My dad never taught me how to ride a bike. I always thought that was the epitome of the father-daughter relationship and that it was a necessary step before I was allowed to reach adolescence. But I had skipped this important milestone. Instead, I mounted a bike, pushed off with my left foot, tried to keep my balance and failed... all by myself.
When I first scraped my already poorly-maintained knee, my dad was ready to heal it. He'd pour the alcohol on my leg and let it trickle to the wounded area. Then he'd take out a Betadine bottle and a piece of cotton and sting the scrape once more. He'd demonstrate how to do it until I learned how to do so on my own.
I like to think that because of this training, I grew up to be an independent woman. My dad was there to provide me with the metaphorical bikes, cotton buds or rubbing alcohol bottles and it was up to me to find ways to maximize their usage -- for my growth and learning or for patching up the wounds in my journeys.
One of the most important tools he provided me with was the mantra that he lived by. It's what pushed me to choose to go to one of the most difficult schools in the Philippines; it's what rings in my head to this day: "Challenge yourself."
Two words, one powerful message. I repeat it to myself whenever I'm hopelessly studying for a difficult exam or when I'm contemplating on my next big life decision. It's the message that pushes me to do things for the sake of learning. It's the message that helps me keep at it.
Despite all the independence I grew up with in my household, however, I realized just last year, in one of the lowest points in my life, that I may not have been as independent as I thought I was.
When I had decided I would study abroad, I had some tough evenings of contemplation about my decision. On one particular night, I wasn't able to fall asleep. Instead, I was trying but failing to throw away the pessimistic thoughts that ran through my head. It was around 3 a.m., I was drenching my pillow in tears and I couldn't stop. I never liked it when people saw me cry, but desperately, I woke my dad up. Once he saw my frowning, wrinkled face, he rushed to my side, sat with me on my bed and held me in his arms. I told him how scared I was, how I wasn't ready to be left alone in a such a foreign place, how I didn't want to leave the people I loved behind, how dependent I was on my family for comfort and on my friends for support, how I felt so alone.
He didn't tell me it wasn't going to be difficult. He didn't reassure me that I was going to adjust easily. He did not give me the false hope I wanted, but didn't need. Instead, he told me the story of when he struggled through the same thing when he studied abroad years before. The winter months drained him of his happy hormones, the communication lines were limited to expensive phone calls,and he was scared, too. But in this challenging situation, he embraced his mantra and was able to push forward for the sake of learning about himself and the world.
That night, after our last hug, I tucked myself under my blanket and dreamed of one day emulating the example of my dad. I hope to bring strength back to a child who needed a little reminder that she wasn't alone and a small push to get back on her feet.
Dad, I know we might not show our blatant affection to each other daily, but the little things you do for us warrants all the love in the world. Thank you for staying up at night, wondering what time I'll be home from a party, for constantly texting when I don't update you of my whereabouts, for embarrassingly calling my friends to make sure I'm OK, for ensuring that my safety is always the number one priority. Thank you for driving me around whenever I don't have any other way, for giving me more than enough money when I go out, for asking for favors from your friends to help fund my social initiatives, for helping me in my government class essays even in your busiest of days, and for showing your care even at a cost to yourself. Thank you for still allowing me to drive even after I made that huge dent on the car, for permitting me to travel with my friends, for letting me go to parties and for trusting me to take on adventures all on my own. Thank you for waking up at night to stop my tears from falling, for taking the blame for my wrongdoings, for encouraging me to keep trying even after failing and for healing the wounds in my falls. Thank you for encouraging me to buy any and all the books I want, for telling me never to worry about school expenses as long as it was for my growth, for willingly funding my camps, summits and conferences, for expanding my horizons by researching more opportunities, for encouraging me to pedal forward and challenge myself beyond my limits.
Thank you for never teaching me how to ride a bike but for providing me with everything I needed to learn how to do so.
Happy Father's Day Dad! And Happy Father's Day to all dads out there!