My Father drowned in soup.
I was around four or five when my aunts and grandma taught me that. It was their way of explaining why, unlike other kids, I had no Papa. We would rehearse every once in a while among ourselves, or in front of my come-and-go seafarers for uncles, and I would be delighted to see them amused at how great I was at it.
In my young mind, I would often wonder how my Father drowned in soup. It was not as if I had not seen him at all. Maybe, at that age I had been with him twice or thrice, though I am not sure now. I would imagine my Papa with his big, chubby body, his arms flailing, and his entire head submerged in a bowl of chicken tinola he was having for lunch. What a sight!
There never was a problem about that until I was in grade school. The other kids were asking me about my father and that was how I answered them. Some of them laughed in delight, some in mockery.
At first, it was not something that bothered me. I thought some other kids some place must have missing fathers too, and that their dads also drowned in soup, maybe not in tinola but in some other soups. But it came to a point when I realized that I was different because I had no dad. Yes, I had a whole bunch of male species at home – from my youthful grandpa to my uncles – but none of them was my Papa.
I suddenly felt ashamed of not having a father. Ashamed because my excuse for not having a father only seemed to scream my being an illegitimate child. The soup never hid anything; instead, it exposed the whole truth about my being. And so whenever somebody asked me where my Papa was, I would bow my head in shame and answer, “He drowned in soup…”
Maternal instinct, perhaps, made my Mama explain to me why I did not have a Papa. He did not drown in soup. He is very much alive, and is living happily someplace with a wife, and what I have learned to call as my ‘half-siblings’. It was not him that drowned, but their relationship. And definitely it was not soup that drowned it – it was fate and choice. Mama explained that I should never be ashamed about it, for it is not my fault that I do not have a Papa.
Now that I’m grown up, and the world seems to have mellowed on its harshness on illegitimates, I can now laugh at how I reacted to it before. I have learned to accept it and to live with it. With the right guidance from Mama, I have become the person that I am today.
I guess, one way or another, I have to thank my Papa for drowning in soup – it made me different from the rest.
Hanna Rae Villarba is a 4th year AB English student of the Ateneo de Davao University.