FOUR o’clock in the afternoon still brings my father home to me.
When he was working, he organized his work meticulously—from running a surgery department to teaching medicine—so that at 4:30 p.m., his blue Beetle was always parked outside our high school, just a few minutes after dismissal.
My father’s predictability enabled me to estimate that, except on days when I had to clean the classroom, I had just enough time to run to the library, borrow a book (that I searched for and reserved during lunch), and find my sister before we went to our father.
It was a fast rule that we should all be home before the Angelus.
Though simple enough for my father, this rule made it a challenge to survive high school without going to the meetings, practices, PTA assemblies, charity concerts, and myriad activities held after classes ended.
The germ of writing must have been activated from the number of excuse letters I drafted for my father’s signing to explain his Angelus rule to school administrators. Fortunately, they were nuns.
Even when I became a coed in a state university, I preferred the routine of going home with my father and sister. He still waited for her outside my alma mater at the usual place and time.
Then I discovered that a bakeshop at the corner where I alighted from the jeepney to walk to my father’s Beetle served hot bread at around 4:30 p.m.
Despite the loss of some molars, Papang enjoyed the steaming, crunchy crust, and I welcomed, for the first time, having a parent whose predictability of habits made loving a simple and daily pleasure.
The first crack in my adolescence came when a classmate tried to start a habit of walking home with me.
Since we both had to count centavos, we didn’t mind chatting while walking from the state university to the bakeshop at the corner, a little over a kilometer. However, I was adamant about parting ways at the bakery.
What would my father think if I brought back this boy along with a bag of hot Elorde?
At first, my friend took the four o’clock routine as a joke. Then he got hurt, upset, annoyed.
I also became sorry that this boy wouldn’t go away if I gave him an excuse letter. Perhaps I did grow more than a little fond of listening to such a well-read creature.
But there was no space for him in that four o’clock zone, which I shared only with my father, hot bread, my sister, and the family Beetle.
With his trademark sarcasm, my former classmate might ask me today if my father has turned every merienda with hot bread into a fraught encounter with cold memories.
However, I have sons and he has daughters. He can best answer the question: why do fathers spoil their daughters for other men?
*First published in SunStar Cebu’s June 18, 2017 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”