A yuletide reunion with my son’s family led me back to the elementary grades.

Back to when, after the New Year, our teacher would have us develop “How I Spent My Christmas Vacation” in our theme writing class.

Christmas has been well-spent this year, Ma’am, wherever you are. No need for the fictional embellishments we used to stretch our mangled pieces with – and your patience in reading them. The spirit of the season is back and felt, unlike when you asked us to write on “My Pet Dog” which some of my classmates didn’t have. I also felt how it was to write from a vacuum early in high school, on “My First Dance” that only came during the junior-senior’s prom.

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I’m 59 now, yet still grappling with my grammar and syntax, trying to out-grow those long, complex sentences rolled into heavy paragraphs that only a child’s mind could connect. At times I write as if I were still in your class, filling up the whole theme paper with non sequitor, hoping to merit a higher rating based on effort and length, rather than on form and substance.

I almost had this whole December with Lukie, now seven, and finally met Dylan, who just blew three candles here. Yet their vacation that began at advent seems only a week for my son Johann and his wife Lovelyn (nee Pontino of Tublay, Bengue). They’re flying back to work in Venice on the third, to continue raising the two kids where they were born - for their future’s sake.

That’s why we hate airports sometimes. That’s why, I guess, Danny, my counterpart in Tublay, may see them off from his home in 18 Ambassador. His lovely daughters made him a grandpa seven times over. Lovelyn and Johann gave me two and they’re leaving before they irretrievably spoil me twice over.

Lukie has out-grown his tantrums while Dylan gives us respite only when he tires himself out from messing things up in the house and finally goes to sleep.

They’ve been drawing me home immediately after work, before they get tucked in bed. By then, Dylan would have dismembered another of those red Ferrari models’ friend Peewee Agustin bought him months back with his Shell gas receipts.

That’s why I’m grateful to Lovelyn’s employer, a gentle Italian who, before his tragic death, willed her family an amount enough for four precious round-trip tickets. Other wise the young couldn’t’ be here this December. The gift mercifully allowed Dylan’s teacher a well-deserved Christmas break before her youngest ward wreaks havoc again in and outside her nursery class...

I’ll miss the mess, the wailing and the noise when I return home from the airport to the deafening quiet. I’ll think twice about breaking the silence by turning on the television, to Nickelodeon’s Sponge Bob and Co. the kids hollered for. The antidote will be the recurrent, comforting thought about prayers answered for a couple yearning to be parents.

One evening some years after their marriage, Johann and Lovelyn waited for me to finish supper before they sat by the table. Their eyes welled as they confided questions about why it was taking that long to make me a grandfather. I had no answer, except to ask them to be patient.

When Lukie was born in the middle of winter, Johann texted me he couldn’t describe his joy over finally becoming a father. “Perhaps that’s how your father felt when you and your sister Veronica were born,” I texted back.

As she was cooking dinner this yuletide, Lovelyn opened up to me again. She told me some of Johann’s friends didn’t approve of her when the two started dating.

They first met at the Wright Park where he was renting out a pony, as his dad did.

Her trust like I were her own father lifted me to cloud nine. It negated my suspicion sometimes about Adam being the luckiest husband for having no relatives. Some friends act like relatives sometimes, I wanted to say. Thanks be to the Lord they couldn’t choose for you or for Johann; you chose each other, I said, with a heart warmed by the honor of her trust.

I knew they were meant for each other when, after a spat, Johann came home to tell me he was selling Solico, his spirited white pony, and with it the horse number. Said he needed a ticket to Davao where Lovelyn repaired to her aunt’s place. Told him I’d be here should they fail to mend each other’s hearts.

A couple of days after, Lovelyn called up, addressing me “Sir”. She asked if Boogie could stay longer with her in Davao. For all I care, I almost blurted out, then feigned concern over their having to feed my son for days.

Aside from bringing home the kids to meet their Kalanguya, Ifugao and non-Igorot relatives, the couple handed me Tim Russert’s “The Wisdom of Our Fathers”. The book, which has yet to surface in the local “wagwag” bookshops, was sent to them by Milo Candelario, a retired U.S. Navy servicemen. I grew up with Milo climbing Spanish guava trees and renting out ponies.

Milo reconnected two years back, after 40 years. As Filipinos would, I asked him a favor – please send my son a copy of “Moving Zen”. It’s about C.W. Nicol’s account of his training in the Shotokan (traditional) style of karate. Johann, a first dan whose work hauling tourist luggage to raise a family has kept him from the gym for years, said he read the book the moment he unwrapped it.

Milo added Russert’s collection of anecdotes about fathers. It took a while before I opened it. I needed more time with the two rowdy kids. In her entry in the book, Pat Frantz Cercone, daughter of Richard Frantz, shared: “It’s perfectly natural to honor the man who’d been the only mother I’ve had for more than forty years.” A parallel book would have expressed it the other way around about a mother being one’s best father in the world. My own father, an unschooled laborer and widower, was my mother since I was six.

Up to the latest page I dog-eared, nothing much was written about the failings of fathers.

Yet the profusion of daddies’ wisdom triggers guilt - over a father’s absence from his kids when they were young. Poverty might have been an obvious reason. It’s really more of an alibi that can’t hold water – or hold back tears - for those detachments that blinded fathers to the truth that kids will out-grow their innocence.

The Yuletide theme back in the grades is my alibi for turning personal. I’ve opened up with the hope Lukie and Dylan would read this when they’re have grown up and start tracing their roots and knowing their parents better. And also learn why Danny and I will treasure this season. (e-mail: mondaxbench@yahoo.com for comments).