Tuesday, February 04, 2003

A Man of Few Words

A man in his fifties, my father, Charles, lies down on his bed, fiddling with his mobile phone as I interview him. There can be no mistake about his age as his face shows wrinkles and his hair shows several streaks of white. My interview with him can be summarized with these three words: “yes”, “no”, and “tradition”. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I begin my interview by asking him about his beginnings. He was born on May 5, 1945 in Manila, one of three sons and the brother to three girls. What makes interviewing father difficult is the fact that he answers in the least amount of words and seldom expounds. I have to drag it out of him bit by bit. For example, I drift to the subject concerning his mother, since she is the second wife to a widowed husband.
“Did the fact that your mother is the second wife affect you?” I ask.
“No.” he replies. I wait for him to add more but his eyes drifts.
Studying in Hope Christian High School in grade school apparently had a great effect on him. It was there where he met future wife, being schoolmates and best friends. It was also a Protestant school and probably determined his current religion. I then ask about him about being a Chinese living here in the Philippines.
“Was it difficult?”
“No.” Again, my father proves that he is a man of few words.
“By then, did you already learn how to speak in Chinese and Filipino?”
“Yes.” Of course I find this a contradiction since a few years back, father was telling me that when he came to school, he couldn’t speak English adeptly that his classmates would tease him about it.
“By then, what was grandfather’s job?”
“He was a proprietor.”
“A proprietor of what?”
“A cigarette factory.”
“What was your goal then?”
“I wanted to be a businessman.”
“What were you selling?”
“I wasn’t selling anything. I had an auto-repair shop.”
“Once you got to start your own business, how did things move on?”
“Describe it.”
“Well, when you’re starting something, it’s hard. You don’t know anybody and you have to do everything.”
“After the auto-repair shop?”
“After the auto-repair shop, I went into the importation of spare parts.”
“And then?”
“And then I was 1-2-3.”
“What do you mean 1-2-3?”
“I extended credit and my client didn’t pay me.”
“And then?”
“And then I went into bearing business.”
“And then?”
“And then now the printing business.”
I was thankful for the reprieve when my sister came into the room and interrupted us. It gave me a few moments to think and reflect on how reluctant my father is when it comes to interviews. I soon steer the conversation to my father’s relationship with my mother.
“Did you court someone else aside from mother?”
“No chance.”
“What do you mean no chance?”
“Busy doing what?
“Studying. And working.”
“Before that you weren’t introduced to anyone else?”
“Would you marry a non-Chinese person?”
“Because it’s a tradition.”
“How about us? Are you allowing us to marry someone not Chinese?”
“What would happen if we marry someone not Chinese?”
“What if one of us.”
“I do not know.”
“So when did you decide to marry mommy?”
“After I finished my college.”
“Did you plan for that?”
“When were you married?”
“I married in 1969.”
“When did you have brother?”
“Ask him. I don’t know.”
“Was his birth planned?”
“Why didn’t you have him sooner?”
“Because at the time I was poor. I had to save, that’s why I had to plan.”
“How about us?”
“Me and Charvee [my sister].”
“By accident.”
“What do you mean accident?”
“We practiced family planning but we miscalculated, so now you’re here. The same with your sister.”
At this point, I steered the conversation to a different angle.
“When you were born were you already Protestant?”
“I was studying in a Protestant school in grade school. And then a Catholic school in high school and college.”
“So what is your religion now?”
“My religion is born-again Protestant.”
“How did that come about if you studied in a Catholic school in high school?”
“What do you mean come about?”
“How did you make the decision?”
“I made the decision because I don’t believe in religion but I believe in Jesus Christ, so I don’t care whether Protestant or Catholic as long as you believe in Jesus Christ period.”
And so I ended the interview, my father asking me what it was for. I merely told him that it was for an assignment in class. It’s not only him that can be evasive.

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