My father died a long time ago (19 years to be exact), when I was four.
From then on, my uncles became my stand-in fathers. But then, the one closest to me died 5 years ago. The second one (which is close by house proximity) is bedridden since 2010.
I have a curious case of having a cousin for a godfather or ninong. Ever since I started living in Manila for college, he has been my surrogate father and guardian. I used to stay in his apartment in Diliman during weekends or holidays and summer, and when he moved to Nueva Ecija 3 years ago, I would visit him during April or May.
When he became my ninong, his first Christmas gift to me was Roald Dahl’s book,The Witches which made me a bibliophile at 7 years old (I was baptized late; that’s one reason I hate the Catholic Church, but I’d save it for another post). After that, he’d give me another Dahl title, or a classic novel (I remember him giving me Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, Lewis Carroll’s Alice Adventures in Wonderland) or other fiction during summer (it’s his way of rewarding my efforts as an honor student during grade school) or Christmas vacation (which also doubles as my birthday gift, since I was born on the 23rd) . When I was 9, he gave me a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and that ladies and gentlemen, made me a JK Rowling fan.
He was a book lover himself–I remember his bookshelves in Diliman and when he transferred to Nueva Ecija, he also moved them. Unlike me, his literary scope was vast–from non-fiction biographies to fiction novels and poetry and coffee table books. He’d lend me his books freely and I would devour every single one of them. I took care of his books, like it was mine (I hate people borrowing books and then returning them to me tattered or soiled. No respect for the owner, no respect for the book :/). Sometimes, he’d give me one of his books on a whim. He was really a generous person.
And his generosity is not limited to that. He is a lawyer and was a bar topnotcher in his earlier years (he is 43 now; imagine the 20-year gap :O) but he chose to practice by himself and join NGOs (mostly catering to the rural poor) rather than work in a prestigious law firm.
What I like most about my cousin-slash-ninong is that he is the only person who can understand me–he has always understood what I feel and experience–even more than my own mother or sister. He’s like a father to me, ever since I started living in Manila when I was 16.
I miss him. He’s currently in Indonesia for a 1-month training and work immersion. When I came back to Manila since the end of May and informed him of my rebellion (LOL to mom) and my plans, he has guided, supported and cheered me every time (especially if the outcomes of my work interviews were disappointing). Here–in this megalopolis, he is my source of strength and wisdom.
He knows I am worried of my unemployment (I can’t count being a research assistant for a professor doing her master’s thesis as real work since we don’t meet a lot). He knows I want to be independent–to be free from what our family and gossiping neighbors say back in our hometown–to live my life as I wanted it to be. And I love him for that. I owe him my second life.
Maraming salamat, Kuya. Ingat lagi.