happy milestone, sad milestone


semi-lighthearted and slightly inappropriate dismissal internet meme.

semi-lighthearted and slightly inappropriate dismissal internet meme.

I’M RINGING Dad’s phone on his birthday, despite Youngest Brother’s admonition that he sleeps at odd hours and would rather not be woken or disturbed.  He was unavailable the last few times I asked to speak with him (through Mom, no offense meant) but I want to personally greet him on his happy day, his 82nd.

kurot, kurot! kurot, kurot! kurot, kurot!  (that’s how I perceive the ringing sounds)…

ANSWER CLICK. (without waiting for a hello?)  Happy happy birthday Dad!  We all love you and miss you here in Wellington, especially me, Mahal, Panganay, Ganda and Bunso!

Answer : Ano yun?  Eche-che!  Si Ricky to Noel (Ricky’s the family driver who doubles as Mom’s delivery person for her Christmas yummies business), matagal nang binigay sa ‘kin ng ama mo itong celfone, ayaw raw nya nang tinatawagan.  Andun pa sila sa bahay ni Mommy mo, tawagan mo na lang run.  Pero salamat sa bati mo, lapit na rin birthday ko, sensya na nagmamaneho ako rito papuntang Libis hehehe…  (I rush a goodbye fearful for his safety)

Ngek… I gather from that short call that not only have I been out of touch with Dad for too long (contenting myself by saying hi through Mom and other go-betweens), but that Dad is no longer accessible via phone or text, not that either mode had ever been a reliable way to get through to him.

Kurot, kurot! kurot, kurot!  Kurot, kurot!  (getting through to Noel’s folks’ residence)… Mom herself answers the phone.

Hi Mom!  Happy birthday to Dad, how are you getting through the rains?

Mom :  Very very bad ang rains Noel, flooding everywhere.  Dad is having breakfast beside me, he’s eating now.  (I have to state the obvious and ask to speak with him, after Mom talks about the weather and asks about the kids, who I myself communicate only through Facebook and short SMS these days.)  Dad is saving his voice (huh?) but I’ll tell him you want to say hi.  You mean you want him on the phone?  Oh heto na sya. (THAT took some time.)

Me :  Happy happy birthday Dad, how are you?  Sobrang long time na, I saw your pics with Big Brother, Second Brother and all of the family yesterday in Fancy Resto, you’re having too much fun!  Are you still running ?  How are you spending your happy day?

Dad :  Thanks for remembering Noel, I’m sad that you’re not here, your kids actually greeted me through their Lola earlier than you, but that’s alright.  I miss you all, yes, we ate in that fancy restaurant where the food doesn’t fill you up despite being too expensive, I don’t run anymore but still do a lot of walking.  I stopped driving too, not safe anymore.  But everything else ( I detect a naughty edge in his voice, mwahahahaha ) I still do.

Me : I’ve taken up running again, but it’s never enough.  I still eat too much, got some gout now, and the cholesterol’s creeping up, all your grandkids are working now, and both Ganda and Bunso have gone back to school.

Dad :  Never too late for YOU Noel, do what you want while you can, have as much fun as you like, but don’t forget to pray always, attend Mass and go to confession (he never forgets that), don’t worry about me,  and I hope you didn’t send me anything I won’t need naman.  (He says that every year.)  Now don’t waste any more money for this phone bill, I’m off to enjoy myself, sadly not with you (yeah, right).

(Something tells me he still asks for a hall pass from Mom, not that he can do much with THAT, and he’s gonna pull out all the stops just for this one day.  I salute him silently and pay him my respects before ending the call.)

In case you hadn’t discerned it, Dad is someone who has done the hard yards, paid his dues, and is now enjoying himself immensely, while he still can.  He has nary a care in the world, is lucky enough to have his wife attend to his needs, and the freedom to do whatever reasonable thing he wants given his health and age, emphasis on the reasonable.  Happy birthday and be happy (though I know you are) Dad, you deserve it.

***     ***    ***

In the giant army of business waging an eternal war to make profits and fighting the competition, most of us are but foot soldiers in the trenches, not much more than kindling for the fireplace, statistics that don’t matter among the millions of dollars in other assets and liabilities.  Yes, that’s what we are, and what we do.  Beasts of burden performing units of production that the bean counters tick off on a worksheet, at the end of the financial year.  It shouldn’t hurt too much to know this, as long as we put food on the table, a roof over our heads, and hopefully a small nest egg at the end of our productive years.

Which is why, despite the shoddy way he was treated, I understood why they were getting rid of Arthur, who after all the upskilling, his commitment to being hardworking and dependable, and his attempt to do everything management had asked of him, Was. Being. Let. Go.  After no clear violation of any rules, and after more than 25 years of faithful service to the company.  Actually, three incarnations of the company, whom he had served without question.

Yes, he hadn’t reached his production targets.  Yes, he was unlucky enough to have been watching the machine on his shift when the latter broke down, and yes he wasn’t fast enough to anticipate breakdowns on the machine, which after all was less than a year old and filled with PLC (programmable logic control) settings that even the supervisor had trouble coping with.  But the signs were ominous and bad news couldn’t have traveled fast enough around the site : he was on his way out, he had been dealt several quick cuts, and blood was in the water.

Most of us were in denial in the lunch room, but each one of us knew we were just delaying the inevitable by keeping our hopes up.  They would let him go, Just. Like. That.

All my rationalizing about them putting him to pasture went out the window when I saw him with the union guy after his exit interview one Friday.

They’re letting you go, huh? was the smartest thing I could say.  His eyes were bloodshot, and he himself didn’t have anything to say.  The unmentionable became to only thing left to say, save for empty encouragement and false assurances of hope.  You’ll find another job.  They’ll always need good forklift drivers like you.

He looked lost.  He never married, never bought anything more expensive than his second hand car.  His job was his only source of pride.  (His life!)  And now they took it away from him.  After 25 years of faithful, uncomplaining service… I know all bloggers are verbose persons, but at this point, words escape me now.  I’m too sad for  Arthur.

***     ***     ***

Two men at anniversaries of their lives.  One celebrating an 82nd birthday, and the other, the last day of his long, long career.  I don’t even know why I talked about them together, because the expected outcomes of their milestones are quite different.  They just happened within a week of each other, that’s all.  And I hope they both move on.

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why Filomeno “Palo” Gagasa and family are my favorite Kinoys


Favourite Kinoy Palo Gagasa with his daughters Nymia (foreground) and Engr Ammiel (with glasses)  and wife Amy.

Favourite Kinoy Palo Gagasa with his daughters Nymia (foreground) and Engr Ammiel (with glasses) and wife Amy.

[ Note : Sorry for the long absence, thanks to Ms Didith Tayawa-Figuracion and Ms Meia Lopez for letting me repost this, please visit Kabayan Magazine Issue  7  at http://www.pinoystop.org/kabayan/ when you’ve time, kudos to all writers and contributors for the outstanding issue! ]

FROM THE Philippines, to the Middle East, and finally to Aotearoa, there is no stopping my favourite Kinoy Palo from reaching his goals.

Thirty years ago in Quezon, Palo loved nothing better than to play basketball all day and guzzle lambanog with his friends afterwards in Sariaya Quezon.  This of course didn’t sit well with his parents and elders, but Palo was also stubborn and loved the admiring glances of girls who happened to watch the interbarangay basketball league where he excelled.

His only other pastime was playing with the construction cranes that his contemporaries who were already working in construction firms allowed him if only to encourage him to do something else besides basketball and lambanog.

It turned out to be one of the few things that Palo did well, as he became a natural in handling telescopic cranes, hydraulic trucks and all-terrain loaders, piles, pulverizers and crushers that all required the same thing : dexterity in operating multi-levered systems of control, quick thinking and an instinct for safety while working under pressure.  Adding Pinoy abilidad to the mix, and Palo soon forgot about basketball and beer and found himself moving rapidly up the ranks of specialized crane operators.  He operated them like they were extensions of his hands, which before knew only lay-ups, rebounds and three-point shots.

He moved up so fast that before he knew it, he was already lifting massive billets, pillars and slabs of concrete for projects like the Metro Manila Skyway and the MRT-3 on EDSA, working for employers like Foundation Specialists in Makati City.  He was building a very specialized niche for himself, for very few people were doing the work he did, but he felt that he could be earning much more, notwithstanding the loyalty and gratitude he felt for his past employers who gave him a break.

The lure of money to raise his two growing daughters and give them the education that he never received as a child  proved to be too strong, and he distinguished himself by working in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the State of Qatar and the Emirate of Dubai, where the high point (literally) of his career was working in the 828-meter, 163-storey Burj Kalifa, which he helped build using state-of-the-art telescopic cranes and where it was impractical to go down, so he used to stay periods of 48 hours at a time on the very top, something he would never forget.

Such was the specialized nature of this job that he was headhunted by large construction firms all over, including one from New Zealand, which he unsurprisingly had never heard of before.  The offer of long-term employment and New Zealand’s potential as a world-class migrant destination was the tipping point in his decision to shift his paradigm and leave the Middle East for Aotearoa.

Palo did the natural thing and work his darnednest best in Wellington, at one time shuttling back and forth between Auckland and Welly as he was one of only a handful of drivers in all of Australasia  for a vehicle used in supporting “Big Blue”, a massive construction gantry that was instrumental in the Newmarket (Auckland) Viaduct Replacement Project.

Unlike many Pinoys in New Zealand, Palo was offered and received Permanent Resident status in record time, which he promptly used to pass on PR status to his wife Amy and daughters Amiel and Nymia, who recently arrived in Wellington to join their husband and father.

So, from happy-go-lucky basketball player, to hardworking stoic OFW to newly minted migrant, Palo has now come full circle.  Having found time to bond with family without being away from them, he now has time to get fit again, hopefully via the sport he has loved since childhood.  Mabuhay ka kabayang Palo!