"I am happy that he was allowed to leave his life the way he lived it–on his terms, with peace and dignity."
I’ve only ever had three kumpares by my three children. I’m not a believer in the local practice of enlisting so many baptismal godparents that the line spills outside the church doors.
It makes business sense, of course, to count on godparents’ gifts to recover your investment in the baptismal party, which itself is swollen in attendance by the presence of so many kumpares and kumares from previous baptisms—whether of your kids, their kids, or somebody else’s kids where you just happened to become katuwangs.
These relationships form the basic building block—outside of intermarriage—for the uniquely Filipino construct called the extended family. Because these blocks are established through baptismal and marital rites, they are an enduring contribution of the Church to the invincible cohesion of the Filipino family life, as well as the social networks and patronage by which we later make our way up in life.
For my part, however, what’s really mattered to me is the sacramental character of the Church rites that form new kumpares. The godfather, after all, is entrusted with the spiritual—if not in fact the actual—upbringing of the godchild should anything happen to its parents. The mutual obligation created between two kumpares ought to be unique, in the same way that a spousal or filial obligation is also unique. It’s no place to hedge one’s bets by having more than one such relationship per child.
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A few years ago I lost one of my three kumpares, Jerry Barican, by my second son Rafael. He was a lifelong bon vivant who eventually succumbed to a weak heart, and was roundly feted at his wake by the crowd of friends he had accumulated over a celebrated lifetime as a student leader, corporate lawyer, Palace spokesman, and adviser to business moguls and presidents.
Just last Sunday—too soon after Jerry’s passing—I lost another one of my three kumpares—Nelson Navarro, by my only daughter Claire.
Nelson had suffered two major strokes, several years apart, which greatly affected his mobility, although this did not prevent him from maintaining his hectic schedule of foreign travel and domestic schmoozing. But his third stroke proved to be the final one, bringing him back to Makati Med for the last time.
* * *
Pareng Nelson and I went back a long way, to the late sixties in UP when the Diliman campus was transitioning from the bohemian “beat” culture that replaced the straitlaced fifties, to the seething ideological unrest that would finally burst out at the start of the seventies. He and I were both transitional figures in that era, one foot planted in the makeshift salons of Los Indios Bravos and Grey November, the other in the street clashes of Mendiola and Plaza Miranda.
Not being a public firebrand at all, Nelson was made the spokesman of the Movement for a Democratic Philippines (MDP), an initial united front configuration, where his articulate presence was intended to assure potential allies from the middle forces. As such, he came from the same mold as our common friends Jerry Barican and De la Salle’s Chito Sta. Romana, who was once singled out by Mrs. Marcos as her favorite student leader and who today serves as the country’s ambassador to China.
Sometime before martial law in 1972, Nelson managed to evade capture by making his way to the US as a political refugee. When and how this happened I never found out, having already been arrested myself by then, and about which Nelson understandably never opened up. It was those years of exile that I believe were his happiest—earning his Columbia degree, living a nomadic life on the Lower East Side of New York, and traveling, always traveling, pulled here and there by his restless curiosity about the world.
* * *
In the early eighties I caught up with him again in New York, and it was there that I buttonholed him to become the sole godfather to my daughter. The baptism was held at a Staten Island church, we had the party at a harborside restaurant, and I remember that it seemed like an endless day of sunshine and hopefulness for all of us.
Just months later in 1986, with EDSA having toppled the dictatorship, my new kumpare made his way back to Manila, where I caught up with him again only upon my own homecoming a decade later. In the interim, Nelson had made many, many new friends and carved out a name for himself as a biographer of the rich and famous, including celebrity subjects like former VP Manny Pelaez, uber-journalist Max Soliven, and the redoubtable Johnny Ponce Enrile.
Like my other kumpareng Jerry, Nelson was ultimately a private person, despite his social visibility. But unlike Jerry, Nelson was blessed with a lot of traditional support—from a beloved and long-lived father, a large brood of siblings now headed by a very solicitous stepmother, his brods in Alpha Phi Beta, his townmates in Malaybalay, Bukidnon. His friendships were many and undoubtedly serious, but I like to think that his bottomline was ultimately his rootedness in family and community.
Nelson hated being confined in hospitals, and was a constant trial to the nurses in Makati Med during his stays there. In the end he was spared another round of this indignity, being reclaimed by his Creator in the privacy of his own home. I am happy that he was allowed to leave his life the way he lived it—on his terms, with peace and dignity. God bless you, ‘Pareng Nelson, and may the perpetual light now comfort your restless soul.
Nelson Navarro's wake is at Loyola Memorial in Guadalupe until Thursday.