Straight Books

“You’re choice of books are straight!”, my dad declared as he returned to me two books he borrowed. The first one was To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee which I so love. The 2nd was The Metamorphosis and Other Stories by Franz Kafka - one I have not read and just borrowed from a priest friend. Puzzled, I asked, “What do you mean straight?” “He just shrugged his shoulders and repeated, “Straight.” And he turned his back and sauntered off to his garden. I stared at the books in my hands.

What does he mean straight? Straight meaning boring? Or straight meaning not-gay? I tried to remember the books I’ve gave him to read. Let’s see ... there's J.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Hobbit, J.K. Rowling’s young Harry Potter, Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha, Isabelle Allende’s House of Spirits and Daughter of Fortune, Amy Tan's book, Peter Mayle, Catherine Levine’s The Eight … what makes them straight? These books are not straight! Tame maybe, but not straight!

Could straight mean the absence of hot sex? Or at least not the Iris Johansen steamy wooo-hooo!! fan-self-with-hand kind of sex? Is my Dad telling me I’m a prude? Or is he telling me he prefers books like those? Ugh! Let's not go there.

I watched my 74 year old father inspect his garden unhurriedly. He is a man of few words. But his words, when spoken digs deep. He seldom gets mad but when he does, he would speak calmly and deeply, explaining your transgressions so you would understand the graveness of it all. Then leave you to think about it. None of us siblings could get away with a dry eye after a scolding with him. Although some of us has experienced the hard spank of tsinelas (slippers), most of the time, his words were punishment enough. My Nanay would scold and nag a lot but her words would fall on deaf ears. It was my dad’s rare words that stung.

The first few things I remember learning from him is wonder and the appreciation of what is out there. So as to expose us to the world, my dad once took the lot of us to a fancy restaurant and bought this expensive dinner. He orders us wine, and though we were too young to drink, he would persuade us to take sips and we would exchange goblets as if we were wine connoisseurs. And he would explain, “White wine goes with fish. Red wine goes with meat.” And the encounter would just push us to ask, “What more is out there?”

When I was 14, and just survived chicken pox, my dad had some out-of-town guests from the office to entertain. So Dad and guests took us to our first disco, Tivoli, on a school night. He explained to his guests that his children need to be exposed to such things so we won’t end up “manol” - the nearest English translation I could think of is naïve. He gave us a taste of our first alcoholic drink, pointing out the names, as if they were important titles to note. He didn’t expect us to drink all of it and would laugh out loud when we made faces because the drinks were too strong. And though it was embarrassing to dance with your dad in a then hip dance floor (He was doing this weird chacha-boogie combo!), we did anyway, because we were experiencing something new, and we were too young to even be aware that it was ‘uncool’.

In due course, we learned to reason. Our family discussions were loud, and in English, because it was the best way to stress a point. Nanay later described these discussions in her journal in a most humorous way, but that’s another blog (I will post it, I promise!).

There is just one vice my dad wouldn’t tolerate and that is smoking. When he discovered cigarettes in the hands of my older siblings, he bought an additional pack and had them smoke 3 cigs at a time until their eyes watered. Being a chain-smoker himself, he epitomized the idiom, “Follow what I say, but don’t follow what I do.” It was like Donald Duck punishing Huey, Duey, Louie and little Daisy (hehehe) for smoking cigars – remember that cartoon? He stopped smoking only when his brother-in-law died of lung cancer.

My parents encouraged us to read. I remember looking forward to dolls and tiny plates for Christmas. It broke my heart to open my present and find a box full of Children’s Christian storybooks. My Mom was so proud of that gift that I had to swallow my disappointment and start reading. I learned to love books after that.

My father had this huge library of paperbacks and never tried to censor the books we read. So that’s how I got my hands on Goodbye Janet by Harold Robbins when I was 10. It was my first thick novel. After that, I started reading Sidney Sheldon and Danielle Steele, moved on to Mills and Boone when I was 11, then Sweet Dreams when I was 12, and when I reached my teens, I discovered Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, and much later … the Bobsey Twins. I digressed! – hahaha. My choice of books finally caught up with me in college. I finally started reading John Jakes, Cynthia Freeman, and Stephen King - the right books at the right time.

So as you can see, my choice of books have mellowed with age – hahahaha. So you can understand why it bothers me that my dad declared my choice of books ‘straight’!

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