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Papa’s turn

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My father called “ten-four” in May 2007 at 95 in Hawaii. To be sure, my Dad did not passively fade out. My brother, one of Honolulu’s finest chaplains, would get a call as a white and blue car picked up my Dad walking by his lonesome down the freeway in the middle of the night. Until he was bedridden, he had the habit of pulling off childish “pranks” of disappearing from elders’ care quarters.

Now my Mama remains semi-ambulatory in an elders’ care home in Hawaii. She will be 95 this September and she might just make another year. I saw her a year ago; she perked up in Iloko: Adda ka met? Kaano ka nga simmangpet? (So, you are here; when did you arrive?)

But yesterday (today across the International dateline) was Papa’s turn, and Manny losing to Floyd had not been easy on Pinoy Papas! A majority, however, rooted for Stephen Curry and the Warriors against the affable LeBron James of the Cavaliers, so that sort of even up the scale.

Let me borrow Ruth Benedict’s distinction in the Chrysanthemum and the Sword she wrote shortly after WWII between guilt culture and shame culture to explain Japan, helpful on the big picture but disintegrates quickly when dealing with particulars.

Growing up under Papa’s Iesu Church, guilt is an overriding category, and the image of heaven “from whence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead” abides. Fear of retribution is a constant, and knowing what is “right and wrong” is the key. While there is a patina of shame involved, virtue is made solely on the basis of merit.

The oriental male is deeply imbued with a sense of propriety, of pride and honor. Ano na lang ang sasabihin nila? (What will other people say?), is the frequent Filipino question. Sino ka ba? (Who are you?) taunts integrity.

In Sinosphere, the virtue of face (Mienzi) as a cultural factor, a determinant to social standing, cannot be overestimated. Status is of utmost importance, and with current identity dependent on the health of the bank account’s bottom line, finances becomes the primary gauge of masculinity!

Next comes outward appearance at a premium. My “Polo” labeled shirts with the 1-inch logo that was pretentious when I first wore them, has grown into 5 inches tall in the new editions, worn by many in the golf links and commercial malls, the department stores, and at airports, in Saipan and other parts of the world.

A friend who once considered paying a cool $1,000 for a Burberry plaid overcoat on sale that might cost over a hundred without the brand label at the bazaar, is dismayed that the $2,000 offering at Galleria today is a discounted price. A scarf from the same shop of the same brand is $1,250 on sale!

A Chinese lad asks questions on brand names merrily mispronouncing Givenchy, Louis Vitton, Gucci, and others displayed in Garapan. Converse and Nike used to be just rubber shoes, Dunhill were cigarettes we lit up by the river away from girlfriends and conservative Church members, Haggar was for casuals and Van Heusen was dress shirt until one got fashionable for a few more pesetas and opt for the Ralph Lauren. Now I cannot even afford to look at Garapan’s window dressings, though I know how to pronounce Salvatore Ferragamo!

So, what do Papa’s do on Father’s Day? Ah, there is always sports (boxing and the NBA for Pinoy Dads); CNMI girls played soccer and lost to China, NoKor, and HK but many are back getting tanned swimming and playing tennis at Marpi, while drag racing adds to the score.

Papas of weaker constitution turn to couch potato-hood, an undignified but widely practiced turning into a profession. Not a TV denizen since moving into the skies of the Marianas (I refused to pay the cable company’s rebroadcasts), I tend to walk the Saipan lagoon pathway for exercise, while speculating why sometimes there are only two rather than four of the floating military supply ships beyond our reefs.

I took two daughters to a public swimming pool in Guam once, and the younger one asked to be taught how to swim. “No problem,” I said, so I lifted her up and dropped her at the deep end of the pool. She did not hesitate a bit, did not cry “murder,” and learned to tread water. “Swimming” for nine months in Mama’s womb naturally conditions our reflexes to tread on water.

I’ve long ago abandoned guilt and shame categories on cultures. There is nothing to support either one as a starting point. I remind my children and students that at the starting gate of human existence, it is true that one is born a “winner” and “free.”

A rehash: of the 200 million sperms that my Papa ejaculated into my Mama’s egg in a moment of passion, a sperm and an egg merged together to dance life into a marvelous repertoire of skeletal frames, muscular, digestive, respiratory, and nervous systems that guide a creature’s intentionality into human society.

Whatever guilt-ridden Augustine said to quiet his qualms, I would not apologize for being here, all 86 years of it, nor should I be beholden to any stratified social construct that tells me how to act.

That’s this Papa. We’ll leave the others with their neckties!

Jaime R. Vergara | Special to the Saipan Tribune
Jaime Vergara previously taught at SVES in the CNMI. A peripatetic pedagogue, he last taught in China but makes Honolulu, Shenyang, and Saipan home. He can be reached at pinoypanda2031@aol.com.

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