10 THINGS OUR FATHERS ARE BEST AT

They are the silent yet reliable fixtures in our lives, the families’ pillars of strength, and the mothers’ steady but often underrecognized and unsung partners in raising and nurturing their children. They are our discreet cheerleaders, the steadfast shoulders we can cry on, and the proud fans who inconspicuously carry their family’s photos around like a badge of honor.

They are our fathers.

Today that we celebrate them and their daily acts of quiet heroism, let us push them out of the sidelines where they are most comfortable in, and into the limelight that is their rightful place. Together, let us count the things that our fathers are best at.

 

  1. They are best at waiting. Have you seen the McDonald’s Fathers’ Day tribute video? Fathers are known to wait for their children – sometimes wearily and self-consciously but, oftentimes, patiently. He waited for your arrival outside the delivery room, at the daycare center while you were chatting with your new friends, at the kiddie party while you were playing and dancing with the mascots, at the bookstore while you were reading some fairytale books, at the amusement park while you were enjoying your favorite rides, at the field while you were taking a shower after a game, at the corner of a boutique while you were shopping for some dresses and shoes, at the car while you were attending your prom or some friend’s party, at the steps of the building while you were taking your college entrance exam, at the bus terminal after your fieldtrip or out-of-town excursion, and at the living room for your arrival after a date.

They know that they are not yet done with the waiting but they are not complaining – as long as they have their mobile data at hand.

 

  1. They are best at worrying. Fathers are certified worriers. Do you remember the first time you rode your bike? Your first day in school? The first time you were hospitalized? Your first recital? Your first inter-school competition? Your first speech before a big crowd? Your first unchaperoned date? Your first time behind the wheel? Your first job interview?

Your fathers are always there with you – anxiously pacing back and forth, nail biting, hair-pulling, hyperventilating. He learned how to pray the rosary because of you.

 

  1. They are best at hiding their most intense emotions. Culture dictates that men are supposed to be strong, that they should never surrender, that they don’t shed tears. However, when you ran to him to have your scraped knee kissed after you fell off the stairs, when you gave him an impulsive hug in exchange for some McDonald’s kiddie toys, when you handed him your medals after the recognition ceremony, and then during your teenage years, when you would repeatedly lie to him to cover up for your friends, when you gave him your first eye roll, when you chose to watch his favorite movie with a girl than with the family, when you forgot to greet him on his birthday – he had always put on a brave face.

Your fathers want you to believe that they are unaffected, when, deep inside, their hearts are ripped into small pieces with your every action.

 

  1. They are best at dishing out words of wisdom. While mothers are normally the naggers in the house, fathers are the source of succinct yet profound and penetrating statements that stay with you long after you have become a parent yourself. Sometimes, though, fathers can convey their message more effectively with a deafening silence coupled with a simple pointed look or a tilt of the head or a raised eyebrow.

 

  1. They are best at teaching. With all the things that your mothers are too busy to teach you, the fathers are just too eager to take charge. Who taught you the rules of ball games? How to fly a kite? How to swim? How to play the guitar? How to pitch the tent? How to cook over an open fire? How to use basic tools? How to ride a bike? How to dress like a gentleman? How to defend yourself? How to treat girls right? How to drive? How to change a flat tire? Who taught you that it is okay for both boys and girls to cry?

 

Father-and-Son-silhouette2

 

  1. They are best at protecting. When our firstborn was just a toddler, he nearly drowned in a swimming pool. My husband didn’t know how to swim but, without a moment’s hesitation, he jumped in — shoes, wallet, cellphone, and all! When our second child, as a small boy with a big voice, was bullied by his classmates and locked up by his own adviser in a tiny storage room for not talking in class, my husband, livid with rage, marched to the principal’s office and demanded that the incident (and the concerned teacher) be investigated, asap! When our youngest child was hospitalized, and a newbie nurse who didn’t know how to find a vein made a needle cushion out of our daughter’s arms, my husband furiously berated the nurse’s superior for letting loose an untrained nurse to attend to some unsuspecting patient.

My husband is normally level-headed, but you dare touch any of our children and you’d find yourself in big trouble. A mother-grizzly-bear kind of trouble! I bet most fathers are just as protective with their own children.

 

  1. They are best at giving. Fathers know their children’s needs and try to address these the best way they know how. They can be relied upon to give words of comfort when you are down, of encouragement when you are having a crappy day, of assurance and confidence when you are doubting yourself, of praises when you achieve something you worked hard for, of caution when you tend to be impulsive and careless, of inspiration and motivation when you are about to embark on a new adventure, of challenge when you are lulled into a false sense of complacency, of guidance when you are drifting away from your personal goals, of gratitude when you become exceptionally generous to your siblings, and of faith when you are on the verge of giving up hope.

They also provide you with their precious time, happy memories, an ideal home, and a good education. And your allowance (and something extra that your mother knows nothing about), of course!

 

  1. They are best at listening and observing. Your fathers have been your captive audience ever since you flashed them your very first smile when you were just an infant. From your senseless babbling and mumbling to your excited squeals during a game of peekaboo, from your first pitiful attempts at singing to your incoherent story-telling, from your nervous giggles each time you would see your crush pass by to your oohs and aahs at the sight of a pretty dress on the mannequin, from your annoying aghhhs and eeews to your exasperating duhs and whatevers, from your loud chatters to your happy humming along with the music, from your silent sobs due to heartaches to your heart-wrenching wailing when your dog died — your fathers have heard them all.

Do you know what they miss hearing from you, though? A whispered “I love you” to remind them that you appreciate them somehow.

 

  1. They are best at learning. Since your fathers are, basically, observers, they learn tons of things from you. They learn, for instance, that when there are babies in the house, sleep and rest become things of the past. They learn that, when the babies start to crawl, they need to be as fast as The Flash to be able to keep up. They learn that, when the little ones start to walk, they need a weekly massage for those back pains from too much hunching over. They learn that, when the terrible twos come around, nothing is safe from being destroyed, eaten, peed on, climbed on, and jumped off. They learn that, when the toddlers turn into threenagers, they are given a sneak peek at the horrors they would face ten years down the line. They learn that “why” can be the most loathsome word in the world. They learn that, no matter how much they love you, there are days when they wish they just bought dogs rather than have babies.

And, then, the kids grow into despicable teens. That entails a different set of horrible realizations altogether.

 

  1. They are best at setting an excellent example. To be effective role models for you, fathers have mastered the art of walking the talk. They know that no amount of flowery words could ever compensate for broken promises, loveless marriage, or a gloomy future. And so, they exert enormous effort to make sure that your home and family will be conducive to raising children who are happy, hardworking, respectful, loving, strong, confident, empowered, appreciative, kind, and prayerful by being all those things himself.

 

Despite all these, however, don’t place them on a pedestal.

They may seem to know it all, but most of the time, they are terrified that they are doing it all wrong. They may look strong and steady when all they want to do is slump in the corner and cry. They may appear self-assured and dependable when they are secretly longing for the heavy burden to be lifted off their shoulders even just for a little while.

Yes, they have their shortcomings and misgivings. They have fears, doubts and regrets. They commit mistakes. They falter and fall.

But don’t get disappointed. Don’t be annoyed. Don’t be enraged. Instead, give them your sweetest smile and say, “I understand you, take a much-needed break. I do not love you any less just because you are showing me your weakness.” With those words, you might just prove to your fathers that all those years of sacrifices and compromises have not been for naught. That they have managed to raise wonderful kids. That they have not failed in the most important role that they are playing…that of fatherhood.

WHEN MY HUSBAND’S IDOL LEFT HIM

After my husband Roel’s kidney transplant in 2014, I became extra mindful of the state of his emotional health as I am aware that it has a direct effect on his physical well-being. I asked our kids and my in-laws to course any problem or serious concern that they might want to bring to my husband’s attention through me. I, then, would do the necessary filtering and the difficult task of delivering it to Roel with as much tact and care, and as little adverse impact on his health, as I could possibly manage.

The worst and most devastating news that I had to relay to him was something I received recently, on the first hour of Valentine’s day.

When I received a call from Roel’s sister in the middle of the night, I knew right away that something was amiss. But when the first sounds I heard from the other end of the line were the loud sobbing, the halting, quivering voice and the near hysteria, it became apparent to me that something was terribly wrong.

From what I could piece together from her faltering words, it appeared that Tatay Bebot, my father-in-law, was chatting with a neighbor while washing his car when he suddenly dropped. He was rushed to the nearest hospital and was performed CPR on, but to no avail.

He was declared Dead On Arrival.

Upon hearing about Tatay Bebot’s sudden and unexpected demise, I too was devastated. (He was, after all, like a real father to me in the less than 22 years that I have been married to his son.) However, I couldn’t let my emotion consume me at that time. I had a much more important and pressing mission to accomplish.

I took a deep breath, squared my shoulders, and put on my bravest face. (By then, Roel already sensed that there was indeed a problem and was anxiously and impatiently waiting for me to talk.)

“Knee, may nangyaring masama kay Tatay.”

“Ha? Ano ‘yun?”

“Isinugod siya sa ospital.”

“Tara, puntahan natin!”

“Knee, wala na siya.”

“Ano ang ibig mong sabihin na wala na siya?!!!”

“Iniwan na tayo ni Tatay. Patay na siya.”

(“Knee, something bad happened to Tatay.”

“Huh? What is it?”

“He was rushed to the hospital.”

“C’mon, let’s go to him!”

“Knee, he’s gone.”

“What do you mean, he’s gone?!!!”

“Tatay already left us. He’s dead.”)

 

And, just like that, Roel was like a melting candle.

He sunk onto our bed with a heavy thud and started wailing.

Child-like.

Woefully.

Pitifully.

Between guttural howls and whimpers were his lamentations of grief and regrets.

Knowing that he direly needed that release, I let him be for about half an hour. Then, gently yet firmly, I reminded him that we had to go to the hospital. As the eldest child, he was expected to be the family’s source of strength and direction.

Our drive to the city was the longest, most heart-wrenching drive that I have had to endure. Both held captive by our respective emotions, we were utterly quiet. The deafening silence in the car was disturbed only by the uncontrollable sobs that occasionally escaped from Roel’s throat.

Witnessing my husband in that emotional condition shattered my heart into small pieces.

When we got to the hospital and saw Tatay Bebot’s lifeless body for the first time, Roel was assailed anew by a deluge of emotions.

He only displayed a semblance of calm when he learned that Tatay did not die alone and lonely. In fact, Tatay Bebot was ecstatic because, after days of waiting, his car was finally released by the auto repair shop and he was, apparently, more than satisfied with the outcome. He wanted to bring the car to a priest the next day to have it blessed (it was recently hit by a reckless motorcycle driver from behind) which explained the late-night car-washing.

The thing with a sudden, unexpected death of a loved one is we are not spared a chance to properly say our goodbyes or anything else, for that matter, that we need to let out of our chest. That is why I decided to write this — to offer a tribute to the man who was sometimes misunderstood by the people he held closest to his heart. By writing the things that Roel, our kids and I will miss most about him, I hope to shed some light about the person he truly was and the life he lived so freely and so passionately.

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This candid shot was taken by Emar, Tatay Bebot’s first grandchild, during their HongKong trip. Here, Tatay was enjoying the view from inside a cable car.

Tatay Bebot loved driving (he was one badass driver!) and was proud of the dignity his work as a driver afforded him (he worked for almost four decades in Napocor as a driver for the Legal Dept.). He used to tell his children never to be ashamed of his job; it was, after all, his reliable partner in providing for and supporting them for many years.

He loved going to the market, particularly to the Balintawak and Divisoria Markets. He was very good at haggling, and he would always haggle with the vendors for the cheapest prices. When he does manage to get a good deal, he would buy in bulk (even if most of it would be left unused). Then he would brag about his haggling prowess. He was adorable like that.

He hated being idle. When he was neither driving nor marketing, he could be found tinkering with his car or messing around the kitchen or doing a million other things around the house.

He loved kaning tutong so much that he refused to let Nanay Leni use a rice cooker. Ever. He preferred his rice cooked the old-fashioned way.

He was a devotee of Our Lady of Lourdes, whose feast coincides with his birthday. Every year, he would hear mass in her shrine in Retiro before the family heads to a restaurant for his birthday dinner.

From the ’80s until each of his kids got married, all of them would always receive a 1,000-peso cash gift from Tatay for Christmas Day. That tradition persisted with his grandchildren, each of whom would receive the same amount during Christmas and their birthdays. Really, somebody should have taught Tatay Bebot the concept of inflation!

He was a voracious eater —this despite him being diabetic and hypertensive. He especially loved sweets. In fact, he always had a pile of chocolates stashed in their fridge.

He loved doting on his grandchildren. I remember when our kids were younger, he learned that they had taken a liking to kambing dishes. Tatay Bebot bought a whole goat and had someone cook adobong kambing, kalderetang kambing, papaitang kambing, sinampalukang kambing, kinilaw na kambing —every kambing dish imaginable — for his beloved grandchildren. He also wanted to be part of all their milestones. Once, he even traveled all the way to Cabanatuan City (where we used to live) just to attend his apos’ preschool moving-up day.

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Tatay Bebot with his wife, his children and his grandchildren

He had this funny mannerism of furiously scratching the back of his ear when he was exasperated or annoyed. It was kind of his trademark (something that Roel inherited from him). And, oh yes, how could I forget his phenomenal cussing! When provoked, he could beat Duterte in a cussing match. Hands down.

Another one of his enduring traditions was that of making rounds to distribute leche flan/ubeng haliya/bibingka to his old work colleagues every New Year’s Eve. I bet that they, too, will miss Tatay if only for that.

He was a practical joker. One of his old colleagues from Napocor shared to us during Tatay’s wake this particular anecdote. They once had an officemate whom they all suspected was a closet queen. To solve what they considered then the world’s greatest mystery, Tatay took matters into his own hands. He found the perfect opportunity when he chanced upon the co-worker one day, standing at the side of a road while waiting for his ride. Tatay, driving an unmarked vehicle with heavily-tinted windows, sharply turned the wheel to where his officemate was standing. In surprise, the clueless victim shrieked and jumped, his arms flailing wildly —while my father-in-law laughed himself crazy at his own antic. He was very proud of himself and is, up to now, widely known among his officemates for being the one responsible in unveiling the mystery surrounding the sexuality of their colleague.

He was a diligent employee. In his 39 years in service, he only had 4 absences, all of which he accrued when his mother, followed by his father, died. He consistently bagged the tardiness award, though.

He was known among family and friends to be frugal. He would always find ways to get the best possible deal. But, he also knew how to effectively manage his finances. He invested in real estates and in old cars that he would refurbish before selling, and he put his remaining money in an investment vehicle that would yield high returns — all because he didn’t want to be a burden to his family. He didn’t spend much on himself when he was still alive (even for hospitalizations) so he could leave enough for his loved ones.

He was street-wise and cynical, but he could also be compassionate. Under any other circumstance, Tatay Bebot would file a formal complaint against the motorcycle driver who recently bumped into the back of his car. But when he saw that the motorcycle was irreparably wrecked and that the driver was shamelessly nagged by his wife despite him being injured, Tatay took pity on the poor driver. Instead of obliging the driver to shoulder all the repair expenses on his car, he let the guy walk away free of any obligation to him. He even gave him some money to have himself checked at the nearest ER.

He never failed to buy lotto tickets, hoping that he would be the country’s next multi-millionaire. His ultimate dream was to build a big house with 4 floors, with each floor allotted to the family of each of his children. He wanted all of us to live together under one roof.

He was sweet. According to his niece, they were surprised to see Tatay Bebot in the audience during her graduation day. They did not  tell him about it but, apparently, he found a way to know the details so that he could witness one of the momentous events in his beloved niece’s life.

Finally, Tatay Bebot was a living proof that life can be short, precarious and fragile. I can’t emphasize that fact enough, friends. We don’t truly own our lives; all of us are living only on borrowed time. Today, we might be inadvertently neglecting our loved ones. Tomorrow, they might be gone forever — leaving us with nothing but a void so great and a long list of i-should-haves, what-ifs, guilt and regrets that no amount of tears and self-reproach can ever ease or even diminish.

20 THINGS I WANT MY KIDS TO KNOW BEFORE THEY NAVIGATE THE WORLD ON THEIR OWN

At ages 21, 20 and 18, my kids would soon leave the comfortable nest that my husband and myself have, over the years, lovingly built and nurtured for them. They would want to break free from our protective embrace to prove their independence. They would wish to spread and try their wings, to fly and soar, and to see as much of the world as they possibly could.

But before we allow them complete freedom, there are things that they need to know to better prepare and equip them for the journey that they are about to embark on. These are the things that will serve as their compass when they get lost, and their beacon of light for when the skies get too dark.

Emar, MD and Lala, listen and listen well. I am your mother and, for the most part, I know best. 😉

 

  1. The world is both a wonderful and nasty place. There is a thin, blurry line that separates cruelty from compassion, indifference from empathy, hatred from love, malice from kindness, jealousy and envy from contentment, prejudice from acceptance, selfishness from benevolence, harshness from gentleness, savagery from humanity, arrogance from humility, and negativity from positivity. Be discerning and prudent in all your dealings.

 

  1. Explore, take adventures, and travel the world. People are not meant to stay in one place. Otherwise, we would have been given roots instead of feet. (That last part is according to a certain Rachel Wolchin!)

 

  1. Rarely is something served on a silver platter. Anything worth having usually takes a lot of hard work and perseverance. There is really no shortcut to an enduring and sustainable success; one needs to use the ladder.

 

  1. Don’t expect life to be fair because, quite frankly, it is not. Yes, hard work and perseverance is the foolproof road to success but, sometimes, luck, connections and ingratiation could be unbeatable foes. Educational background, academic achievement, personality and grit can be reduced to mere nonessentials. A success acquired through shortcut, though, is normally short-lived. And it doesn’t earn a person any respect, either.

 

  1. One always has choices. Always. And each choice has a corresponding consequence. So, do your best to make the right ones and strive to learn from the wrong ones. You should also take full responsibility for your decisions, choices and actions.

 

  1. No man is an island. We do not exist solely for ourselves. Each of us has a purpose in life, something greater than ourselves. Seek that purpose.

 

  1. Be kind to Mother Earth. It is our only home and we are all its citizens. Try to leave it a better place than when you arrived. It has already been used and abused by humans for so long that I’m afraid that nature would soon take matters into its own hands if we don’t change our ways.

 

  1. Know that every small act has a ripple effect. Every smile, every kind word, every good deed may build a current and create a cascade of change for everyone who is at its receiving end. We all have the power to change the world of the people around us. Be responsible, considerate and generous with whatever you drop in that pond of life.

 

  1. Be mindful of your elders’ words of wisdom. We have more decades’ worth of experience than you do.

 

  1. It’s not enough to know what is right. You have to say, do and live it. There are two kinds of evil people in this world — those who inflict pain or injustice or suffering on another human being and those who watch these sordid acts without doing anything. Find your voice and make yourself heard. Aspire to be more than a mere bystander.

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  1. Never lose heart. When you feel that the universe is conspiring against you, when trusted friends turn their backs on you, when adversities simultaneously assail you, when your best efforts are greeted with indifference, when you fall flat on your face again and again and again —just keep going on. Don’t give up. A miracle may just be around the corner, patiently waiting for you.

 

  1. Be wise with how you spend your time; it’s the most precious and most perishable commodity there is. Do not cling too tightly to the past and neither should you invest too much on the future. Live passionately –but responsibly– in the here and now. Do not make procrastination a habit. You should also respect other people’s time.

 

  1. The single, most important key to a successful relationship is open and honest communication. There are many arguments that arise from mere misunderstandings due to lack of responsive communication. Remember that people can’t read minds, so you should say what you need to say — but it must always be with as much decency, sensitivity and tact as you could muster.

 

  1. A grateful heart is a happy heart. To achieve happiness and contentment, be appreciative of all the blessings that come your way. Starting each day with a prayer of gratitude is a sure way to attract positive vibes, and more blessings, all throughout the day.

 

  1. Know your priorities. Not everything that’s important is urgent in the same way that not everything that’s urgent is important. People and relationships should always be among your topmost priorities.

 

  1. Avoid unnecessary stress and worries. Know your limitations and choose your battles carefully. Save your big guns for crucial fights.

 

  1. Never settle for mediocrity. Everyone has the potential to rise to greatness and excellence, so strive to be the best versions of yourselves. Don’t always play safe; take risks. Don’t always try to fit in; stand out. Don’t always be content with your lot; aim for more. Don’t stop challenging yourself.

 

  1. Guard your heart. Do not allow it to be too vulnerable too quickly. Lay a foundation of friendship before building a house of intimacy.

 

  1. Don’t lose the child in you. Never stop believing in fairytales, laugh uproariously, chase the waves, dance with abandon, roll around in the grass, play in the rain, climb a tree —rekindle your sense of wonder. Don’t dwell on what others may think about you, just keep your inner child eternally alive.

 

  1. Love yourself. Nurture your body (eat healthy, be physically active, rehydrate, get enough sleep, have a massage, etc), your mind (read, meditate, play board games, engage in stimulating conversations, etc.), and your spirit (feed your passion, spend time with loved ones, be involved in charity work, be active in your community and church, etc.).

DECADES OF “FOR BETTER AND FOR WORSE”

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During Imelda and Abelardo’s wedding. June 30, 1966.

Today, at a time when the most convenient solution to virtually every marital woe is separation — and when the concept of forever is alarmingly taken lightly —, witnessing a marriage that spans five decades is a welcome breath of fresh air.

Imelda Pulongbarit and Abelardo Banzil just recently celebrated their golden wedding anniversary. Theirs, however, was not the butterflies-in-the-stomach kind of romance. Far from it.

Imelda had another favored suitor when Abel pursued her. After barely two weeks of courtship, Abel, who at 27 was nine years Imelda’s senior, unexpectedly showed up with his parents on the doorstep of the Pulongbarits to ask for Imelda’s hand in marriage. It was a whirlwind arrangement that eventually ended up at the altar. Since both came from poor families, they had nothing to offer their guests during the reception but rice porridge. Also, Imelda was made to wear a wedding gown that she did not know she had to return to its rightful owner right after the ceremony.

That happened on the fateful day of June 30, 1966.

A year after the wedding, the couple was blessed with a beautiful pink bundle of joy. Another two years down the line and baby girl #2 was born. This fruitful  pattern persisted until, by the year 1980, their brood had ballooned to eight – six girls and two boys.

Imelda had always been hardworking and enterprising. Despite being armed with just a grade school diploma, she was already earning her own money and helping her parents in raising her younger siblings even before she got married. She used to do domestic work for the more affluent families in the small, sleepy town of Bagac, Bataan where she grew up. Later on, she worked as a storekeeper, and when she managed to borrow enough money, she invested in her very own grocery store at the town’s public market. When the kids started coming along, though, she decided to give up her store to get a vegetable stall.  It was more labor-intensive (she had to travel to the province’s capital at the crack of dawn each day to buy fresh vegetables in bulk), but it was also more lucrative. Abelardo, meanwhile, was a 6×6 truck driver then. However, their joint income was never enough to cover the burgeoning expenses of bringing up their growing children.

So, in 1981, Abelardo packed his bags to try his luck in Saudi Arabia. There, where he would find himself working for almost 21 years, he served as a family driver for a kind, old Muslim couple.

Their marriage was far from perfect. Just a year after their wedding, Imelda wanted to leave her husband. Though she already learned to love him, she found it hard to accept his vices and indiscretions. Thanks to her parents and parents-in-law, she was made to stay. When Abelardo was working in the Middle East, Imelda also had to struggle with loneliness. She was in her prime and she tremendously missed her husband, but that did not sway her to give in to temptations and abandon her fidelity to her husband, and her faith in and obedience to God. The hardest challenge, though, and the most painful experience that she had to endure happened in 1982, when their eldest son, who was a second-grader then, drowned. She was tormented with grief over her loss, but she could not allow herself to mourn for long. Abelardo’s contract restrained him from coming home just yet, so Imelda had to be strong for her seven other children.

In 1989, she made an extremely difficult decision. She left her kids, who by then, were mostly in high school and college already, to join her husband in Saudi.

For the next nine years, she would start each day by kneeling before her make-shift altar to offer an earnest prayer for them. During that time, when the only way of communicating back home was through snail mail, she had no idea how they were doing on a daily basis. Were they eating right and on time? Were their clothes not drenched in sweat or soaked by rainwater? Were they studying hard? Were their friends of good influence to them? Were they looking after each other? There was not a day that passed that she did not cry for her children.

In 1992, at the age of 44, she learned that she was pregnant. It was unexpected and would pose an additional complication to their already complicated life, but they nevertheless welcomed the news as another divine blessing.

Her employer wanted to adopt the baby. They also urged her to convert to Islam, bribing her with a promise of a better life. But Imelda would not hear any of it. She went home to deliver the baby. When the infant was barely three months old, Imelda had to leave her in the care of her third child who just graduated from college, to go back to her work in Saudi. That was another decision that cut deep into her heart.

Years of sacrifice after, they started to reap the fruits of their concerted hard work as a family.

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the Banzils’ wall of pride

Their eldest, Asuncion, graduated with a degree in Education; Lorena with a degree in Computer Engineering and an MBA in Business Administration; Amelia with a degree in Commerce; Alicia in Nursing; Emma in Industrial Engineering and in Nursing; Aileen in ECE; Abelardo Jr. in Electrical Engineering; and Tin in Travel Management. Seven of them are already married and are living comfortable lives, while the youngest is having the time of her life exploring the world as a flight attendant.

Their life as a couple is a bottomless pit of lessons that they strive to pass on to their children and their children’s children.

They inculcated in them early on the values of education, of love for one another, of humility and kindness to other people, of hard work, perseverance and determination, of patience and hope, of fidelity to the wedding vows, and most importantly, of the unwavering faith in the Lord.

Today, the couple is enjoying their retirement in their ancestral home in the province. But parenthood knows no end. When any one of their children or grandchildren needs their tender, loving care, they could just easily walk down the street where their two daughters live, or jump into their car and drive off to Rizal or Cavite, or board a plane and fly to US or Canada or Qatar. Yes, their kids are scattered around the globe, but no amount of distance could stop these two from doing what they do best – parenting.

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the golden wedding anniversary cake

 

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Imelda  and Abelardo with all their children

 

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Imelda and Abelardo with all  their grandchildren

 

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Imelda and Abelardo. 50 years and  counting.

THE THREE-YEAR-OLD MIGHTY WARRIOR

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Friends, meet Gabby. This beautiful, adorable, energetic boy is the son of a friend and UP batch mate, Dr. Eileen Alvarez-Flameño. In an effort to share and spread God’s message of hope and the immense power of collective prayers, she asked me to write this incredible story about this incredible fighter.

I’m sure, I already wrote this before but, obviously, a reminder needs to be made.

One small act, or one seemingly harmless word, or one innocent mistake on our part as parents, has the potential to either make or break our child.

Sadly, it takes a tragedy for some of us to realize this—a little too late, sometimes, for the damage has already been done.

It’s Gabby’s first school year and, for weeks now, he’s been excited every single day to see his teacher and his classmates for his daily dose of fun activities—as excited as his parents are for their son’s incessant stories for when they get home.

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June 22, Wednesday, a day that is about to irrevocably change the family’s life, is one of such days.

It starts out innocently enough. Gabby has to be in school at 7:45 in the morning, so the Flameños’ household is abuzz early. As an only child, Gab is the proverbial apple of his parents’ eyes. Eileen was already 40 when she gave birth to Gab, so she and her husband, Allen, consider their baby God’s most precious blessing. Their worlds naturally revolve around him.

At 9:45 a.m. on that fateful day, just two hours after he brought his son to the playschool, Allen is back to fetch Gab. They are already cruising along the Balagtas highway when he realizes that he forgot to strap Gab in, who is settled at the front passenger seat, just beside him. Without bothering to pull over, he reaches for the seatbelt, and that, in that infinitesimal moment, is when everything happens in a flash.

The next thing he knows, their vehicle has rammed into a delivery truck parked at the side of the road, with the right side taking the full brunt of the impact. When he sees the still, bloodied, helpless body of his baby lying beside him, he is gripped with a terror so intense and palpable that it is almost paralyzing. He wants to weep, he wants to throw up, he wants to surrender to the sweet temptation of oblivion, he wants to pinch himself awake from that nightmare, but no, his mind and instinct would not let his emotions take over.

He tries to lift Gab, but the boy wouldn’t budge. His son’s right leg is sandwiched between his seat and the door, and the door couldn’t be opened because it is jammed against the other vehicle.

With the help of some bystanders and another truck, they are able to pull open the door and pull Gab out of the car. The boy is then transported to the ER of the nearest polymedic hospital.

That is where Eileen first laid her eyes on the pitiful state of her little boy.

Gab is only three years old, his three-year-old body frail and fragile, and he is lying there — unconscious, bloodied, helpless. Eileen weeps like she has never wept before, and with her husband, she prays profusely and in earnest. Yes, they can draw strength from each other, but at that moment, what they need more is assurance — assurance that their son would not be taken away from them so soon. And only the Almighty Father can provide them that.

They decide to bring Gab to the Pacific Global Medical Center, the nearest tertiary hospital from Bulacan. The initial diagnosis is grim: brain injury secondary to trauma. But the CT Scan findings are even grimmer: total fracture of the right leg, and hydroma (accumulation of fluid) on the left subdural side of the brain.

For the next crucial days, Gab has to stay at the ICU. His operation (draining of fluid for his brain and open reduction for his right leg) has been scheduled in two days.

Eileen comes from an extremely religious family, and in this tragedy that befalls their beloved “bunso” (Gab is the youngest of all the Alvarez grandchildren), it is their faith that they cling tightly to. They ask all the priests, nuns, seminarians and church people they know to hold novenas and to ask special petitions during mass for Gab. They relentlessly ask family and friends—in person, through phone, or via social media—to continue joining them in knocking at Heaven’s doors for the improvement of Gab’s condition. They religiously pray the rosary and even visit various churches to humbly offer their plea.

Three hours before Gab’s scheduled surgery, a miracle happens.

The surgeon wants to defer the operation because, based on the result of the latest CT Scan, there appears to be a misalignment of bones in Gab’s neck area. He wants an MRI done on Gab first for more conclusive findings. But since the hospital does not have an MRI machine, and because the family also wants to seek a second opinion, they decide to transfer Gab to another hospital. They end up in St. Luke’s Medical Center (Global City), where Gab is immediately intubated and hooked to a ventilator. The MRI result reveals that Gab has not sustained any cervical and spinal injuries, and while the Arterial Blood Gas test shows that there is indeed a retention of carbon dioxide in the boy’s blood, the orthopaedic surgeon maintains that an operation is not necessary at this point. That happens on June 25, the same day that Gab opens his eyes and moves his left foot and left hand for the first time. See, miracles happen indeed!

He stays at the ICU for three more days until he is transferred to a regular room on June 29.

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Each new day brings with it small but steady improvements in Gab’s condition. On July 05, with both his eyes open and clear, he gives his very first smile! That is definitely a sight to behold, and for his parents and the other relatives who stayed with the family all throughout the ordeal, a well-deserved reward for the many sleepless nights that they have had to endure.

Gab is now back in the familiar and reassuring surroundings of their home. Yes, a lot still needs to be done to bring him back to his old, jolly, playful and bubbly self, but his family is optimistic that they are already past the worst of the storm; all the trials that are yet to come their way are mere drizzles compared to what they have already gone through.

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Finally, in spite of everything, Eileen and her family still consider themselves blessed beyond measure.

God has remained faithful to them by sending His love through the people who have been part of their struggle — Gab’s indefatigable prayer warriors, the doctors who rendered their professional services free of charge, the people who magnanimously extended financial assistance, and the bystanders who unhesitatingly helped in pulling Gab out of the car right after the accident.

They are also grateful for the valuable lessons they learned along the way.

They recognize that negative thoughts and emotions should not be entertained during crises. Instead of finger-pointing, doubting God’s plan, and wallowing in guilt, anxiety and depression, the Alvarezes and the Flameños quietly draw strength and inspiration from each other and from their unwavering faith in God’s perfect love. They are assured that when they lift all their troubles to the Lord, they, in turn, would be lifted.

They also realize how fragile and precarious and unpredictable life could be, that they should value every precious moment spent with loved ones.

They learn the depth of the love parents could have for their child—the great lengths they are willing to go to—to shelter him from further pain and harm. It’s the kind of love that sends them to their knees to beg that they instead be allowed to carry all of Gab’s pains for him, because no parent deserves to witness the suffering of his child. It is an experience one will never wish even to his most hated enemy.

OF TEENS AND RAGING HORMONES

I’m sure that all parents of children who have already reached puberty would agree with me when I say that all our parental concerns and fears are encapsulated in just two seemingly innocent words. Raging Hormones. When the adult hormones (Estrogen for girls and Testosterone for boys) kick in, that’s when serious problems normally start to emerge.

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Having three teens under one roof could easily be every parent’s worst nightmare!

Overnight, our sweet, agreeable, predictable and bubbly angels could turn into strangers that are sullen and angry, depressed and rebellious, irrational and emotionally imbalance, aggressive and combative, impulsive and competitive, hostile and volatile, and strong-willed. The dreadful things that we only used to hear from other parents, or read about in family-centered books and magazines, or watch in teen-oriented TV dramas and movies are now menacingly looming before us – threatening to destroy the tranquility in our homes, to wreak havoc to our relationships, and to disturb our otherwise peaceful lives.

Like monsters lurking in the dark, ever ready to pounce on our vulnerable adolescent kids, there are various temptations constantly all around them.

In their intense need to belong, they may give in to their peers’ prodding and pressure to try drugs, smoking, drinking, or gang affiliation. In their hunger for parental attention, they may aim to flunk in school or, in worse cases, they may try to run away from home or even to commit suicide. In their want to test their limitations and recently-discovered freedom, they may attempt to perpetrate petty crimes and to perform ridiculous or even life-threatening antics. In their quest for love and companionship, they may turn to intense teenage romance and premarital sex.

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Emar with his girlfriend, Eira

When our eldest son, Emar, turned twelve, my husband and I were assailed with worries.

“What if we fail as parents?”

“What if the challenges of puberty and adolescence prove to be too much for us?”

“How tightly should we hold on to him and how loosely should we let him go?”

“If those crises that could turn even the smartest or most spiritual or most experienced parents into pathetic failures, beset us, how should we react?”

We knew that one small error on our part could either make or break our child. That’s how emotionally fragile adolescents are.

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MD with his girlfriend, Joyce

A year after, it was MD’s turn. We thought that, by then, we would be more prepared than the first time.

We thought wrong.

The same fears and doubts attacked us, perhaps even stronger than before, because with two adolescents in our midst, the challenges (and, yes, the raging hormones!) had been doubled. Our initial realization when they were much younger that each of them was unique and, thus, required a unique kind of care and discipline technique, was further reinforced. There’s simply no fool-proof and one-size-fits-all recourse or rule in dealing with them. So, it was like starting all over again.

And then, in a blink of an eye, our youngest, Lala, joined the pack.

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Lala with her prom date and soon-to-be boyfriend, Yego

Frayed nerves, frazzled tempers and seething emotions notwithstanding, we just rushed headlong. Without so much as breaking our stride, we let our parental instincts take over.

Thank goodness, all our kids have not strayed too far away from that invisible line that separates the acceptable from the unacceptable, the norm from the delinquent, the proper from the improper, and the typical from the atypical. As far as we know, they have not fallen prey to the influence or sweet allure of drug addiction, alcohol, nicotine, and gang connection. Not one ever tried to run away or to commit suicide or to execute a crime. Neither did anyone of them become a perpetual flunker in school.

But our work is not yet done (I don’t think it will ever be!), for a great challenge is now upon us.

All our three kids are already romantically involved!

Emar was a high school junior when he got all tangled up in matters of the heart; MD, a few months before his high school graduation; and Lala, when she was a college sophomore.

With the two boys, my reaction was the same. I went through the whole gamut of emotions — Initially, I was furious, then disappointed. Next came the hurt and the feeling of betrayal, followed by a strong resolve to put a stop to whatever it was they think they were having (I know, I know. “You’ve been their age once; you should know how it is.” was the line I was made to endure then—once too often.) Finally, after a long process of alternately playing shrink and mental patient to myself, I got it. The more I would try to pull them apart, the stronger and more solid their relationship would become. So, I threw in the towel. That was when acceptance (albeit, hesitantly made) came in.

Over the years, though, as I grew to know the girls more — and it had become apparent to me that theirs were not a simple case of a passing fancy —, the acceptance became genuine.

Emar and his girlfriend, Eira, would soon be celebrating their 5th anniversary, while MD and Joyce are now together for 3-1/2 years. Yes, they still have their petty quarrels but they always manage to find their ways back to their respective partners’ welcoming arms.

With Lala and her boyfriend, Yego, it had been entirely different as far as my reaction to their budding relationship was concerned.

I don’t know why, but I was able to skip all the negative emotions that I experienced with my two boys. It was acceptance right away — genuine, instant, unadulterated acceptance.

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Our three babies with their respective “Babes”

My husband’s (and Lala’s grandfathers’) reaction, however, was a completely different story. He had been in denial right from the very start — and had since gotten stuck there as of this writing. Perhaps, it has something to do with the alpha thing and their inherent territorial characteristic—I honestly don’t know. (He has to delve deep into his own psyche and articulate his emotions first before he can make me understand.) Generally, though, the parents’ apprehension when their teens start dating is centered around these following reasons:

  1. They are convinced that their children are still too young to emotionally handle a relationship. Ask them what they think is the ideal age for their kids to get romantically involved, and you’d probably get the vague (and extremely subjective) answer, “…when they are already mature enough.”
  1. They believe, with the absolute certainty that the sun rises in the east, that a romantic relationship is a distraction to their kids’ focus on their quest to conquer the world.
  1. They are not yet ready to talk with their kids about such formidable topics as wet dreams, erection, libido and, goodness, safe sex! Probably, they will never ever be.
  1. They are afraid to contemplate the possibility of their kids being part of the growing statistics of cases of teenage pregnancy. The mere thought could actually induce severe migraine or, worse, heart attack.
  1. They are afraid that their kids’ partners have traveled straight from hell and are sent here by the devil himself to ruin their family’s peaceful existence. Their nightmare personified!
  1. They are absolutely certain that when romance messes with their kids’ lives, the latter’s relationship with them may no longer be as open and amiable as before. After all, no daughter in history has been known to confide to her father, “Dad, I’m delayed. You might be a grandfather sooner than you think.”
  1. They are not ready to see their children getting hurt (and to welcome the possibility of them spending the rest of their lives in jail for murdering the person who caused such pain and heartache to their precious children).
  1. The mother is not ready to give up her position as the most important woman in her son’s life, in the same way that the father is unable to relinquish his title as the most important man in his daughter’s life.

In our case, there is one more reason why the news of any one of our kids starting to date caused us countless sleepless nights and wrinkles.

You see, my husband, Roel, married his first girlfriend (Whoever does that, right?!!!). And our children, especially the two boys, hugely adore and idolize their father that they are determined to follow in his footsteps. Roel also married young – two months shy of his 21st birthday. Our eldest would turn 21 in November. Now, you do the math. We already did. Waaaah!

THE CONFESSIONS OF A DADDY’S GIRL

Today, on a Fathers’ Day, I would like to honor my own father by sharing with all of you some tidbits about the man that my siblings and I lovingly call “Tatay”, and all our children fondly refer to as “Tatay Baldo”.

My father has a beautiful voice, and he loves singing. Among his favorites are the songs by Matt Monro and Frank Sinatra.

He is a graceful dancer. It’s a pity, though, that all of us kids inherited our mother’s two left feet!

He is a voracious reader. Give him tuyo, tinapa or kakanin wrapped in old newspapers, and he would still try to salvage the wrapper for his future reading.

He is an articulate speaker and he has a flowery tongue, making him an indispensable asset to any local politician in our town, especially during the campaign period.

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My 71-year-old Tatay

He is an excellent writer. He even wrote me a poem when I was still a cute, cuddly toddler. (You may read it at the end of this article.)

He is an insatiable food enthusiast. He could work up quite an appetite, especially if he is served with kare-kare, lumpiang sariwa and pansit luglug. Or virtually anything paired with freshly steamed white rice.

He was a passionate activist during the martial law regime. In fact, I think he was even secretly rejoicing when I joined LFS during college.

He has a hideous indecipherable-scrawl-of-a-doctor penmanship that only I can fully figure out.

He is the drink-quit-and-slip type of drinking buddy. If he knows that he has had enough, he would quietly sneak off and go straight home.

He could be extremely emotional. There were lots of occasions when I would catch him silently shedding tears, but if there’s one special memory that truly stands out in my mind, it was the bittersweet moment when he walked me down the aisle more than twenty years ago. His tears shamelessly rolling down his face, his shoulders hunched as if in defeat, and his hand holding mine with a claw-like grip — I thought he changed his mind at the last minute on handing me over to the waiting arms of the man who was to be my husband. But slowly, painfully, eventually, he did.

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My Tatay and the Daddy’s girl

Lastly, even if my mother used to be a school teacher, it was my father who served as my first teacher. He was the one who patiently helped me with my lessons and homework from the first day I set foot in a classroom up until college. When I was in 5th grade, our English teacher used to give us ten new words a week that we were supposed to spell, know the meaning of and use in a sentence. There was this one word that I still remember up to this day. It was “fictitious”. And, the kilometric sentence that my father wrote for me for that particular word was this: “Scandal mongering and gossiping show the brutality of men by easily believing in fictitious and fabricated stories being peddled by others without conducting self-investigation and objective observation.”

Now, I’m asking you this. Can your father think it believable that a 5th grader can really string together such big and highfaluting words and pack it into one ostentatious sentence? I don’t think so. Only my father can!

Happy fathers’ day, ‘Tay. We love you. And know that, for us, isa kang tunay na alamat! 😉

LORELEI….. ANG MUNTING ANGHEL

LORELEI ay ‘sang tulain na hango sa panaginip,

Nang saliwan ng tugtugin,naging awit ng paghibik;

Upang maging inspirasyong namamasdan, naririnig,

Ibinigay na pangalan sa anak kong nilalangit.

Ang tahanang dati rati’y may lambong ng salaghati,

Natitigib ng ligaya sa tuwing sya’y ngumingiti;

Ang kislap ng mga matang tila tala ang kawangki,

Naging tanglaw ng palasyong matagal nang minimithi.

Ang iyak niya ay musika, hindi ingay sa pandinig,

Ang dulot ay pagsisikap sa t’wing aking naririnig;

Kami’y handang mamuhunan, maging dugo,luha,pawis,

Makita lang na masaya, ang anak na nilalangit.

Putap, walik, taptop, kukang, munik, munok, patot, balak,

Ay ilan lang sa katagang pagaril nyang binibigkas;

Simbolo ng kaalamang pagsubaybay ang marapat,

Upang maging matalino pagdating ng takdang oras.

Sa kalabit ng gitara o pagsaliw ng tugtugin,

Ang tugon nya’y pawang indak na para bang munting anghel;

Ang kilos ng paa’t kamay at pag imbay nang mahinhin,

Ay sapat ng makalunas sa ‘ming pusong may hilahil.

Ang lupit ng kamao ko minsa’y kanyang nadarama,

Masakit man sa damdamin, nararapat ipakita;

Ito’y isang pagwawasto sa kanyang pagkakasala,

Nang ang mali at ‘di tumpak, ‘di na muling maulit pa.

Gintong aral ang magiging patnubay niya sa pagtahak,

Sa matinik na lansangan ng buhay niyang hinaharap;

Huwag gawin sa kapwa mo ang anumang hindi dapat,

Upang sila, bilang ganti’y taluntunin ang ‘yong landas.

Tulang ito ay hinabi ng malikot na gunita,

Isang sulyap sa kahapong nalilipos ng sanghaya;

Akong amang nagmamahal na hindi man manunulat,

Ay pinilit na ihandog sa anak na minumutya.

Panitik ko ang kumilos upang kanyang matunghayan,

Pangyayari sa buhay n’ya noong kanyang kamusmusan;

Nagsilbi s’yang tanikala ng aming pagmamahalan,

S’ya ang aming munting anghel, na ang ngalan ay LORELEI.