It happens each time. My siblings and I will be sitting around, and one of us will suddenly choke and cough without any provocation. And in the midst of that embarrassing sputtering spell, all of us will laugh self-consciously, and then the coup de grace will be delivered: “That’s the Daddy in you, coming out.”
It’s an inside joke, and like all jokes, there’s often a chest of truth buried beneath it. I’ve been told that I’m the spitting image of my mom, but I know inside me, there’s a lot of Daddy: My passion for capturing moments with the click of my shutter. My tendency to preserve every little scrap of paper with my children’s notes and scribbles in countless scrapbooks. My love for taking pen to paper whenever my emotional state needs an outlet. Even my addiction for all sorts of containers and pens: All care of Daddy.
But more than all that, it’s the values and principles, deeply embedded within my soul, that I largely owe to my dad. It’s a realization that hit me only as an adult. In my growing-up years, I was too busy being the resentful, teary-eyed teenager full of angst; too caught up in the generation gap squabbles and permission-not-granted dramas to fully appreciate the formation my dad was painstakingly laboring on for his brood of seven headstrong kids.
You know how every parent declares (usually as an ominous statement following some big parent-kid argument), “You’ll understand when you’re a parent yourself”? It’s a prophecy and it’s every dang bit true. I have become my father, in more ways than one. And all those lessons I have learned from him as a child, grudgingly or not, I cherish now with much gratitude. Experience has taught me again and again that my father’s 10 best life lessons are important enough to keep tucked in my pocket at all times. And experience has shown me, too, as I dig into that pocket and bring them out to share with my own kids, that they’re a pretty darn good list.
1. Respect your elders
Practically every Filipino I know busses the cheek or hand of his parents and elders in a universal Filipino greeting of respect and affection. We all understand this. It gets trickier when the “older” person is just a couple years more advanced than us.
When I was 18 years old, I had a major spat with my 20-year-old brother over telephone rights. In the thick of the fight, I spat out an offensive word. Which my brother related verbatim to my father. Which caused my father to ground me for two entire months. I was horrified: The word that slipped out of my mouth was not a biggie, certainly not by today’s standards. I protested the severity of the punishment with full teenage drama: “But why? He’s not much older than me!” My father replied, “Because, still: he’s older than you.”
It was a difficult pill to swallow back then. But it’s one that I’m glad my father administered to me despite my protests. Because respect for our elders is a humble acknowledgment of wisdom possessed by those who have walked on paths that we have yet to embark on.
2. Commitment is forever
“When you bind yourself to someone, make sure that you know it’s not going to be easy.” With my father, there was no room for silly romance-tinted glasses popular among teenagers. From a young age, he taught me to view the world with stark vision anchored on reality: “Those things that you think are so cute now? Think about how cute they’ll be when you have to live with it day after day forever. So choose your Forever carefully.”
From him, I learned there is never a question of bailing out when it comes to love, because true love will always find a way to make it through hell or high water, no matter what it takes. True love finds joy in the midst of trials. Because when you make a commitment to love someone, “You love him, come what may. Forever.”
3. Know the difference between needs and wants
When I was a student and needed to ask for 50 pesos from my dad, I knew I had to have 50 good reasons for spending it. “Live within your means” was something my siblings and I could have printed and hung on the wall of our home, for all the times our dad mentioned it. It taught us the difference between needs and wants, and how to work for the wants while he provided the needs. It’s really amazing, when you sort through the shiny glitter that grabs our attention, to realize how many of those things we don’t really need in order to be happy.
4. Don’t be attached to material things
My siblings and I joke about how my father could give away the most valuable things he had or sometimes sell them for a song. When I was nine, I came home to find that my dad had given away part of my shelf-full of dolls and all the newborn kittens of my cat to street children pushing a cart of old newspapers and used bottles on the street. It was only when I was older that I understood I had too much where they had none. That day I learned that clinging to less makes room for more space in the heart. It’s a lesson I never forgot.
5. You need survival skills to survive
Growing up, even when we had a car, my siblings and I had to learn how to use public transportation, “so that you’ll never find yourself lost somewhere with no idea how to get home.” He made us clean our own rooms, wax the cars, cook meals, wash dishes, pick up after ourselves. He often said no to our requests for permission to party with no other reason than “to raise your frustration level.” We learned from him exactly what we needed not just to survive but to survive well: not so much material comfort nor outside help but inner toughness gained from well-learned life skills, a strong will, and focused determination.
6. Work. Work. Work
My dad gave us what we needed, but when we wanted something more, he taught us that we could only have it if we worked for it. Back then, if we wanted more clothes than the basics in our closet, or more money to spend, we had to work for it (That’s how three of us got into modeling). If we wanted a clean house, we had to do our chores. If we wanted permission to party, we needed to get great grades first. Today, my siblings and I all have a great value for work well done. And I believe my dad deserves much credit for developing big chunks of that work ethic in us.
7. Watch your tone
“Say that in a better tone.” Did I mention that my siblings and I were headstrong, willful children? With a penchant for engaging in dinnertime debates? My dad could withhold permission for whatever it is we wanted, all on the basis of the tone used when asking. From him I learned that the way you say things is just as important as the things you say.
8. Give back
As soon as we graduated with a college degree tucked under our arm, my father would give us a three-month grace period to find a job, and then we were on our own, no more allowance. You can bet we all quickly launched into finding a job; no such thing as gap year for us. Then, as soon as we found a job, we were expected to pitch in with household expenses. It was a great way to teach us the importance of giving back. He let us know we were important members of the family with something to contribute for everyone’s benefit. In that simple way we learned, far from the world revolving around us, we had to do what we could to make the world better for others.
9. Begin your day with Mass and say your daily Rosary
Every morning, at the crack of dawn, my father would herd all his children to Mass, never mind that we trudged to Church with eyes barely open. And every evening, we would all sit on the moss green carpet of his room, reciting the Rosary together, even if some of us would nod off mid-Holy Mary. My dad never sat down and explained doctrine to us, but he lived it. As a result, these habits are deeply ingrained in my siblings and me. To this day, though we are in various areas of the world, we all hold in our hearts what I consider my father’s greatest legacy: A deep appreciation and love for the Holy Mass and the Rosary.
10. You’ll be fine
Like every little girl, I thought my dad was the perfect dad in the whole wide world. As an adult, I now know better. There’s no such thing as a perfect parent for everyone, and like all the rest of the dads in this world, he has his own little quirks and foibles. But you know something? Those imperfections don’t take away anything; they make him who he uniquely is, human, imperfect, but still the best dad, perhaps not for the whole world, but for my six siblings and me. And I know I love him along with all his little human defects. And from that knowledge, I draw comfort: that even with all my own imperfections, I can trust that one day my own children will also accept me as the best mom, perhaps not for the whole world, but surely for them. And for me, that is more than enough. My dad is fine, I am fine, and they will be fine. And for that, I thank you, Dad.
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