“It’s weird, joining a call and seeing someone you’ve known your entire life command attention behind nothing more than a big E for a photo”
If I’m up by 8:30 in the morning, which is rare, I’ll find my dad having breakfast in our living room. He’s never been the type to ask for much else, other than a small plate of pandesal and a cup of coffee. I wish I could say that we had some particularly relevant conversations on the topics of business, politics, or the state of the world, but I could probably chalk up most of our morning exchanges to who gets to use the shower first. Most times, it’s him.
By 9:45, he’s either dressed in one of many well-loved T-shirts, or, in the case of having an especially important meeting, a seafoam green PayMongo T-shirt to match the occasion. “Busy day?” I ask. “Yeah,” he answers, before naming a short list of important people whose names sound very important. “Wow,” I reply, “good luck.”
I am reminded of the way the rest of the world sees my dad when we’re in the same meeting. It’s weird, joining a Zoom call, and seeing someone you’ve known literally your entire life command attention behind nothing more than a big letter E for a photo, and a last name you share.
After every presentation or update, my father, or rather, “E.L” is almost always asking questions. The first time he began his line of inquiry in a meeting we were in, I froze up, and he wasn’t even talking to me.
In my head, I could already imagine my dad jotting down his questions as soon as something piqued his interest (even though I’d never seen him do this, I imagined it anyway). At the same time, I was watching my dad—as my boss—pick apart a presentation with clinical accuracy, equal parts affirmed that he was obviously very capable, and equal parts terrified for no reason other than the fact that my boss was asking really hard questions.
“E.L.” calls me after the meeting. I pick up the phone to hear the same chesty, baritone voice I have heard my entire life. “How was I? Was I okay?” he asks. “You were good. I liked your questions,” I answer.
I’ve never been the type to ask for help. If I can get away with doing something by myself, I will. That sort of logic was passable for school, but because of my dad, I realized that I couldn’t function the same way when it came to work.
At PayMongo, we try every day to be a single, cohesive unit. That means both being there for your coworkers when they need your help, but being equally willing to help correct them in the face of error.
In the phone call after that first meeting, I called my dad scary. “E.L.” said to me: “There’s nothing worse than presenting to an empty room. I ask questions because I care about what they have to say. I just want them to try their best.”
A part of me has always bought into the intimidating aura that surrounds him. In my eighth grade, he came to school in the middle of work with my mom to see my exhibit for the science fair. He asked everyone in my class all sorts of questions. His white barong Tagalog must’ve been burned into my friends’ memory. I didn’t understand why he seemed so eager to question at the time, but I do now, and I’m better for it.
When comparing life before and after I began my internship, I can’t really say that much has changed beyond the usual humdrum of every day. If my father’s schedule is feeling particularly generous, by 10 p.m., he has returned to his favorite couch in his favorite (and only) living room, and sinks deeper into its cushions than a bag of rocks while watching TV.
I used to be afraid that working with my dad would only exacerbate the intimidating aura he had, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. Every day, “E.L.” goes downstairs and sits through hours of meetings with important people with important names and yet, still comes back up to have a very late dinner with his family and ask everyone about their day.
A lesser person would have been crushed beneath the weight of expectation, or the sheer exhaustion of the tasks demanded of him. I know I surely would have. But my father continues to live with a grace in his step that I have never known.
Funnily enough, my earliest memory of my dad is in a barong Tagalog. It’s past my bedtime, and he’s home a bit later than usual. I watch as he slips his suitcase into a rack and finds me staring at him. “Where’s your mom?” he asks. “Asleep,” I answer.
I didn’t realize it then, but now I see the weary lines across his face in perfect clarity. He takes my hand and tucks me into bed. I hear his baritone voice go soft and pull into the most quiet whisper I have ever heard.
“I love you, Gabby.”
And I love you too, Dad. Happy Father’s Day.
Originally published in thediarist.ph