07/21/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

I Remember Papa

Barack Obama has said time and again that he knows the pain of not having a dad. It may be odd saying this about a man I respect, but in this regard, I feel sorry that our President didn't have a father. The relationship with my father was not perfect by any means. Like any long term relationship, there will be a gamut of emotions, from love to loathing. There were literally years when my dad and I didn't speak to each other, but I'm glad to have had this relationship than none at all.

My father was a security guard at a building on Hollywood and Vine. I never told any of my classmates what my father did. It wasn't that special. As a matter of fact, most boys in my neighborhood didn't talk about how their dads earned a living. Their fathers didn't do anything special either. My neighborhood was mostly made up of Asian and Latino immigrants with parents who left Korea or Mexico or El Salvador or, in my case, The Philippines, to give their children a better life. My father was not great. He did not wear a suit or a fireman's uniform. He wore dark clothes, with a plastic badge, and a patch on his shoulder that said, Security. In his sheer ordinariness, I learned some great lessons.

I learned responsibility at an early age. There was something important about a young boy seeing a man get up, go to work, and take care of his family. In my early years, seeing a responsible man behave in such a manner served as important foundation. I get up and go to work -- even on days when I don't want to--because I saw my father do it. My father was trained as lawyer in The Philippines. I'm sure he took crap from less educated people at the building where he worked. Regardless, he did his job. Why? He had five good reasons at home: a wife and four kids.

I learned that it's all right if fathers don't say, "I love you." I can't believe how many times my guy friends have talked about their emotionally distant dads. Myself included. My father never said, "I love you." In this age of Oprah or Dr. Phil, where feelings are worn on sleeves, I mistook the absence of these three words from my papa's mouth as nothing short of cold and abandoning. Now, that I'm on the other side of forty, I learned words are cheap. Actions are what truly count.

When I was fourteen I threw my first party. My father came down wearing a coat, preparing to go work. As my party raged on, my dad quietly passed through a roomful of teenagers to leave. Frankly, it wasn't something I remembered too clearly, until my mother reminded me of that incident when I was in my twenties.

"He wore that coat to hide his uniform," she said. "He didn't want you to be ashamed of him for being just a security guard."

In a moment too dim to remember, my father said, I love you. He said it when he taught me how to use chopsticks, when he bought me a bike, when he showed up at one of my speech contests. "I love you" can be said in a myriad of ways.

I learned to respect a different opinion. It was hard for a very conservative man like my father to have a gay, pro-choice, leftie for a son. I can't imagine raising someone so different from myself. Let me say there were times when my dad and I almost came to blows on topics such as God, immigration, and politics. I know he was uncomfortable with the fact that I way gay, but when I brought a boyfriend around, he didn't say anything. He didn't have to. By then, I'd learn a thing or two about his silence.

I was told a son doesn't become a man until his father dies. If that is the case, I became a man at 36 when my dad, Angel Alumit, died of diabetes five years ago. On this Father's Day, I'll remember him and our complex relationship. It wasn't perfect, but I'm glad I had it to experience.

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