Reynaldo De Los Reyes, it translates to King of the Kings. What’s in a name—what’s in his name? He was a champion swimmer in his high school and university years. He competed in numerous swim meets and always topped. He paid all of his university tuition from his swimming scholarships and some odd jobs here and there. He knew my grandparents couldn’t afford to pay and shouldered all the debt to himself. He was for all intents and purposes a King in his own right.
I’m Erian Amor De Los Reyes, translates to Erian Love of the Kings. What’s in my name? I was fourth in my entire school in kindergarten and elementary. I competed in piano and came second for all of my competitions. At 23 I have yet to receive my diploma.
I wasn’t competing with my father—not consciously at least. I looked up to him as any child looked up to their parents. In my rose coloured glasses I saw him as the strongest man in the world.
Back in Philippines he was the most fit from his four brothers and looking at old faded pictures further proved what I faintly remember now. However, time could care less of names and old records. Much like the old medals, trophies and certificates on our wall back home, he too started to show his age.
We moved to Brampton some few months ago. Though the house looks more lived in now, it wasn’t always a couple months back. My mother was living the American—well Canadian dream—of owning a new house and my father was living the dream of making a life in a new country, far from the problems of home.
For a whole month my mother was hell bent on purchasing new furniture for the house—the old furniture would simply not do, she would say. Me and my father would humour her and help build the sometimes heavy pieces for the home.
Putting furniture together always gave me a unique bond with my father. As I have said, we have never competed against one another. But there’s something about building IKEA furniture together that almost put both of us in an equal playing field. For if I swam with him, the very moment the water uncomfortably touches my neck meant I could no longer follow him. Furthermore, if he played piano with me he would grow frustrated at how the keys started to look the same.
We were equals when we built something as mundane as a coffee table or a book shelf. We were equals when my mother requested we move the couch as it didn’t fit her aesthetics anymore. We were equals when we needed to fix something that according to my mother deemed “not working.”
He saw me as not as fragile as just the love of the kings but his equal as king.
For the months that I wasn’t preoccupied with school or internships I would be happy to build, fix and move along side him. When my schedule became more full my absence became more and more present.
He understood. After all, he had done the same when he was in university and much like him, I always returned home—late, but I always came home.
One night my mother had bought a new accent chair for the house. The delivery was set on a date I was away from home busy at school. My father assured my mom he can do it himself; move the chair to its rightful place and install the legs. I ended up staying later in school than I planned and came home to a quiet house with parents soundly asleep. I glanced at the new chair and mentally made a note to tell my mother about her excellent choice in upholstery.
The next day my father couldn’t go to work. My mother called in sick with him to stay by his side. That morning I looked at my dad who stayed in bed, broken and defeated. My mom told me he cried that night—one of the few times she’s ever seen him do since my grandpa passed.
I asked her why?
She said he had hurt his back moving the chair. He wasn’t able to get up in the morning from the pain he felt and, honestly, he was scared he was never going to be able to.
I told her they could have waited for me to come home.
She simply said he didn’t want to interrupt.
I didn’t go to school that day as well. I stayed by his side, bringing the TV up a flight of stairs so he can watch. We never talked about him crying. We busied ourselves with day time TV—The Price is Right was always our favourite.
Despite the medals and trophies that must have rusted over and all the certificates that have been lost and faded, I still see my dad as the strongest man in the world. But sometimes, as we become so busy growing up, we forget that they are also growing old.