Back when I was still a teenager, my father would always listen to the radio. And he did so even years before I was in high school. He had this penchant for the news which, to my mind, did not make any sense at the time. I usually would awaken to the voice of the radio commentator as early as five in the morning, and my father had already finished preparing our breakfast then. In the late afternoon, I’d return home from school and see him busy with many things but still having the ear, literally and figuratively, for the news. It was short of a religious duty, and he could have easily transcended heaven in so faithfully doing what he did. I almost came to a point where I would have echoed my protest for what seemed to be his mechanical activity. Or if I won’t be failed by my memory, I think I actually asked him to give himself, and us, a break from his habit. I think I did so several times.
But like a vice that is difficult to break, he would resume his routine barely a few minutes after I had to tenderly cajole him to do the opposite. He would frown a bit, but that was it.
It would take me another seven years or so before I could even begin to understand why. In college, I studied in a university far from home. There were only several ways for me to be informed about what was happening back in the province. Apart from an outdated mobile phone, newspapers and the internet filled the information gap. Unfortunately, though, I could only read the papers in the dormitory canteen when there were copies available, and only when others were not sifting through the pages for one reason or another. Still unfortunately, the internet did not come quite handy. I had no computer and the services of internet cafes came at a steep price for this student’s daily anorexic budget. Text messaging was the usual choice, but it did not come for free either, in spite of the “unlimited” text messages one could send, limited only by your subscription to the service. Come to think of it, it really isn’t unlimited at all.
Well, the dormitory had a television but, more often than not, people there cared less about the news than they could care about the pleasure they get from having to bear witness to Asian TV dramas that speak about juvenile romance in, of all places, a garden. And they found that meteors supplant the story with a heightened sense of, well, love. But that’s another story.
Sure enough, I had to make do with what I have back then. More than five years went by swiftly as they came and I grew accustomed to how mass media could meet my personal needs for news. Radio, television, print media and the internet became my trusted allies, much like how Sancho Panza saved the very skin of Don Quixote from the most troubling of situations. In a way, I slowly grew an ear for radio commentators and for TV news anchors as much as I grew an eye for news writers and columnists in news dailies. Put in another way, I mutated. The affair blossomed and I took it by heart. Looking back, I realize that I began to grew-up like my father.
Today, I cannot last from dusk until dawn, or dawn until dusk, without getting my hands on the newspaper, or without getting my eyes and ears on the morning and evening news broadcast. It has something to do with the feeling of being part of something bigger, of something larger than the self. It has to do with being a part of this society. As to which society it is, we can all argue as much as we like. But the point is, it came to my senses that it’s the least I can do so that I may be able to say with conviction that I fully deserve a life. That’s the theory. In practice, it has a lot to do with being informed, not in the sense that one has to take what the media says hook, line and sinker but in the sense that one has to make choices from what is known and what is yet to be known. The world we live in is already a cruel one, and it will neither hurt nor rub salt on fresh wound if we try to use our brain at the least. We do so and we can say for certain that we’re more than mere automatons. We do otherwise and we might be better off as a rock, lifeless and yielding.
Which draws me back to my father. He never went to college and there is absolutely nothing to be ashamed about it. On the contrary, I admire him even more for that. For not having been able to pursue a degree, owing largely to how his family could not even barely afford the necessities in life—poor but industrious fisherfolk as they were then and now—he had to make do with what he had. In a household where the daily struggles of survival creep into your dreams just as when you thought that bedtime ought to be the time for rest, the challenges were and have always been epic. So he had his radio, listening intently to the news just so that he can keep up with the swift pace of life, a life that—to someone who has been living in a world where oppression has been staring him bluntly in the face for the past fifty or so years—hardly makes any sense. He had his radio, not for the sheer simple pleasure of having one, but for the fact that that old radio makes his world a little more sensible. And we bother ourselves with how slow our internet connection is?
Had I realized these things early on in life, I would have spared most of my time and spent it with him listening to the news. Or forget the news. I would have spent time with him, as a father would do with his son and a son would do with his father.