Mario Dimain January’21

My Fathers Tree

By Mario Dimain

It was December. Just two months away from my tenth birthday.

All across the islands of the Philippines, another birth-day preparation was taking place. Christmas songs were being played on the radio. The birthday of the man on the cross was fast approaching. All of our neighbours in Quezon City were set for the season’s festivity. The windows of their houses were adorned with star-shaped lanterns. A Christmas tree was sure to greet anyone who would enter their homes.

Our house looked empty and bare—completely lacking the Christmas spirit. I was so bothered by the lack of effort from my family to do something that I took it upon myself to bring the spirit of Christmas to our home.

My creative instinct led me to the young jackfruit tree growing in our backyard. There was no denying how valuable the tree was to my father, who had planted it four summers before. It was much shorter than I was then—barely a foot tall. I remember my father’s confident voice saying, “When this little tree grows to be five times your height, it will bear fruit with thick prickly skin, containing thumbsized seeds covered with sweet and chewy flesh. Just like the ones your mom buys from the marketplace.”

The tree had grown quite tall. But so far there’d been no fruit. And while my father had a good idea, I felt that I had a better vision. The upper half of the tree had a pointy, triangular shape that was ideal for a Christmas tree. Plus, because of its close proximity to the kitchen roof, its location couldn’t be more perfect. Furthermore, standing next to it was a mature guava tree which could serve as my ladder to get to the roof.

It was crystal clear. The great opportunity was there for the taking.

Without giving it another thought, I found my father’s hatchet and climbed up the guava tree and onto the kitchen roof. I stood on the edge of the roof, the hatchet clenched in my right hand. The trunk of the jackfruit tree was now within striking distance. With-out hesitation, I started chopping.

After I delivered the final blow, the upper half of the jackfruit tree went crashing to the ground. As it fell, it produced a whizzing sound that made me consider the grim consequences that might come next. I sensed trouble—big trouble.

Still holding the hatchet, I stood frozen, staring down at what was left of the tree. It was a mess. The unsettling sight caused me to visualize my father’s disappointed face when he saw the tree. But still, deep inside, I was at peace with myself. There was a feeling of epiphany.

A voice came from below.

“I am telling!” It was my older sister. The glow in her eyes didn’t surprise me. She always found it amusing to see me in trouble.

Quickly she stepped back inside the house and ran to our mother to spill the beans.

I waited nervously. Any minute now, Mom would be coming out to whack me with her “dooms day” stick.

I heard footsteps rushing out and closed my eyes, anticipating the worse. But it wasn’t Mom. It was my older sister again, with a devilish smile. “Mother is coming,” she said with a tone of celebration.

But before Mom’s fury could get to me, unknown to me, my dad came home. He’d been away for months on a military mission.

Having heard what I’d done from my mother and sister, he took charge.

My father seldom got mad, but it was scary when he did. With his military discipline as a soldier, he tended to be rigid in handling matters.

At those times, I needed very good answers to the dreaded questions he would throw at me.

His face was stern as he watched me slowly climb down from the kitchen roof. His words were concise and direct. “Explain your-self, son.”

His commanding voice was so full of authority it made me stand up straight like a tin soldier. I gathered myself together and looked straight into his eyes. What could I say in my own defence?

Nervously, I replied, “We don’t have a Christmas tree. All I wanted was to make one. I am truly sorry, Father.”

My heart was racing so fast I could barely hear myself talking. When I finished speaking, I waited for my father to calculate the severity of punishment he was about to lay on me.

And then he looked away for a moment, and I realized his stern look had melted from his face, and, although he tried to hide it, there was a smile on his lips.

He came closer. He stroked my head and affectionately said, “Well done, my boy. Well done!”

My father then told me a great story about a little boy named George. He, too, got in trouble when he playfully chopped down his father’s cherry tree. When his father asked who had done it, he told the truth. That boy grew up to be a brave general who won the battle against the British Empire and became the first president of the United States of America.

I’m no George Washington: I haven’t attained greatness or fame. But I look back in fondness at that little boy whose strong desire to celebrate the birth of the man on the cross not only brought the spirit of Christmas to his home, but, in the process, won the approval of his strict father.

Looking back on that incident now, I believe that my father’s approving words echoed what God would have said if He were to have spoken to me that day.

And even then, with my childlike faith, I somehow knew inside that, from above, God was smiling and the angels were applauding.