I really didn’t intend to visit my dad in Manila anytime soon. The only family trip I was planning this year was my Thanksgiving visit to my mom and sister in Honolulu. But life seems to hit you in the most disruptive spots when you least expect it. So I did a whirlwind trip last week to Manila and back to make such a visit. My dad is sick so I flew to Manila to be with him. It reads so simple in 13 words but the reality is much severe.

My dad is sick. I first heard of this from my mom when she called one Tuesday afternoon to tell me that he was taken into the hospital. Then, one bright spring Friday morning, I am surprised to see 3 missed calls register in my cellphone — my mom’s in Honolulu, my cousin’s in Dallas and my aunt in NY. I thought my dad had already died. I called every single one of them at lunch time and they echoed the same sentiment. He was very close to dying. He suffered a heart attack and had been taken to the ICU of St. Luke’s Hospital in Manila. Apparently, the doctors did a good job. They pumped the water out of his lungs and managed a successful angioplasty. Three of his arteries remain to be blocked which necessitates a triple bypass procedure. It was discovered that he has had a long history of addiction to painkillers which somehow neutralized its effects in his body especially when needed. The angioplasty ended up being a painful procedure considering that the anesthesia wasn’t completely being effective. The whole family is rallying for him to undergo the triple bypass. The whole family wants him to live. He wants to forego the whole procedure. He has thrown his hands in and given himself to fate.

So I flew to see him. I was supposed to fly out to show support as he undergoes his triple by pass surgery. But at that point that he still did not want to do it, then I asked myself what I had flown in there for. The initial reason for the trip suddenly became moot. I needed to grapple with a much more satisfying reason. I flew out there to be with him in our family’s time of need.

I remember distinct conversations with family members. My aunt spoke in imperatives: “When are you going home — this week or next?” My brother spoke with a dramatic bent: “Do you want to see him when he’s alive or do you want to see him when he’s dead?” My dad spoke in what seemed to be a genuine plea: “Yes. I want you to go home.” Ultimately, hearing the latter cemented my decision.

I would like to think of myself as the callous if not prodigal son. I had left and wandered away and seemed to not want to turn back. (I was indeed gone for over 7 years and felt neither the need nor want to go back until absolutely necessary.) Of course, there is that propensity for self-imposed drama that this thought process manages to satisfy.

But I am not as insensitive as I would like to think or portray myself as. I was distraught when i first heard the news. I had been moved by my dad’s plea. I remain to grapple with the meaning of this ongoing event. The process is integrally an emotional event. To reflect on something is to be affected by it.

A good friend here in NY mentioned something that struck me to the core a few nights before I left for Manila. Here was a man who had just witnessed sheer trauma — coming home to his Chelsea apartment on a weeknight and finding his roommate hanging from the beam in his room — and all lI could come up with when I spoke to him were staid, (un)funny (if not less appropriate) one-liners. He said that I was unfeeling — that I lived without emotion. He observed this with my responses regarding this situation with my father. The unsaid part could also be true with my responses regarding his own situation. Hollow humor never spoke much if anything. When all is said and laughed at, there remains no real response to hold on to and bring home to one’s solace. (Maybe the same can be said for petty whining.)

Am I unfeeling?

I flew out to be with my dad. What did to be with someone mean?

Interrelation is key. But intellectualization ultimately is not. But it cannot be denied that to be is inevitably linked with an object, a someone. I cannot be by myself. The other is always a constant (subject-object) presence. But my problem has never been the absence of knowing. It can probably be too much knowing — excessive intellectualization can lead to it being impulsive. Instead of instinctive affectation, I instantly succumb to the defense of the antiseptic thought process — sinking into myself and not stretching outward to risk the other’s unknown response of either acceptance or rejection. It is always a safe and satisfying and purely egotistical and self-serving way to be.

I was always raised to be self-absorbed. But to grow older always presents itself the opportunity for change, whether slow or salvific. Just because I was self-absorbed does not mean that I should continue to do so.

I’ve always held strongly to my dad dying if he wanted to. Let people die if they want to. No one is indispensable. The world will continue to turn. But people are not abstract concepts. Not everyone remains to be statistic. The world is not the sum of 10 billion people but the few who matter around me. When they do die, they will flow into being a mere statistic in the anthropologic record of death but they will forever be an integral part of my life, my history, my being. These people are not indispensable. No one can replace my father.

Him dying is much in my own mystery dying. People spend their whole lives trying to figure out who they are and, yet, forget to seek answers from the flesh and blood who brought them forth and nurtured them in those most important years of formation.

No one can replace my father. I flew out to Manila to be with him because he is sick. It sounds so simple that it risks betraying the gravity that the weight of the statement holds.

But, as sick as my dad is, he is also just as stubborn. It seems I underestimated how stubborn my dad was. (This is quite a small surprise since I am an old mule myself.) I flew out to Manila on Sunday and it was not until that Friday that I along with my family managed to drag him to the hospital to see the doctor.

It was interesting how everyone began that day beaming with hope that my dad might finally submit to doing the bypass procedure. The car ride out to the hospital was a big cheerleading routine meant to entertain and to encourage my father to do so. We finally made it to the hospital and into the doctor’s clinic. The doctor turned out to be this effeminate guy in his mid-40’s who dished out lots of medicalese (supposedly because he was in a roomful of doctors — my dad, my brother and his wife, and my other brother — who would manage to understand his jargon.)

The whole exercise that was the check-up was meant to elucidate what was already known. My dad’s heart is deteriorating. The normal systolic rate was 55 and he was already undergoing mild to moderate cardiac sclerosis since his was at a rate of 40-45. His heart is suffering regurgitation and is already becoming enlarged by the day. His medication can only do so much to alleviate his condition. Ultimately, he needs to undergo heart bypass to alow the healthy flow of blood in and ou of his heart. Foolishly not doing so is fatal. (I found it particularly striking how he compared dying unexpectedly, or as Joan Didion would succinctly call it — life ending as you know it in an instant — after eating a hearty plate of salty fish.)

What I did not know but quietly expected was how dad my remained unbudging in his refusal to submit to the operation. He was very adept at selling his own agenda of making the doctor believe that he was already feeling better, already too well to even need to undergo the surgery. Suddenly, medication trumps operation. His sister admirably tried to do all the talking. She looked to us for support in what was turning out to be a lost cause. My brother stepped up and asked about the surgery’s schedule at which point my dad just stood up and abruptly left. I couldn’t say anything. I remained to be torn between my pragmatic self — live and let die — and my reflective self — my dad is indispensable. The dilemma shut me up. My other brother clammed up as well. We ended up having what turned out to be a futile discussion. The object of our attention was not even in that room anymore. He had already stepped out and had been anxious to leave. I remember the trip back to the house being a lot less energetic, due to a sense of deflation. We had gone to he hospital expecting something good but had gone back to the house frustrated and defeated.

My dad is indispensable but I can only do so much to prevent him from choosing to make himself so. He knows he has a death sentence if he doesn’t do it and yet, he maintains his fatal stance. He is dying off his own decision and he is killing us along with it. A big part of ourselves dies when he dies. We are already all dying together, for now, painlessly, with each anxious moment. Life, as you know it, unfolds its ending, in every waking moment.

I said farewell to him before flying back to NY. Our hands touched each other in a clasp for a few seconds before the van sped off. It was the most poignant moment we’ve had in a long time. For a man who hasn’t said much in 28 years, moreso, act out how he felt, that heartfelt touching was a welcome surprise. It was more than a meaningful gesture, it was a testament to the hope that remained in him. I believe it was a sign that he still has a few surprises left in him. He may choose death now, but I would like to believe that he remains to grapple with the decision that will affect him and his family. I would like for him to pull off another surprise, an even bigger one this time. That is where my hope is.

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