I remember it was a Scorpions cassette tape that hinted at the musical connection I would share with my father. It was around 1998 and like any other kid going through puberty—an era when MTV was still king and modems noisily signaled to the rest of the world for a decent internet connection—I was neck deep into pop music. I thumbed through newsprint song magazines that had chorded song lyrics and months-old news from faraway lands. Other kids had Teen Beat, J-14 or Smash Hits, I had Solid Gold, Smash, and Radio Romance. My meager allowance wasn’t enough to buy cassette tapes so I resorted to recording songs on the radio and (on TV) to form my own mix tapes; a mash of late 90’s OPM, Top 40 staples, and every Celine Dion song I could find on the radio. In this spectrum, a German hard rock band is an unlikely fit. But that night, when my dad came home with the Scorpion’s Gold, it was my inauguration to the halls of Tito/Daddy Rock.
I assume living in a house with two of my uncles, who listened to music using an old, hulking box of a music system (the one with a record player, cassette player, and radio), also helped usher me into the power rock and ballads of the 70s and 80s. The late 90s became the playing ground for local artists to dabble on “retro” music: Jose Mari Chan covered songs from John Denver, post-Mara Clara era Judy Ann Santos relied on an Eddie Peregrina song for her self-titled debut, and Regine Velazquez released R2K. A dusty songbook from the early 90s helped me sort through all these covers and retro albums. Almost every song from that time was either of reckless abandon or impenetrable sadness: two things that spoke closely to my adolescent heart. It was the latter that I mostly gravitated to, the lonely call leading me to artists like Bob Dylan, The Carpenters, James Taylor, and Simon and Garfunkel—music that would later on become an integral part of my life.
Years after, stuck in post-college limbo, I agreed to take on a nightly radio show that played folk music—my hometown’s companion to dads, titos, and PUV drivers navigating the lonely hours. For my first night on board, the folk rock CD I bought my dad a few years back became my atlas. I mixed Jim Croce, Peter Paul and Mary, and Gordon Lightfoot with the indie folk I’ve come to love such as Sufjan Stevens, Iron and Wine, and Fleet Foxes; music that I brought home to my dad who silently approved of our shared musical inclinations.
But of course, he wanted me to pursue my profession and saw this stint as a bump on the road. This brief period of unemployment (I hardly consider the radio show a job since it paid shit) put a strain in our relationship; here was his son fresh off college who wakes up at night and spends the rest of his time online writing and looking for more songs to add in his playlist. He told me to look for a job almost every day but I wanted to bide my time until something worth settling down to came along. I guess the sight of my lazy ass bumming around his house wasn’t his idea of adulthood. But there was the music. I’d make him listen to my newfound gems and he would point me to more of the music that he loved, the loving strains of guitars and husky tones of Americana forming a warm atmosphere that pulled us closer.
I left for Manila a year after, working in a newspaper that I knew he read daily. He would send a text message asking me if I had an article published that day and if I had, he’d buy the newspaper and show my article to his friends, pointing to my byline rather proudly. For the first two years of my work at the Special Projects section, I was put in charge of the Father’s Day special, an opportunity that I seized to subtly give my father a nod every chance I get.
I write this as I listen to Simon and Garfunkel’s “Live from New York City,” 1967, holed up in my box of a room, my dad a distance away. “We speak of things that matter, the words that must be said,” Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel sing in The Dangling Conversation. My dad and I are never one to sit down and talk, just talk. But when we listen to the songs we love, the songs that we’ve pinned down most of our lives on, it’s more than enough to say whatever it is that we want to say to each other.