quite there? I feel sorry, but from whom do I ask for forgiveness?

When I was Marie Kondo-ing the crap out of my bedroom I unearthed my father’s gift for me when I turned 18. A CD full of songs, a mixtape he put together. Written on the CD, in bold, black, permanent marker: “Hi anak! I heartfully dedicate all the songs in this CD. Happy 18th birthday! Love, Dada.”

At first I thought some random guy at some stall in some bazaar put it together for him, but only my father would know to start and end with James Taylor. “Whenever I see your smiling face, I have to smile myself, because I love you, yes I do.” For years, I’ve looked for this country song kind of love, cheesily earnest, in all places, from different people. I’ve looked to other boys to teach me about music, to tell me about songs that they loved. Playing the CD shocked me, I think. I wasn’t used to unabashed declarations of love. For me.

Most likely, my father and I have run out of things to talk about. This is not quite like the parable, where the daughter comes home and begs forgiveness from the father. How does one come home to a place that’s not quite there? I feel sorry, but from whom do I ask for forgiveness? Growing up, I learned how much I take after my father. Prodigal we both are, my father and I, driven to loneliness by our desire for more, more, more.

My father is living his lessons, I am still just making my mistakes. I know my adult life by my debts, yes, but also through its silences. Failed relationships. Fleeting friendships. Fuck-ups. I guess this essay is written in the earnest hope that the story of father and daughter is a story of redemption and mutual forgiveness. He, the weathered bad boy of the now-quiet streets of QC is just a phone call away from me, the not-so sheltered kolehiyala living in the South. And this time, the caller is sure to be dialling the right number.

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