IT WAS my father who decided that I should become a lawyer. My mother wanted me to be like her youngest brother, who was a public school teacher, while I, having spent my entire young life tilling the farm, dreamed of going to Los Baños to pursue a course in agriculture. But the moment Papa made known his preference, the matter was settled.

My father always won arguments in the house. He was used to it. He was a police chief and he ruled the town with an iron hand, terrorizing truant children whose toys he confiscated if he saw them playing in the streets during school hours. He was not popular with the kids but their parents applauded.

Not that we (my younger sister Gloria and I) dared argue with him. That was unthinkable during our time. Children were told to keep away while the adults were talking, otherwise one would get a spanking if a glare was not enough. That edict was cast in granite but more so in our home.

In fact, we never had a conversation with Papa that lasted more than four sentences and that was only when we didn’t get the instructions at the first instance. It was always do this, do that. He didn’t bother to tell us why and how. We were supposed to know those. After all, we were a police chief’s children.

My father was dedicated to his work. He was proud of the uniform he wore and paid for it with a bullet in his leg. The circumstances of the shooting were hazy. All that we were told was that he was wounded in the line of duty. It was not ours to ask how and why.

I took Papa’s attitude as the norm in all households until I was old enough to see that other fathers and their sons had a “different” relationship. I noticed that they went fishing together, laughed together and did things together. Inside me, I wished that my father went with my mother and me to till the farm and to carry on our shoulders on our way back home firewood for the kitchen and feeds for Mama’s hogs. That never happened.

But I still missed Papa when I left home to pursue his dream for me. Of course, I missed my mother and my kid sister more. By then, a deeper question had begun to haunt me. Does my father love me? It was a question I wanted to ask but never did because he was busy and I was afraid of the answer. After I passed the bar, he left our town to live with us but by that time, it was I who was too busy trying to raise a family to ask him.

So it was until my father breathed his last. And I wept not only because I lost him but also because I never got to ask the question I have always wanted to ask. How couldn’t I have found time for him? Did he love me? The thought tormented me for weeks. I couldn’t even take a look at the things that he left.

Then one day, I finally was able to summon the courage to open his maleta. The edges were frayed, the handle broken and in some parts the leather cover was torn. But the inside still had a new look to it and its contents were neatly filed, folders tied in ribbons or held in place by rubber bands.

Inside the folders were the honor ribbons that I earned since primary grades, copies of mimeographed programs of affairs where I had a part and pictures of my father and me. Memories began to flood: my father visiting me at primary school with gifts of paper and pencil, him lending me his only pair of shoes for my commencement exercises, he and I walking proudly together to the stage to get my ribbons, the papaya trees that he and I grew together in our backyard and him retiring from the police so I could use his retirement pay for bar review.

Relief and immense joy seized me. My father did love me after all in his own unique way.

I never got to tell this to him until now and so with feelings let me say now, happy birthday and happy father’s day, Papa.