My Papang has never hugged me

Published May 29, 2021, 3:00 PM

by Manila Bulletin

But this is not a sad LGBTQIA+ story

By Francis Albert Gomez

My Papang has never hugged me.

But this isn’t that kind of story. This is not a sad one.

I am excluded in the statistics of gay children who have had to experience the trauma of coming out and being rejected. My Papang has never hugged me, but he has never made me feel I had to come out. So, out of all the love languages that I have come to know in over four decades of my life and counting, my Papang’s acceptance of me was, in my experience, among the most beautiful.

In fact, my gayness was an acknowledged reality, part of the norm, from the moment I manifested it at an early age. There was never a need to define it in our household. It was just who I was and that was that. This has given me the self-confidence I have come to be known for—my boisterous, larger-than-life, loud, and proud presence. Some might even say I am too much of everything, too flamboyant, exaggerated in every possible manner, and overconfident at times. But what they don’t realize is that growing up in a household where being me is not a tragedy, I was reared in the belief that I am wonderful, loved, and more than enough.

My story is not like most stories of many of my gay friends. There was no heartbreak in my journey to self-actualization. My family life was in most aspects perfectly and quietly normal. My parents would be there every day to see me off to school and they would be there when I came home. So, even when there were no physical or verbal manifestations of love from Papang, I have never felt more at peace than when I was with him at home. Mamang and I of course are very much alike in expressing our affections with each other, but that’s another story. Thus, to me, the mere presence of Papang and Mamang in my life provided the constancy and stability to make me feel wholly and totally loved.

So when my Papang died on Dec. 18, 2020 after a brief but harrowing bout with stage 4 lung cancer, my entire world caved in on me. He would have been 80 years old today and he would have celebrated 60 wonderful years of married bliss with Mamang. In many respects, my world ended with his death. I grieve still, and I know this will be my reality for many more years to come. In his love letters to Mamang, he would often refer to me as his “little angel Francis,” and that I should always be looked after no matter what. Funny as little did he know that I would grow up being a fierce, 6’3” amazon.

Papang has not hugged me, but his words and his actions exceeded all physical gestures of love.

I know I am one of the lucky ones, and I bask in that privilege. When I was going through my Lynda Carter/Wonder Woman phase, Papang would knot together pieces of shoestring to make me a magic lasso. When I stubbornly insisted that Nanette Medved and I were the same person, he played along. When I vamped around the house to belt out Verni Varga songs, he let me be. When I discovered the art of drag, Papang was one of my instant fans. This was how he showed his love, by allowing me to explore my sense of self and by letting me freely express who I thought I was in various phases of my adolescence. In my journey to becoming, I discovered that unconditional love was all one needed to transition with joy.

Out of all the love languages that I have come to know in over four decades of my life and counting, my Papang’s acceptance of me was, in my experience, among the most beautiful.

My friends often tell me I am an acquired taste. You have to get to know me in a deeper sense to fully accept and appreciate the kind of person my parents raised me to be—honest, hardworking, loving, and God-fearing. But that is the world’s view of me, and the only reason I do not feel at all frustrated by this is because I have never felt the need to prove myself to anyone. In my mind, for as long as my Papang and Mamang loved me for who I am entirely, the world’s approval meant very little.  These were life lessons that got me through many of my dark moments, gargantuan mistakes and missteps, and a handful of very bad decisions. Knowing that I could always come home to my Papang and Mamang was enough to keep me strong and hopeful.

It was in those dark moments that Papang introduced me to God. It was Papang’s assurance of God’s love and acceptance of me that saw me through my less than proud moments. Through Papang, I discovered one of my favorite verses from 1 Samuel 16:7: “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance of his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’”

The unconditional love Papang showered to me and Mamang’s good health coupled with God’s Word are the reasons I have a clear mind and my compass for right and wrong is steadfast. Though my grief and sadness are unimaginable, I am not spiraling down into deep depression and anxiety—my heart is somehow at peace…the kind that transcends all reason and logic.

A FATHER’S LOVE ‘…for as long as my Papang and Mamang loved me for who I am entirely, the world’s approval meant very little’

To honor the memory of my Papang, I will live a full life filled with laughter and happiness and I will remember him every single day with the most outrageous, out-of-this-world loud out and proud existence until the day comes, 50 years from now, with hope, that I will see him again up in Heaven with God.   

Papang has never hugged me, but he has filled me with more love than a million hugs could ever hope to represent.