I felt like a grown man every time I shook his hand.
As a kid, I used to think of the Disney’s Jungle Book character King Louie when I saw him. That song about being a human would instantly play on queue when I thought of him. A super-laxed, balding, easy-smiling-but-not-cheesy brown man sitting down at a party with a beer can in hand talking with other random Filipino dudes. He would be welcoming as a host, though he would usually be sitting down with those dudes.
At our family parties that entourage of other, random Filipino dudes would be replaced with the other Filipino men that I actually knew. He would be the same super-laxed balding easy-smiling but-not-cheesy brown man with a beer can in hand. He was our working avatar of the good time to be had by Filipino dads at Filipino house parties without the boisterous bantering or karaoke. He was just, chill.
As the years have passed, I have gotten older and still saw him at family parties.
The dynamics of these parties and his role in them seem a lot different now than before either because I understood more about social relations between adults, and/or because I was able to interact with him more one-on-one.
But even with that interaction over the years, I still don’t know too much about him or the life he’s led. For one, I never had a clue about what his job was. I’d also never really see him hang out with his wife, my godmother from my Catalic confirmation for whom I’d have to take the outside of her fingers, put on my head and ask for her blessing. Yeah, I still do that. She’s also been a mainstay at family parties, however, she’d also work a lot and wouldn’t be there as frequently as Uncle Rene.
All I knew is that he was usually there with people I knew, but a bit separated, which made him approachable. I liked to squeeze an opportunity to give him a “what’s up” to him at Family parties.
It was like my announcing my official entrance into a party as an adult — greeting him hi and bye along the cascade of splayed uncles and aunts. It’s sometimes a tedious ritual especially with the number of family parties our circle has, but I think and important one to acknowledge that people are there.
I’d ask him indirectly about his life, “Where’s Robert? Where’s John-Rene?”, his two sons with whom I have each shared a couple moments with.
His oldest son is about 2 years younger than me. When he attended family parties as a kid, I’d think he was Shaquille O’Neal, because I thought he kinda looked like him, even though he never really had his size. Dude is around my height, even though growing up, he was sort of tall for his age. I wouldn’t see him as much, and hinted that at him when I last saw him.
His younger son, barely breaking into his 20s, nowadays, was a kid as I was going to high school. Our families went on a bus trip with our church close to San Diego or something. I played frisbee a lot with him during that trip. I’d see him on occasion at family parties. Dude became something of a basketball player, and started for his high school, which was a big deal in my mind because I wasn’t even close to playing basketball for my ultra-competitive high school.
I’d always related to these two because for whatever reason, they were Chicago Bulls fans.
Uncle Rene would say that his oldest was working, or busy. His younger son, would usually be there, a young dude, but not as much the excitable 10-year old with whom I played frisbee with as a kid.
I remember seeing him when I announced my engagement at another family party. Still the super-laxed, balding, easy-smiling-but-not-cheesy brown man sitting down at the party, but I didn’t see any beer can in hand.
I won’t see him at my party today, but I’ll have to pour one out for him.