I WAS on my third year as a school administrator of the St. Nicholas Academy: CCEI in Macabebe when one parent approached me after the general orientation and told me she was my late father’s teacher in his last post as a public school principal. She went on to say how great my old man was, that he was greatly admired and respected by the local community. She went on to tell me that the way I talked and argued over some school issues reminded her so much of my father. I could have just simply thanked her for her kindest of words. But I opted to deflect the complement by saying I was nowhere near what my father has accomplished in life; that my tatang was one tough act to follow.
Don’t get me wrong. My tatang was not one highly-celebrated or multi-awarded figure who landed on the front page of leading newspapers for some outstanding achievements. Far from that! He was one simple, ordinary individual who touched the lives of others in an extraordinary way. It was his unassuming and unpretentious ways that endeared him to the people he met.
To this day, my siblings and I get to meet some of his former students and teachers who have nothing but praises for him. As a school principal, he brought out the best in his teachers. His personal joy was to see his teachers become better year after year, rise from the ranks, and get promoted as school administrators as well.
During the bygone era of issue-based election campaigns, local politicians would come to our house to seek his “little endorsement” and bring him to their sorties and caucuses. Barrio folks loved seeing and listening to my tatang as he was someone they believed in and can relate to. Despite the friendships he had forged with and his loyalty to our town’s political leaders, he shied away from politics and never asked for any favor. I think this is the reason why the second-generation political leaders he supported continue to treat us not as supporters but as family.
Of the many hats he wore, I think he was in his best elements when he was just “Emo” to the love of his life, “Curing,” our mother and “Tang” to his nine children. Growing up, we did not live a comfortable life. But despite this, we always felt complete as individuals because my parents’ great love for each other and for us enabled us to see past the hardships, and work very hard to achieve our own goals. We always looked forward to the weekends as it was his turn to take over the kitchen to cook for us. In the absence of any gadget at home, we listened to his war exploits, stories of duwendes and tikbalangs and even the rejection he initially faced when he was pursuing our mother.
I often hear of stories how some fathers would try the hardest to carve the path for their children and push them to the brink, and in the process make their children live uncomfortably under the mantle of their great names for a long time. With my tatang it was never like that.
During my stint in one of the country’s top universal banks, my tatang felt my own struggles. The two of us never said a word to each other, and yet he simply knew what I was going through. During the weekends when it was my turn to look after him in the hospital, he would just ask me to lie down and rest as I listened to his many stories. We all know about a mother’s intuition. But what about that inexplicable bond that connects a father to his own son?
If there is one “what if” in life that I continue to harbor in my heart, it would be this: How I wish my father lived long enough to see me living my mission and pursuing my vocation as an educator.
True, I gave up a nine-year career in corporate banking to go back to my first passion which is teaching. Contrary to what others might think, my tatang never asked me to do what he thought was best for me. He never asked me to leave my banking career and fly out of the country for greener pastures. I never really intended to follow his footsteps. Truth be told, I am now continuing my chosen path because my tatang simply advised me to follow my heart.