Manila, 7 October—Among my many ongoing personal projects is one I share with my dad, who is helping his batch from the Navy put together a class yearbook of sorts. Naturally, as the daughter who is the writer, I am in charge of editing his write-up—polishing grammar, tightening sentence construction, and occasionally having to write down entire paragraphs as they are dictated to me over the phone.
My father has never been the storyteller; I've known him to be generally reserved and quiet. I leave the storytelling to auntie, who has been my father's wife and confidant for the last two decades. Anything I needed to know about my father, I learned from auntie.
So this project is quite a nice surprise—reading about how my father got into the Navy, and what they did while in there. "I was lucky—I was neither extraordinarily bright, privileged, tall, nor short," he told me over the phone once, explaining the details of that particular portion in his write-up. "Saved me a lot of grief."
A remember a friend telling me once about a survival tactic called being a 'Gray' target. These are people who survive because they're inconspicuous, under the radar, invisible. (As opposed to surviving by being a hard target, where people don't fuck with you because you are perceived to be strong and insurmountable). That time, he asked me which of the two I was, and my answer was instantaneous: I am a Gray Target, have always been. I have always balked at attention; I prefer to work with my head down. 95% of my wardrobe is virtually the same shade of blue. That's how devoted to invisibility I have been.
Hearing this story straight from my father, I realized that we're a lot alike than we care to admit. His Gray man tactic and my Gray person strategy turn out to be linked in ways I never knew until that morning he called me up to explain that to me. It's a gift, more than anything.
Somewhere at the back of my head, I try not to entertain the thought that this was my father purposefully bequeathing his story to me as he approaches old age. It's a difficult thought, especially since in my head my dad is always this strong capable man who can still fix the roof of the house if he has to (I have since asked him to stop with the carpentry, especially since after that last post-typhoon time, he complained of painful joints and my sister had to give him painkillers.)
But yeah, that thought aside: It's a great story I'm having fun writing. "Did you know I was napping when I first heard the news about the Navy?" my dad asked.
"I was napping." I don't think I can think of any other better story opener than that.
My father in Paris, 1979.
Helping my dad with his class yearbook means I also have a lot of old photos hehe. Previously, I wrote this about him over at Medium: Retelling my father's lost stories.