Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Looking After Dad..

I meet Kevin, in Kalookan, on the rooftop of his abode, nearby sits a wood stove with slow cooking meat; the aroma spreading over hurriedly built many roof tops of this semi-slum suburbia of Manila.

The alley-ways are five feet wide, stinking sewer, covered by concrete slabs, running in the middle, mothers sitting at their doorsteps, talking and children playing, staring at the new comer, clothes dry on extended poles that poke out of windows with iron grills, making a colorful 'pandal' overhead, while we walk towards Kevin's house.

The house is narrow and three stories tall and twenty feet deep with no windows on the sides, giving privacy to another two and rows and rows of houses. We climb steep stair cases that takes late afternoon breeze from the narrow alley, through an always-open door, upwards, towards the rooftop, where chickens and ducks and pigeons live in corrosive steel cages filled with aged bird drops, along a lonely rooster, tied at the foot with brown twine to the two feet tall railing, emitting coo-coo sounds and trying very hard to make acquaintance with a colorful female.

In an adjoined room with open and airy windows, a loud TV with wavy pictures, a blue step stool and a backless chair, lay a shirtless tall man with twisted face, in large diapers covered with over sized shorts, in an old hospital bed. Stink of old urine arrives and depart. A two inch thick rope hangs in front of him, for him to use his usable right hand to pick on, get up and sit, unassisted. The man is paralyzed. The whole of his left side. He's Kevin's dad.

It's been like that for the past five years, of which the man has seen the outside world only during the first year, during visits to many doctors, specialists and hospitals, when Kevin try to revive him form a near-deadly stroke. Nothing worked; no medicine, therapy or the continuous prayers Kevin placed at the San Roque Cathedral in Kalookan. After those 'trying' time, his father gave up treatment and had been bed ridden ever since, with the flickering TV, sounds of chickens, pigeons and occasional visits from his other children, living on the second floor and around town.

Kevin, 31, a fair skinned, little plump man, was working in Tokyo, as a driver for a Pakistani importer, who imported Halal food from Islamabad. His dream at that time had been to save some money, wear fashionable clothes, find his dream girl and settle down somewhere overseas with no aim of ever returning home. However, his father's sudden illness brought him back home, gave him some sort of a wake-up call or realization and since then Kevin leaves the rooftop abode only to his job, to buy medicine or groceries.

When asked for reasons, Kevin, now a serious church going man, smiled and looked away and then at his glass of Red Horse beer, that we bought on the way to the rooftop, a dark brown substance, hidden in a white bottle.

"All I did was to picture myself forty years from now, on this rackety bed and step stool, with no wife, children or people to take care of, with no way to move, eat or even to clean myself of my own natural waste."

I expected a biblical reason from the heavy lifting church go-er but he came out very practical.

Kevin remains single, unattached, with a job at a call center so to give him more time to tend to his dad, with a devotion, dedication and passion.

"Although I always prey for his well being everyday, I also know that he'll be gone one day, permanently. But my aim is to keep his integrity, so that he'll never get into a situation where a stranger has to wipe his bottom, to have him feel lost of his bond to people, the seeds he sow in this earth and to lose his self esteem that he's holding since young, able, rich and with plenty to throw away."

I didn't know how to respond to such a statement that my glass of Red Horse empties pretty fast.

As a traveling consultant, I work with teams of people who converge from different countries, different cultural and social background to do a project. These lonely home away trips would bring us together to chat about each others dreams, after long days, over beer at café's in language unknown strange countries. Then suddenly, one day, a phone call would come to one of us about their parents demise, a serious illness or death from a far away land to suck away the cheer, laughter and to bury our heads in sadness and shame. I have witnessed, in several occasions, when these professional and mature people, break, cry and lose all their hope in that moment of hopelessness, their inability and failure to protect the very people who provided every stones to build their career and success.

Many of us never had or will have Kevin's determination and courage to give up our dreams and be with a sick and dying parent so that he or she could sleep, un-awaken, with peace, love and integrity.

When my father passed away, I too was living in Toronto - secured in a dream refuge with dollars and a fancy car. When the news came with an ultra-early morning ring, I was only able to fly to his bedside, on the day of death with a firm time of departure. It'll be exactly nineteen years on January 20th, when Barack Obama becomes the first African American president, when my current project expected to go-live and when I became torn, low, small and hurt with shame at wards of the Cooperative hospital in Colombo.

In my situation, it was also strange and spiritual as to how a parent, who was left alone, without his children by his side during his dying years, could even help me to find a future wife.

I found my future wife at my father's funeral ceremonies and three years later our first son was born on my father's birthday! Only a parent can have that sort of built-in forgiveness, to give, give and give without any returns or expectations.

Here I quote, with a grand salute to Kevin - not his real name by the way, from the Nobel Laureate Mr. V.S. Naipaul:

"Most people are not really free. They are confined by the niche in the world that they carve out for themselves. They limit themselves to fewer possibilities by the narrowness of their vision."

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