Wednesday, January 28, 2009

For My Dad

One of the earliest memories I have of my dad is easily the fondest. I was about nine years old, we were then living in an apartment in LaLoma, and I just finished my regular afternoon play outside. I was about to go inside the house when I saw two of my dad's clients walk out the front door, my dad following behind them, dad holding a basketful of vegetables and two live chickens. I was just this curious observer of the entire exchange when dad called me aside, lightly touched my cheek and said: Anak, it's a beautiful day. From that day onwards, I resolved that I wanted to be exactly like dad, a lawyer. And I never looked back.

My dad taught me two important things in life that I live by to this day--(1) to treat every single person I meet as an equal, and (2) to live my life in accordance with my own, as opposed to others', standards.

The first of dad's teachings, I witnessed from him first hand. Dad was a big lawyer in the province, was one of the first to be elected as City Councilor of Dagupan City, and went on to be founder of Basic Petroleum and Minerals, Inc. together with his brothers. He also became President of the Pangasinan Chapter of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, and later on, Governor for IBP's Central Luzon Chapter. Yet all these I knew only from his friends. He never told me these things--his exploits in Jordan, the cases he won, the many awards he received, the exotic places he has been to. No, dad was more interested in talking about my day, and at night, when the world was about to sleep, dad liked to hang out with neighbors, men who had no college degrees, who waited on tables at a nearby fastfood joint, who were part-time firefighters, policemen, market vendors. He loved being with them, talking to them about mundane things, important things. Understand that LaLoma, where I grew up, was a place where more people were poor than rich. That we were right smack in the middle of it for 14 years of my young life made me understand intimately the plight of the less privileged. So that even as I went to an exclusive girls' school during the day, my playmates were kids who went to public schools, or didn't go to school at all. Kids who dreamt only of living a decent life, kids who lived for the day, never for the next. I had no illusions that I was any different from them, because dad showed me that they were my peers. Even when we moved to our own house inside a gated community and long after I had my own car, I never forgot LaLoma, how to commute, how to eat binatog, isaw, scramble and fishballs. I never forgot Aling Josie and Mang Frank, Aling Laura and Mang Arlie and my playmates Jennifer and Michael, Mang Nestor and his boys, the tennis court, the firehouse, the police station, E. Rodriguez High School, Malaya Street, the smells, the sounds, New Year's fireworks. LaLoma is where I will always feel at home.

The second of dad's lessons he never really voiced out loud. But it was a principle that he applied when raising me. You see, I have always been a good student. I got awards, honors, and the like, on a regular basis. Dad never really put a premium to these things. When Dad found out that I performed especially well in law school, he was happy, but not as outwardly happy as one would expect a dad to be. Nevertheless, I never felt that he wasn't proud of me; quite the opposite in fact. He wasn't one to call up his friends and brag about my achievements. Dad was just there in the background, happy that I was happy. He was more interested in what I thought/felt about topping the Bar, whether this particular success was, in MY estimation, a truly happy moment. In other words, he did not quantify nor measure my success and judge me more special as a daughter, as a person. He did not see titles, accolades and a successful career as those that defined a person, that defined me. Instead, my character defined me. He taught me to keep my feet firmly planted on the ground.

When I was reviewing for the Bar, dad shared with me a story. He said that he did not study much in law school. During his day, he had more time for fun than serious study. So when he passed the Bar with a barely passing grade, he was already so happy. This was when I interjected, so daddy, happy ka na rin kung mababa lang grade ko, basta pasado? He just smiled at me and said, Oo naman, pero malabo yun anak.That simple statement from dad eased all the pressures of bar review, and from that day, I did not fret anymore about whether I would top or merely pass. I just wanted to pass. True enough, when the results came out, dad only said, O, anong sabi ko sayo?, with a hearty chuckle.

So I learned from dad to live my life to the fullest, to not worry about what others expect, or want of me, to pursue my own dreams based on MY own pace, MY own strategy, MY own desires.

Dad never stifled me; even with 55-year age gap, he understood that I was my own woman, and that the way to nurture me was to let me be. I would like to believe that he raised me well, and that even when he was already sickly and too weak to make jokes and converse with me, he knew that I was coming into my own, in God's time, in my time.

The true measure of a man is how he treats those who have less than he. I am absolutely certain that in this regard, dad stands taller than any man I know.

Dad passed away last January 23, 2009, and I am here inside a coffee house in Dagupan City, seeking a brief respite from the oppressive heat. I already miss my Dad terribly, but I breathe a little easier knowing that dad is finally at rest.