(This photo essay has a video version. To see the video, please click here)
There comes a time in every person’s life when the only way to move forward is by looking back.
In my 30th year of existence, and my father’s 20th year of absence, this is exactly what I did.
This photo essay is the witness to my journey.
Back of head against photos, slide from photo essay "Fatherless Figure"
I was turning 10 when my father disappeared. I wasn’t young enough to pretend I had no idea what was going on. But I wasn’t old enough to completely understand everything either. I found comfort in hiding behind fabricated stories to explain why I was fatherless and eventually got confused about which stories were mine and which ones were reality’s. The most natural thing to do was to conveniently forget. But after 20 years of forgetting, the mind questions and the heart cries out.
Mayon Volcano, part of the photo essay "Fatherless Figure"
I followed my heart and found myself celebrating my 30th birthday in Bicol. This is where my parents were assigned when I was born. I didn’t expect to find any relatives or family friends but I had never been back here since I was born. I was hoping that by returning to my birthplace, I would be able to connect with my past where my father has indefinitely chosen to stay.
half a boat on lake bato, part of the photo essay "Fatherless Figure"
My mother was the one who told me I was born next to a lake. She told me a lot of stories about my father too. But whenever I stop and think about my father, my whole world slows down and I feel like I’m stuck on shore; never certain if I should completely stop and clam up or head for the ocean and face the turmoil.
boatman on lake bato, part of the photo essay "Fatherless Figure"
“A hazy postcard,” is how I would describe whatever memory I have of my father. I have no recollection of him spending time to bond with me, or of him telling me stories about my mother. Sometimes I suspect that these memories actually exist but repressing them is my mind’s way of protecting me from the pain of remembering.
Kids playing in lake bato, part of the photo essay "Fatherless Figure"
I found the lake and saw a lot of happy faces. Surprisingly, mine was one of them. Perhaps the happiness comes from knowing that I’m a better, more compassionate person because of what happened to my father. I rest in knowing that his disappearance has given me something to fight for, but not necessarily something to be happy about.
Shadow of kid playing in lake bato, part of the photo essay "Fatherless Figure"
My father’s memories have become more elusive than shadows at high noon. And this, to me, was a frightening thought. When our loved ones die, their remains serve as a reminder of our bond. But when someone is taken away from us, including their body, all we have left are the memories. As I played with the children I had just met, I vowed to myself that I would do everything in my power to keep our memories intact.
Shore of Bicol, part of the photo essay "Fatherless Figure"
“Head for the ocean and face the turmoil” was obviously what I tried to do by traveling to Bicol. But there was no turmoil. And I haven’t decided if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. But there certainly was a resolve, and that is to chase the memories and to keep them alive.
Sunset in Bicol, part of the photo essay "Fatherless Figure"
My mother and I let the sun set on my father’s memory 10 years ago when we held a tribute for him. I never quite understood the event but if I am to revive the memories, I had better understood this whole thing. Starting, of course, with the issues behind the disappearance.
Holding candle an Loyola Memorial Park, part of the photo essay "Fatherless Figure"
Ever since my grandparents died, I’ve been spending a lot of time visiting their grave. They would have been a good source of information, not about the disappearance per se, but the memories they had of my parents and more specifically, my father. My grandmother was not a big fan of my parents’ relationship. But her perspective would have put more dimension to whatever I got from my mother.
Silhoutte of man at Loyola Memorial Park, part of the photo essay "Fatherless Figure"
Holding a candle with no tomb to put it next to is one of the most painful things to endure. I sometimes settle for placing the candle on my grandparents’ grave. This always makes me feel I am doing injustice to my father. Sometimes I secretly wish that he is safe with my grandparents on other side. But I quickly realize I don’t believe in that concept.
Candle on a graveless lot at Loyola Memorial Park, part of the photo essay "Fatherless Figure"
To this day, the last paragraph of an article I wrote in college still strikes a chord within me:
“Just for tonight, I stop my search for my father. As I light this candle, I think of all the other disappeared and the families they left. My candle is just one of the many candles in the neighborhood lit for lonely wandering souls. But this one is special. This one’s for my father.”
Facing the sunrise at Loyola Memorial Park, part of the photo essay "Fatherless Figure"
Even though looking back was painful, it was meaningful. And now, as I turn and look forward. Every sunrise I spend without the father I barely knew is not another day to mourn but another chance to fight. He is not around to sit beside me and appreciate the view but he is certainly in my heart. He is not beside me but when I look over my shoulder, I see hundreds of other families of the disappeared and I rest in knowing that other minds are also questioning, and other hearts are also crying out.
rondevera | 20FEB2011