Yadi, a large brown bear with soft eyes, a button nose, and a ready smile, appears in many of my childhood photos. As a toddler I often held him close, for he was my shield, my comfort animal. In one photo, he is seated before me on the floor, and I’m wearing an apron, holding a shopping bag aloft while staring pensively into space. Perhaps, like my father, I was a writer even then, easily absorbed by worlds of my own making.
In one picture, my curls have grown and my eyes are wet as I hold Yadi close. This picture was taken in Manila when I was three years old, the evening before we flew to the United States where my mother was to pursue her PhD. In pictures taken after this move, my father often towers over me, or holds me in his lap in our small apartment in Delaware. He is my protector, my playmate whenever my mother is away.
Yadi is in some of these pictures, though I see I’m getting taller than Yadi, and I was treating him as one of my many toys rather than as my protector. My smile and expression gradually open up in these pictures—not only am I growing up, I am also becoming an American. There is one picture in which my father holds Yadi in his lap—Yadi seems like his surrogate child who won’t grow up, while his daughter, Yadi’s best friend, keeps growing.
Due to luggage restrictions, we had to leave Yadi with my aunt when we returned to the Philippines five years later. But during the next twelve years of Yadi’s “exile”, the bear acquired a mythic significance in our family, especially with my father, who associated Yadi with my childhood, and pined with me for the bear’s return.
I had just graduated from university when my aunt finally came home to the Philippines with Yadi in tow. This time, he felt small in my arms, and my parents were astonished by how tiny he seemed, when he had once dwarfed me when I was younger. Yadi was a baby now, and my father would pick him up and hug him every now and then, like a parent reassuring himself that his long-lost child was truly home. I was working in another city by this time and had plans to study overseas, but Yadi, who remained child-like with his ready, frozen smile, would never grow old.
My father loved me, which was why he respected my freedom—for he knew that his love would reach me, no matter how far I travelled to reach my dreams. When I left the Philippines again after being awarded creative writing scholarships in America and New Zealand, Yadi would stay behind instead of coming with me. Every once in a while, my father would ask my mother, who was more technologically adept, to text me that “he had hugged Yadi for me”. Whenever I’d receive these messages half a world away, I would feel his embrace—I was an adult, but in many ways I was still his little girl.
Yadi could have accompanied me, of course, because life abroad was often lonely. But during one visit my father told me that it was better for Yadi to stay. “You should come home and visit him once in a while,” he said, smiling as he patted Yadi. It was through these small gestures that my father admitted to me that he missed me, though he never kept me from leaving. Though these partings were painful for us both, he also knew that there were more opportunities for me elsewhere.
We kept in touch, and Yadi served as a helpful go-between, helping my father articulate his love for me in ways that weren’t saccharine or trite. “I hugged Yadi,” was a message he often sent me, and was enough to sustain the ties between us. On a winter morning in July last year, my mother texted me that my father had wrapped Yadi in an embroidered malong blanket to keep him warm because it was getting cold in our city. Far away, in wintry Wellington, I could feel the warmth of his touch.
Two weeks later, I got another text from my mother. I had to come home immediately, she said. My father had died of a heart attack.
When I arrived home I hugged Yadi again, wondering, in my child-like way, if he missed my father as much as I did. “Who’s going to hug you now?” I asked Yadi, as my tears fell upon his glass eyes.
I have finally returned home this year, and I’m finishing that novel my father believed in while coming to terms with his unexpected passing. In my parents’ house, I still feel his presence, and it occurs to me that the relationship I still have with my father is similar to what it was before: we may not have been in the same room all the time, and yet we were very much present in each other’s lives.
I hug Yadi every once in a while, hoping that the bear feels less lonely, and hoping, too, that my father feels my embrace, wherever he is.
Monica Macansantos' novella about immigrant Filipinos, "Leaving Auckland", was recently serialized in failbetter. She and her late father, the poet Francis C. Macansantos, are both contributors to The New Filipino Kitchen, an anthology of food writing from Filipinos in the diaspora. Follow Monica on twitter @missmacansantos.
This article was edited by Candice Chung, and is part of a series by SBS Life supporting the work of emerging young Asian-Australian writers. Want to be involved? Get in touch with Candice on Twitter @candicechung_