Every year, every first week of February, I make it a point to send home a birthday card. I had been sending birthday cards to Daddy ever since I came to Japan. At first, having only enough to sustain my day-to-day living as a student , I only sent bare cards (no inserts). When I finally got myself a stable job, I started inserting what my sister calls “goodies.” Just something to perk the day.
This year, no card was sent. There will be no more cards to send from now on.
A year ago, I sent my last and final birthday card to Daddy. He had just been discharged from the hospital after a stenting operation on his kidney. His body was battered and weak, but the fighter in him somehow rose to give him strength. They threw a party for him at my Aunt’s house. They sent me pictures taken during the party, and while Daddy was all smiles, his eyes hinted of deepening shadows ahead. He told everybody that it would be his last birthday.
Nobody believed him.
My mom told me that one time, during the dark weeks that followed after his birthday, and in-between bouts with delirious pain and physical weakness, Daddy managed to go upstairs by himself and took out two things that he had kept all these years. One was a birthday card, dated February 18, 1983. The other was an exultant letter from my kindergarten teacher, telling them of how adept I was at school (that letter was dated “1978”). Those were his only treasures.
My mom told me how he sat there in our living room, reading the card and letter over and over again, crying his heart out. He longed for those days when we were yet children, and how he longed to hold us in his arms again. That birthday card was the first ever that we bought for him, the money culled out of our daily allowance. Without his knowledge, my sister and I skipped riding the “tricycle” home, and walked all the way home. More than the card, I suppose, was the thought of how we sacrificed just to be able to give him something on his special day. I forgot all about the card, and was surprised that he kept it all these years. The scrawly handwriting on the card was mine, then barely 10 years old.
Three months later, he was gone, just like he told us.
While sorting through his office table at home, my sister found neatly stacked in one drawer, all the birthday cards that I ever sent him since I left home. He kept each one of them. Seeing those cards sent another avalanche of tears for my sister.
Yes, indeed our dear ol’ Dad was a sentimental fool. And we, his daughters, grew up exactly like him.