From when I was about four years old all the way up to my late teens, my dad would take me to work—whatever his work happened to be at that moment in his life.
When he was in banking he took me to evening cocktails, where I learned the perceived market value of flash cars, plunging necklines, and an alcoholically lubricated quick wit. At art openings I figured out how to identify the artists in the room—by their quiet, looming posture in the corner of the gallery, or by their outrageous clothing. In the daytime he often took me along to hang out in his office on Ayala Avenue, where I became complicit to the various white-collar crimes he committed for me: he stole things like felt-tip markers, IBM Selectric typewriter balls, and reams of yellow pads, just to keep me interested in staying put and sitting at his elbow.
When he was in the movie business, he took me on location hunts, to story sessions and to shootings. I understood how everyone within a one-hundred-meter radius from the director was beholden to him; this included the writer-on-set, which my father was, always within a word’s reach of Ishmael Bernal, or whoever he was writing for at the time: “Amado,” Ishma only needed to say, quietly, and my father would skip over to his side, ready to fix a line or shorten a scene.
And all over and in between, he took me to the odd things—to fishpond harvests, to artists’ gatherings with sketchy and risqué goings-on, to secret meetings of so-called “futurist societies,” and various strange and pointless expeditions.
During his brief spell as a photography enthusiast, I was camera loader and lens changer, not farther than a couple of steps away from him, especially whenever he went out of town for his on-the-spot photography excursions. He did not cover my eyes or turn away, and neither did I, when he picked up and thumbed through a batch of photographs he had taken of a nude model. And when he was hospitalized for hepatitis, which he had contracted during a drinking session on one of our dodgy outings, I was his bedside attendant—at one point manually helping him direct his aim into the bedpan.
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And all over and in between, he took me to the odd things—to fishpond harvests, to artists’ gatherings with sketchy and risqué goings-on, to secret meetings of so-called “futurist societies,” and various strange and pointless expeditions. He once drove me three hours out of town at 3 a.m. to a lookout point where UFOs were anticipated to make an appearance. When there was still no sighting two hours later, he couldn’t look me in the eye because he knew he had let me down, and we drove home in silence—until I noticed he was falling asleep at the wheel and I saved our lives by turning up the radio full blast.
It must have been at that one of those moments that it became clear to me that ours was the kind of relationship that could only be forged between a father and a son.
He took me along with him to EDSA, where we spent the night hanging out on the street—because he had been thoughtful enough to use our only car as a roadblock against any possible incoming tanks on White Plains Avenue. After the end of the Marcos dictatorship, he brought me along to overnight tapings—never mind that they were school nights—for a new TV show that he was writing called Sic o’Clock News. It dealt squarely with the dirt and the drama of the current times, dressed up in wigs and drag, and costumed up with high comedy what could not be otherwise be said about corruption and government, about corporations, about imperialist America.
It must have been at that one of those moments that it became clear to me that ours was the kind of relationship that could only be forged between a father and a son. I was errand boy and right-hand kid, just like any eldest child by default, but I was also silent witness, co-conspirator, and mute Greek chorus. And as many other things arose in my our lives I witnessed these quietly and tried to understand them, and my true role as the son-within-reach became clear: I was student and apprentice, by way of being a physical follower.
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I have a son of my own now, but these are different times. There’s a little to look at and even less to learn from, and I don’t have the guts to do what my father did, or the drive to go as far. I have an office, but I can work from home as much as I want to. Instead of typewriters we have computers, where I can be face-to-face with my son even when I am away. YouTubers and NBA players—those are what he follows. Fair enough, because I’ll never be as crazy or interesting as my father was. But I still try my best to do what I can to make my kid the tag-along son that I had been.