When I became a mother in the U.S., my Dad was the one who helped me with the kids. He would visit every day and look after my children. For more than 10 years he watched over them while I commuted from my home in New Jersey to New York City, where I worked.
On Friday nights he would stay up marinating beef with his special BBQ sauce, knowing the joy that each delicious bite would bring to his children and grandchildren. At least once a week, he would cook his signature chicken and pork ‘adobo,’ the only Filipino American dish that my four children still eat. Dad slow-cooked the ‘adobo’ in a way that I could actually bite into the bones, savoring the garlic, soy sauce and vinegar flavors that were fused into the chicken bone marrow.
Dad taught my children how to play the piano, to love God and to value the gift of giving. His eyes twinkled at the sound of their giggles.
I miss my Dad.
It’s been seven years since I last celebrated Father’s Day with my Dad, Serapio Dompor Jr.
His lifelong dream was to become an American citizen, and enable his family to spend their lives here. In the 19 years that he was in this country, he had spent his life savings on attorneys’ fees trying to legalize his status. Unfortunately, in 2005, as a result of incompetent legal advice and a bit of bad luck, he – together with my mother and three brothers — was deported and banned from applying to re-enter the U.S. for at least the next 10 years.
Unfortunately for my family, the comprehensive immigration reform bill that’s being debated in Congress and meant to clear the backlog for about 12 million undocumented immigrants will not apply to them. The energy and money they had spent trying to remain here legally is lost forever. Had they avoided the legal system altogether, and chose instead to remain in the shadows, their outcome would likely have been much better.
Today, after eight decades of life, my Dad looks fragile and helpless. He recognizes that his dream of becoming an American will likely never be realized. But like all the other tragedies that he has faced throughout a long life, Dad has never lost faith in God and family. Over the years he survived several near-death medical episodes. For the last few years he has been on dialysis, and his health has been declining.
As he lay on his bed, I will always see my Dad as the Everyman’s replica of Filipino actor Mario Montenegro. In my opinion, my Dad possesses the same dashing looks, his clothes were always well pressed, his hair neatly combed, and he is never angry.
I last visited the Philippines two years ago, and Dad looked very fragile and thin. His skin hung loosely from his bones. His hair had turned grayer. He said to me in an exhausted voice, “Hirap na ako. Nagdadasal na ako na kunin na para matapos na ang paghihirap.” (I’m tired. I pray that God take me now so that my suffering will end.)
Teary-eyed, he continued in a soft tone. “Jen, keep the family intact. Remind them that every action I did, I did for our family. I’m sorry that we suffered. I just hope that at least you and your brothers will stay close. That’s my one wish and hopefully one thing I have done right. I wish the pain would end.”
“There’s so much pain, financially, physically, and spiritually.” He paused to swallow. He took a deep breath and continued. “Some things we just don’t understand. Look at Jesus Christ himself. He is God and yet He had to suffer and die on the cross to remind us.”
‘For Dad, family comes first.’
It’s been said that there’s a unique bond between a daughter and her father, one that is beautiful and unconditional, flawless and authentic. That a daughter can do no wrong in her father’s eyes. Dad and I had that remarkable bond, nurtured by respect, affection and devotion to our family.
I kissed Dad’s forehead and said goodnight as he closed his eyes to sleep. That night, I couldn’t sleep. I listened to the sound of a nearby waterfall. It was hypnotic. I drifted into semi-consciousness, looking back at what my family had been through trying to stay in America. It was as if the stresses of life were being washed away by the steady and gentle currents.
My Dad is still fighting to live. My Mom cares for him every day. My five brothers and I help any way we can.
This Sunday is Father’s Day. But for me and my brothers, every day is Father’s Day because Dad taught us that family comes first.
When I was learning how to walk, my Dad was there to guide and teach me.When Dad could no longer walk on his own, I was there to guide him and help him stand.
When I was learning to eat, my Dad was there to teach and feed me.
When Dad could no longer feed himself, I helped him eat and rubbed his back when swallowing was tough.
When I was learning how to use the bathroom, my Dad was there to guide and change me.
When Dad could no longer go to the bathroom on his own, I was there to help him.
When I didn’t know how to speak, Dad was there to understand my ramblings.
When Dad couldn’t form the words, I was there to try to understand what he wanted to say.
The poem quoted above was included in my book, "Out of Status".
This essay was submitted to The FilAm magazine.
For my Dad, for whom the American Dream has been a struggle worth fighting for .
Note: The author's father passed away on April 24, 2014.