Food was my father’s love language.
Yesterday, a young friend of mine sent over some delicious lengua with mushrooms and right away, it brought back a flood memories about dad, and my childhood. I had been missing my father this week. The missing triggered perhaps by the circumstances we live in, by certain things going on in my life, and by the fact that Father’s Day is just around the corner.
Growing up, weekends were something that I always looked forward because it meant that I would be able to hang out with dad. It also meant trips to the bookstore and a delicious lunch, and my father’s undivided attention afterwards.
In the late 70s my dad worked for a cement company whose headquarters were in Makati – on Salcedo street, in Legaspi village. It’s strange how the details of one’s treasured memories stays firmly in the brain no matter that decades have passed. He would work from 10 to 12noon and I would hang out with his assistant outside his office. Afterwards, we would head to lunch either at the Intercon Hotel’s Jeepney coffeeshop, or to Sulo in the Makati commercial center. At the Jeepney coffeeshop it would always be Indonesian satay for me, and over at Sulo, it would be chicken barbecue and a butterscotch sundae. To this very day, each time I eat satay, it is my father that I think about.
More than the food, the memories associated with those dishes remind me of the care and attention he would give me on all those Saturdays that I would be with him. Over these meals he would regale me with stories, teach me values, and life lessons that I carry with me to this day. My dad was a stickler for etiquette and proper decorum and he made sure I learned those lessons well. Table manners needed to be known and practiced by heart. Sending thank you notes when gifts were received and returning calls were ingrained into my system. Dad was the one who taught me how to read, and develop in me a life-long passion for the written word. He made sure that this thirst for reading and knowledge was quenched by Saturday afternoon trips to the bookstore. The day would be capped with merienda at La Cibeles and then we would head home.
On Sundays I had to share dad with the rest of the family. Sunday meals were often spent at a Chinese, Spanish or Japanese restaurant. Kimpura would always be a great treat. I learned to eat sushi at the age of nine from my dad. Because he knew I loved tempura so much, he would often take me to those tempura eat all you can places. Kamameshi rice reminds me so much of my dad as well.
Dad had a thing for dimsum and sweet and sour pork. In the late 70s, Aberdeen Court in Makati became a favourite family haunt on Sundays. When we didn’t like to go far from home, after mass at Sanctuario de San Jose, we would head to a Spanish restaurant (i think it was an Alba’s) and there I would eat lengua and mashed potatoes to my heart’s delight.
My mom was not the cooking type of mama. I learned how to eat well and to discern what good food was like because of my dad. I suppose he learned it from his mother whose dishes are legendary. My dad tried to bribe my mom by getting her a really top of the line stove and oven that must have cost him a fortune. My mom didn’t budge. Dad gave up after that.
Dad was a man ahead of his time. He did the groceries, made sure the pantry at home would always be fully stocked with healthy food, taught our Yaya to cook the dishes his mother used to make for them, and attended our parent teacher meetings. My dad always held me up to a high standard such that if I had a B- grade in one of my subjects, I would get so sick with worry the day before report cards were released. Looking back now, I guess he only wanted me to always strive for excellence. He always frowned on mediocre work.
Dad’s love language was food, gifts, acts of service, and quality time. He was a man of few words but he always wrote the most beautiful letters whenever he was away for work. I have kept those letters to this day and when I find myself missing him on certain occasions such as this, I pull them out of safekeeping and re-read them once more. Each time that I do, it feels as though my father is right there, across from me, his words giving me comfort as I dive through a dish that he taught me to love and enjoy. In so many ways, I am truly my father’s daughter. And though I had him only for 16 years, the memories we made together have been enough to carry me through this lifetime. To this day, I continue to feel his love, and I know he watches over me. Hopefully proud of the life that I have made for myself, and the woman that I have become.