Quittable 2013 : a Pinoy’s random thoughts on smoking

[Note : Not proud of it but it’s the proper thing to say : I sincerely apologize to both Ms Didith Tayawa-Figuracion (publisher) and Ms Meia Lopez (editor) for letting them down the latest issue of the Wellington Pinoy newsmagazine Kabayan, I offer no excuses and humbly ask for forgiveness.  Hope that in time you can forgive me.  It’s been a great week for the anakis:  Panganay‘s hard work as a world-class Wellington film extra has paid off so well that one or even more of his scenes might actually end up (one as a villager, another as an orc) in part 2 of The Hobbit trilogy (premiering in 2 weeks!), Ganda‘s dream of rebooting her aborted tertiary studies has been given hope by the University of Victoria here, and Bunso is fast becoming one of the more accomplished baristas on Wellington’s Golden Mile!  Our fatherly heart is understandably bursting with pride, thanks in advance for the kudos!  By the by, I do a blog like this once a year on the anniversary of my quitsmoking date, and inasmuch as one of my anakis is a smoker, if this can reach that particular offspring, this post will have been well worth the effort, woohoohoo!  Thanks to Nathan P and the Curtis family for the Bryan Curtis video above! ]

More deaths are caused each year by tobacco use than by all deaths from human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, suicides, and murders combined… Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States. – US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention

IS ANYONE still not familiar with the saying Do as I say, not as I do?  Well, anyone who has kids, younger siblings and younger relatives especially in the Philippines will know that this particular bit of wisdom rings so true with regard to one of the greatest health and social evils known to Man, tobacco smoking.

If I received fifty centavos for everytime I heard my folks and elders saying masama ang manigarilyo, huwag tutunan magbisyo (smoking is bad, don’t start a vice), I would have probably retired before 40 and sipping pinacoladas by now.  But because life must be lived through stupidity as well as wisdom, it wouldn’t surprise you too much to know that the more my parents sought to prevent me from trying things, the more I wanted to try them.  Go figure.

But if you were a 7 or 8 year old like me (then) and looked around you, wouldn’t you have done the same?  Dad himself was then a chain smoker, unable to perform his daily functions without a smoke (2+ packs) and both starting and ending the day with a ciggie.  My two older brothers, who were naturally my first role models, were stealing smokes in the backyard and sticks from Dad’s packs in their early teens.  It seemed that for all the opprobrium attached to smoking and blowing that smoke in people’s faces, it was, behind everyone’s backs, the cool thing to do.  All the cool people were doing it, you could see it on ads and on TV, and the “bad boys” and “naughty girls”, don’t you deny it, were doing it!  So for me, while the angel on my right shoulder kept tsk tsking whenever I stared at smokers, the horny dude with a pitchfork on my left just snickered mwahahaha Noel, it’s just a matter of time before you start puffing away.

And light up I did, after high school at around 18 although the first crowd I hung out with in college were exclusive school geeks like me and never even tried smoking.  Unfortunately the next crowd all lit up before and after classes, and even tolerant professors allowed smoking in class.  So it quickly became a way of life for me, in permissive, bohemian Diliman, where even cannabis smoking wasn’t that unusual, as long as you knew where to smoke it, and believe me, in campus, there were lots of places to suck on those funny cigarets.

Even Dad’s short bout with a lung infection mid 1970s didn’t deter me, or my two elder brothers who were already moderate to heavy smokers.  All-too-expectedly, since I was young, fit and healthy, it necessarily followed that I’m bulletproof, and nothing, not even all the health and mortality statistics, my hacking cough, black sputum-congested throat in the morning and that repulsive dragon breath would make me stop, for another 24 years.  By then Dad made a complete turnaround, became a strict anti-tobacco reformist, much to our chagrin.  Everything even remotely connected to smoking, ashtrays, the slightest smell or hint of tobacco smoke, was all but banished, for good reason, from our household.

After I got married, when the stress of family, work and sedentary living creeped in, smoking became an inevitable crutch and my one reliable friend.  All the rationalizations were there : I need it to deal with all the stressors in life; I don’t have any other vices; can’t I have just one outlet for my hard work?  and all other nonsense that ultimately wilted against the fact that I had burned out struggling alveoli and was slowly strangling the remaining healthy lung cells I had.

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It wasn’t any epiphany that allowed me to confront and slay my tobacco smoking, fire-breathing dragon in 2007, despite the fact that  I was a wheezing, overweight and pasty-faced Pinoy attempting to stay in New Zealand.

It was rather a combination of several reasons that made me to decide to just stop cold turkey : the $11 to $12 cost per 20-pack of cigs was something I could ill afford; my sister-in-law wasn’t saying it out loud, but she didn’t approve of smoking in their house, where I was staying until I could rent a flat of my own; and at 42, I thought that the time was right to stop smoking, after nearly a quarter century of playing Russian roulette with my lungs.

Literally, however, you need just one reason to quit smoking : to continue living, and continue living a healthy life, at that.

Because of Divine Assistance, exercise that helped keep the withdrawal jitters away, and the cold realization that an early death would prevent me from seeing my children grow up with families of their own, I have kept away from, and have in fact been tobacco free for the last six years, the sixth anniversary falling last 17th November.

I would be less than completely truthful if I didn’t admit to you, kabayan and friends, that I’m not completely free from smoking, mentally that is.  Not a day goes by without me thinking of smoking.  Every time I see a person or persons smoke, I imagine smoking myself, especially after a full meal, when imbibing alcohol, and all those other activities you associate with smoking.

The reason for this is that there is a cocktail of powerful drugs released in every hit of tobacco smoke that goes directly into your bloodstream from your lungs and straight into your brain.  These drugs cause your brain to produce dopamine, which is closely associated with the body’s pleasureable feelings and sensations.  There is no denying it : six years after quitting, I still can’t deny that smoking gave me pleasure.  It’s just the health and social costs that has made me stop.  THAT’s how powerful smoking is.

There is no magic formula to quitting smoking.  The two pieces of advice from this lucky quitter : seek professional help if you can’t stop cold turkey, and better to not start at all.  It’s that simple.

Please spare a thought to quitting today.  Too many people have died, or are now dying from smoking for you not to.

Thanks for reading!

hi-definition bonding with kids is even cooler when they’re your own

It's Friday casual. As usual, I will hide from Mahal after posting this w/o her knowledge. ;)

It’s Friday casual. As usual, I will hide from Mahal after posting this w/o her knowledge. 😉

[ Note : “high definition” : high resolution, greater detail often on a wide format of viewing.  “Bonding” : Establish a relationship with someone based on shared feelings, interests, or experiences. Thanks for reading this extra long post! ]

AN ETERNITY AGO, when there were more sons and daughters in my age group than mothers or fathers, I often bristled at the slightest impression that any parent of  my contemporaries had a favorite (or worse, favorites) in their brood.  Bad enough that the folks had to apportion their affection among multiple offspring, were they that awful that they couldn’t even distribute such affection equally?

Many years later, now to be exact, I know now this inequitable maldistribution of wealth to be an unfortunate but inevitable fact of life.  Should you ask, it’s because the naive son has become a naive father (and quite possibly a naive lolo in the near future, need you ask again), and mainly because one, there is simply no way love and affection, spoils and favors can be dealt out in a perfectly symmetric way to sons and daughters.  Two, in your brood there is always the one who seeks you out just a little more, appreciates you more and is a little more demanding of your time.  The resulting surplus of communication and appreciation, despite what many parents deny, is what manifests itself as a show of favorite/s, the Joseph among the Twelve or maybe John the Beloved among the Apostles.

So it shouldn’t be too much of a shock for me to tell you that whoever among Panganay, Ganda and Bunso communicate, share more of their time and show a little more concern more often is for that particular point in time my favorite.  I’m too old now to worry about offending them, they all know that I love them as much as I love myself (which is a lot), but then and now whoever is closer to me is that, closer.

That evening it was Bunso, who on his own asked if he could have dinner with Mahal and me, which of course we obliged as we hadn’t seen him much since he got his first job, and then his second job at a superpopular cafe chain.  Engaging with people is a natural skill with him, so we were so happy when he made the move.

Except that between this dinner and the last, I was unaware that Bunso had quickly grown from a laugh-a-minute, outspoken and gregarious individual into a brooding, intense and introspective 18-year old.  Sure he was still talkative, animated as life itself, and never shied away from controversy, if it meant defending the things he stood for.

But there was a seriousness with him, a loss of innocence that only a recent milestone of adult life could’ve made possible.  Yes Mahal, Bunso had fallen in love.  And was fortunate enough to have survived it.

In so many words he told us  that it was both an exhilarating and sobering experience, but that was it.  No other juicy tidbits.  We were privileged to have been part of his milestone, yet respected his privacy enough not to ask further.  It was all I could do to restrain myself from asking a million and one questions, for after all could you blame me for thinking that the baby, the youngest of the litter, was now nearly a full-grown man?

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Beyond this, Bunso also told us something we hadn’t expected.  Panganay, from whom we hadn’t heard for some time, was down with something, but couldn’t tell us what.

It was high time for me to give Panganay a long overdue call.  Overdue mainly because he had been busy with his stuff, but also because the latter didn’t sound too much like he needed any presence other than friends and the current ladylove of his life, who I was also more than a little curious to see.  Almost immediately after Bunso left the next day, I called.

Anak, kumusta ka na?  Ano na’ng nangyayare sa buhay mo?  I wanted to know all about his mystery ailment, but also wanted to give him the chance to open up first.

“Wala Pa, may nabugbog lang akong muscles and full bed rest ang recommend ng doc.”

I knew his condition was a tad more serious than he let on, so I probed a little further.

Kailangan mo raw ng medical procedure anak?

“Oo, pero nagiipon pa ako.”  That last  statement of independence melted me a little, so I tried a half-joke, half-expression of concern.

Kung barya na lang ang kulang anak, tawagan mo kami agad ni Tita H.  I think he knew we were half serious because Mahal reinforced the offer a minute later.

Now, on to more important matters.

May girlfriend ka na raw Anak?  At superganda pa according to Bunso?  At supersexy? 😉

“Linoloko lang kayo ni Bunso” Panganay stammered, but more out of modesty than anything.

Anak, I semi-scolded him, kapag sinabing maganda ang syota mo, umoo ka na lang.  At kapag sinabing sexy ang GF mo, sabihin mo OO NGA.

We both had to laugh at that.

We couldn’t end the call without an offer to cook him and his new girlfriend an authentic, adobo and sinigang Pinoy dinner very soon.  Hopefully, while he’s convalescing from his momentary setback.

The moments are few and far between, but when you reconnect with the younger generation, you feel a bit younger again, and the years of your youth come back for a while.  It’s even better when the reconnection is with your own kids.

Before I forget, may I just add one more crazy piece of advice for you after reading this blog, from someone who has no business giving advice anyway : try bonding with your chikitings about things they care about, things they do and things that affect their everyday lives.  It just might work one of these days.

thanks for reading!

[ Postcript : Just in case you feel Ganda might be left out here, her boyfriend is an above average basketball player, so anytime I watch one of their Pinoy community league games, I can bond with them easily.  So there. 🙂 ]

the day bunso came full circle

did our unanimous choice of chinese dimsum and yumcha really require explanation? :)

did our unanimous choice of chinese dimsum and yumcha really require explanation? 🙂

SEEING A person off on a journey into the vast unknown is one of the more popular metaphors lent to parents bidding goodbye to their adult children.  Part of you is so happy for them, being a front-seat witness to the first of their many milestones.  And yet you know that on many levels there is no turning back, as there are certain thresholds that, once crossed, can’t be uncrossed, can’t be undone.

Given his communication and learning skills, it had taken Bunso an inordinate time to find a job in Migrantland.  Each IQ test had given him so much encouragement, each interview had given him so much hope, and each hiring officer had practically promised him that the job was his for the taking.  Why, then was this his umpteenth job interview, and the latest in an endless stream of heartbreaking you have great qualifications, but just not a good fit for the position we’re offering right now?  It just seemed that they never ran out of ways to make you feel good and at the same time shut the proverbial door in your unbelieving face.

Which was why, after a month of not hearing from Bunso, we were very happy to hear that he had already started work after a short training period.  Just when he thought he had had enough of sincere-sounding but indecisive and non-committal employers, one supermarket chain finally cut him a break and told him to report for work the next day.

It was of course nothing fancy, minimum wage, work the graveyard shift that nobody wanted, fill the shelves and man the checkout counters at all hours of the day, don’t even think about choosing your hours.  For Bunso, just having a job was seventh heaven, and a passport to the life of being able to start saving for things meant a lot to him.

And the icing on the cake ?  Bunso remembered to treat us to dinner, which was a first for both me and him, meaning him treating me and me, well, being treated.  Free food certainly tastes better than usual, and even more when it’s from someone you’ve loved all your life.

From you taking care of the baby to the baby now taking care of you, Bunso has certainly come full circle, sniff-sniff! 🙂

From Tita H and me, thanks so much and love you always Bunso!

the first job for the rest of your life

don’t forget to dream!

[ Note : it’s been slow days and even slower nights for Bunso, whose sleepy eyes above are indicative of what for him must be an interminable wait to find a job.  With his permission, I’m posting below a letter I wrote him, hopefully to cheer him up.  Write to him some encouragement if you’ve some time as well, will you?  Thanks in advance and thanks for reading! ]

Dear Bunso :

YOU MUST have been on the front row when God was handing out smarts and wit because hands down, you’re one of the smartest kids I’ve ever encountered, among a group that includes your siblings, your contemporaries and many children I know.  You’re not the Mensa polymath type, but ever since you learned to string two coherent thoughts together, your head has been chockfull not just of facts and figures but of ideas bursting out of their megawatt bulbs just waiting for you to explain them to the rest of us.

It takes a lot to get you bored, as you can always get lost in your own world while deeply immersed in the many books you read.  I swell with pride to say this, but you are at ease with the spoken as well as the written word, a facility that is as rare as it is special.

Unfortunately, not all the intellect, articulateness and value-addedness of a young migrant like you will be an assurance of being hired despite all the verve, earnestness and energy you’ve put into your job search.

You’ve tried every approach : distributed your CV, knocked on cold doors, tried all the want ads looking for qualifed hopefuls in any industry that seeks entry-level people who make up for their  green horns with the zest to learn and the dedication to go the extra mile.  So far you’ve not reaped results, but the day is young.

I probably won’t gain any additional respect by telling you, but it took me an excruciatingly long time to find a job in New Zealand, after my first job overseas fell to pieces in the recession.  Just to keep body and soul together, I became a nameless cipher in the underground economy, earned half the minimum wage from an Asian grocer (he knew I needed the job and made me work for every cent), whispered salamat to a Pinoy video store owner who gave me parttime work, all the while hoping against hope that I would find a real job before my visa ran out.

And I don’t need to remind you that it took Kuya nearly a year, fits of depression, and mind-numbing boredom before he landed his first job.  You might also want to take heart with Ganda’s efforts at networking, schmoozing and all-out marketing herself before she got hired.  Before too long, you will become a bundy-clock slave too.  Savor your idle moments for now.

Job referrals can come from the oddest places, but almost always, coming when you least expect it, a bit of information from a kabayan, being at the right place at the right time, and a nugget of good fortune coming from a prayer, can yet bring you the first job of your life.

It might not mean anything, but introductions and meaningless conversations with people you met from other Pinoys, friends of friends and acquaintances might suddenly open doors, lead to informal interviews that end up in situations that finish with, well would you be interested to work with us?  Unlikely, I know, but nothing to lose right?

Meantime, smell the crisp spring air, keep your ear close to the ground, and above all, enjoy yourself.  There are worse things than being 17, fit as a fiddle, and cute as you are.

I love you always


Ganda & Bunso adapt adjust and assimilate

I’m not sleepy, the sun is just too hard on the eyes. Snow is almost gone on Mt Ruapehu so as traditional Pinoys we dutifully pose for the Facebook post later. They are almost all grown up !

[ Note : Happy birthdays to Andrew Ong (9th Sept), Tess Aldeguer-Tangco (13th Sept), Archie Mallare (15th Sept), Stephen Liao (16th Sept), Wilson Ong (16th Sept), Martin Go (19th Sept), Ronald Y Lui (23rd Sept), and my former boss at Coke, JB Baylon (25th Sept), thanks to all the support and prayers for Jerome and Lady Jalbuena, her therapy is ongoing, and congrats to the UP Pep Squad on the successful defense of their UAAP cheerleading title ! Woohoo ! ]

THAT EAGLES tune is catchy, timeless and endearing, but it’s hard to be the new kid in town.  You feel all the eyes on you, you don’t have a single friend to hang out with, and there’s no one save your folks, usually clueless and too busy themselves, to give you tips on the places to go and sights to see.

The above is true only three-quarters of the time, because during the odd weekend esposa hermosa and I try our darnedest best to show Ganda and Bunso around, the two having been in Wellington less then five months this week.  Their own mom and stepdad, with whom they stay, are also model guides and mentors to Asians acclimatizing themselves to probably the southernmost capital city in the world, with the bonus of being one of the most diverse, multi-lingual and multi-cultural demographics around.

But during workdays they’re on their own, and there is only so much time you can spend in libraries, museums, parks and the like before you have culture and greenery flowing out of your ears.

Being Pinoys, one of the most social creatures in the world, their next impulse is to seek out people, preferably people of their own age.  This isn’t too practical as well, most of their age group being in either university or middle school most of the time.  I advise them not to be choosy in selecting friends and acquaintances, in fact seeking out people of different races, the more multi-colored the better.  Given their natural shyness and /or propensity to gravitate towards youth in their demographic, i.e, Southeast Asian 18-20s, the inclination is to find Pinoys, in the food court, on the street, wherever.

I’m unqualifedly happy that the two, particularly Ganda, have taken the time to tell us about their goings-on in their new environment, I’m sure it’s a heavily edited version, what with all the TMI details that she thinks her folks don’t want to know about, and which only heightens the usual paranoia that fathers reserve for their daughters, particularly those in the blossoming stage.

But I’m under no illusion that our kids tell us everything about their lives.  In the first place, except in relation to the big picture, a lot of the time it’s not my affair anymore, they are after all already young adults and in another era would’ve been encouraged to marry and start their own families.  In the second place, humans reach that inevitable phase when you have to let them soar on their own wings and succeed and fail on their own terms, damn the torpedoes and bite my tongue when they something incredibly clueless and breathtakingly naive.

Don’t tell them that I told you, but I don’t envy them right now : extracted from the comfortable environment of friends, org-mates and BFFs in their respective universities back home, they have been abruptly transplanted into an unfamiliar, less-than-colorful and not-so-welcoming milieu.  Plans for summer vacations, internships and endless frolicking in beaches, rest houses and giant malls have been scuttled indefinitely.  For Ganda, almost a college graduate, and Bunso, barely out of the multi-tasking of high school honors section, it was a lot to ask.

But they have handled it well, with elegance and a maturity beyond their years.  They have adapted to so many things, having four parents instead of two not the least.  Add to that chilly nippy and goose bump-inducing temperatures that pummel them each time they venture out the door; a diet that is not exactly conducive to the Pinoy palate, and having to overhaul their personalities just to be able to make new friends.  It’s just as well that they are just beginning their lives as citizens of the world, for youth are better positioned than any age group to adapt, adjust and molt their skin into any environment, I just don’t know how long it would’ve taken me.  You won’t hear me tell them, but I admire their resiliency, as Asians, as Pinoys and as owners of half my DNA.

I feign indifference when Bunso tips me off about lurking potential suitors in Ganda’s 50-meter radius, but I take it yet as another sign of normalcy : which parent, when you think about it, wouldn’t be proud that the fair members of his brood receive flattering attention?  Not to put too fine a point on it, but if she gives brown skins, black hairs and sub-five-sixers (like her dad) equal priority with the Chris Evanses, budding Mark Zuckerburgs and future Nobel laureates of their new universe, all would be right in my world.

Thanks for reading!

the last weekend of winter with Ganda & Bunso

not only did Ganda, Mahal and Bunso have fun, they also managed to look awesome and cool 🙂

I’M NOT one to indulge in psychobabble or armchair psychology, but I can’t resist self-diagnosing : if you’re anywhere being a half-decent Pinoy (or otherwise) parent (notice I didn’t say good parent, that’s presumptuous), you can relate to my saying that your kids are the only persons on this planet before whom you never need to put on appearances; by nature and/or whether you like it or not, you are simply yourself, nothing more and nothing less.  Among the many reasons for this : It is good for their mental health and yours; they already know (or are on the verge of knowing) you very well from head to foot; you can’t deny your true self to the people of whom you are a part and will always be a part of you, long after you have left this life.

Having said that, I once again had a chance to affirm the above law of the universe after spending a tiring but fulfilling weekend with Ganda and Bunso still intoxicated with the afterglow of permanent resident status ; a window of sunlight, showerless rest days, and snow on Mt Ruapehu certainly a confluence of pleasant events to greet recent happy events in our family.

The unintended sidelight of all these was that despite all my attempts to sound sage and ready to dispense with wisdom of the ages, my daughter and younger son saw me for what I am : an excited father just as thrilled to see his kids enjoy life, irrepressible youth, and the rare milestones of successful migration.

their first-ever sightings of snow as young adults, the sled rides and ski lifts over snowed over hillsides were all highlights symbolic of their new lives as NZ permanent residents : in just a few weeks their daily routine of waiting and idleness had turned into frantic paperwork and countless details that needed to be furnished, added and confirmed.  The wintry respite was a much needed break not only for the budding New Zealanders, but also for their parents, who had not shared a day off together in over two weeks.

In between, the much needed interaction surfaced not just between generations but also between would-be travellers in different stages of the migrant journey.  Ironically, Ganda and Bunso were far ahead of me, a guest worker, in our common quest to become NZ citizens, though I would unconditionally be happy for them in every goal they attained.

And on the ride home from the winter wonderland,  if ever I thought that I remained the ageless dad from whom they would owe their looks, Bunso hit me with the joke-of-the-day : natatakot ako tumanda Papa, kasi nakikita ko sa yo magiging hitsura ko.  The punch line was brutal, but at least the smile was disarming.

Whether or not his joke penetrated any vital organs, such frankness from Bunso would serve him well as NZ resident for years to come.

Thanks for reading !

nest is half empty but pride is full full

IN FAIRNESS to the discussion, I’ve been more of an absentee parent than I’d care to admit.  If not for heroic grandparents, dutiful uncles and enlightened in-laws, Panganay, Ganda and Bunso would certainly have been worse off for sure.

I’m not casting my lot to the political-correctness (PC) wolves, nor do I ask for the mercy of the court, but if one of these days you bump into any of these three kids and happen to ask how I did as a dad, well don’t say I didn’t warn you.  But I digress.

Owing to extreme good fortune (the end of which I can’t foresee) and the natural gifts of my kids, they have done remarkably well the last few years, in spite of me rather than because.

So well in fact that against common wisdom, barely three months off the boat and both Ganda and Bunso are now the newest permanent residents of the Land of the Long White Cloud.  Where it used to take the better part of a year till recently, at least six months in Panganay’s case, it has taken roughly half of that for his siblings, surely a sign of progress for all migrants everywhere.  Of course, it helps that their mom’s a PR, that their bro’s already past the gate and to a small extent that their dad’s a guest worker, but on the whole, that it’s been relatively easy for them to reach their immigration goal has been nothing short of amazing.

In fact daughter and son though depressed had already steeled themselves for an idle six months of killing time in libraries, volunteer work and helping grannies, orphanages, homeless shelters and anyone else who’d accept their offer/s with odds and ends, bits and pieces and things that needed little more than the usual attention.  No chore would be too mundane for the intention, no task too tedious for the day. For they understood that in their worthy wait to be legal residents of the realm, days would stretch into weeks, weeks into months and months into seasons.  Only an eye trained towards the destination would make the agony of waiting a bearable one.

But all this was now moot, under the bridge, a figment of fond memory, as their case officer had very recently informed them that upon payment of their respective migrant levies, they would become recognized as NZ permanent residents; application and processing times but a formality.  This would almost immediately but not straightforwardly open doors like benefits, student loans and most importantly the legal capacity to perform and be recompensed for work.

The projected forced idleness of weeks and weeks was now a thing of the past.  Their self-conceived image of indigence and indolence was thoroughly extinguished in inspired industry.  An unexpected turn of events brought a 180 degree turn from aimless wanderings into a newfound way to affirm self-worth.

And by the way, how did this leave little old me, their cheerleader dad?  All this time I had been constantly reassuring them that their wait was not deathly boring, that there were many worthwhile things to do, and that their dad and Tita H were always there for movies, walks in the park, trips to museums and even runs around the block.

But as is the way of the world, as soon as the Pandora’s box of options and opportunity is opened to the babe in the woods, there is no turning back.  Every choice leads to another in an infinite maze of decision and adventure, and youth is on their side.  Really, as a parent who finds himself/herself no longer the be-all and end-all of their children’s universe, one can only stand side and avoid being in the way.

Congrats Ganda and Bunso.  You deserve every happiness that comes your way, and every success you strive for.

inhabiting a house that waits in slumber

ONE OF THE basic things you learn as you wallow into middle-age hood is that if it ever was before, it’s no longer about you, not even half the time or a quarter of the time now.  The unpaid debts of yesterday have returned with a vengeance, aches and pains have magnified twofold, and things you neglected to take care of have not withered or died away, but are still there to haunt you.  And yet, you cannot dwell on these small discomforts, because if I may repeat, it’s no longer about you.  If it was at all.

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I was a bit sad when I came home to an empty house in Cainta, half-expecting beyond logic that Ganda and Bunso would be there to welcome me, when they had just migrated to NZ two months ago, maybe for good.  I knew this as personal knowledge because I was/am a temporary resident there also, having found against all odds a decent job there, obtaining a job offer and trying to merit permanent resident status someday.  But leave credits had accumulated and I was past due to meet esposa hermosa‘s parents, so there was no reason not to go home and incidentally attend our 30th high school anniversary reunion.  Thus did I find myself in front of the old homestead on the foothills of Antipolo (just romanticizing the place, it’s highly urbanized already).

Are you a fan, or at least a watcher of The Walking Dead, which jumped from the pages of its best selling comic books into the HD near-reality of TV?  The abandoned rooms of my former family home resembled the rooms of abandoned homes in that TV series, personal effects strewn about, newspapers unread, books unfinished, there was even a small bag of chichirya untouched, its contents no doubt nearly expired.  I felt of a chill of loneliness navigate up and down my spine, because I knew that after my brief stay here, no one would inhabit this abode for at least another year.

Pricking me deeper were artifacts of their childhood, things they had kept from years back when I was still living with them.  Pictures from primary (elementary) and secondary (high) school when friendships were more profound and intimate, remnants of toys and houseclothes intended to be given away but for which they had no time; even class schedules from schoolyears past still stuck to bedroom walls.  I found myself poring over the most trivial things.  Costume jewelry first worn by Ganda, hair gel used on Panganay‘s voluminous mane, flyers for student council campaigns run by Bunso.  I marveled at the stories told by these artifacts, and I could not help but smile to myself.  What a trio of remarkable children I was lucky enough to be father of.

They had grown up in two cases a majority of their early adulthood and in one case a majority of teen years without me, save for sporadic letters, emails and chats, and certainly did well in spite of me, and not because of.  I contributed little but genes and the accident of doting grandparents and a grand aunt who in adverse situations made the best of everything by chipping in the lion’s share of their educational costs.  By default and by choice, I had become an almost-bystander in their lives.

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Hopefully that has changed a bit now, but the bits and pieces of the lives they left behind, hurrying to take advantage of still-lenient family policies in NZ, need I use the cliche, brought back a flood of memories for me, when I was a relatively younger father for them.

Strangely enough, in an empty house, that waits out the next few years in slumber for its former and future masters, whomever they might be.

Thanks for reading !

happy birthday Bunso !

all dressed up and everywhere to go 🙂

YOU WERE born with the least effort and grief, that much I remember.  It was afternoon, and your mother was already an expert in escorting babies into this valley of tears that we call the real world.  I just went out for a while to complete the funds necessary to satisfy the hospital’s pound of flesh (how apt) and as soon as I returned, you were already being debriefed by co-occupants at the nursery on how to behave as a hyperconscious newborn in a jaded old world.

No chance of a mixup in the nursery by the way.  From the time you were born, you looked a whole lot like me.  How much of a whole lot is a whole lot?  Well, let’s just say if you put your baby and toddler pics and my baby and toddler pics side by side, there would be some scratching of heads before you’d distinguish between the two sets.  And those’re our heads, so you can imagine how much more fun other people would have determining which is which.

But enough of that.  Your mom and grandparents will easily attest to this, but you grew up like it was the most natural thing, and you absorbed everything that you saw, heard, smelled, tasted and felt.  And I mean everything.  You must also have had a great time doing so, because in literally 99 out of a hundred photos I’ve seen you in, you’re either smiling or laughing.  A very happy young man.

The youngest in a group of siblings usually goes one of two routes : he becomes the entitled, insufferable brat, or he is the well-mannered, eager to please brother who constantly defers to his elders.  You would’ve gone crazy (or driven us crazy) evolving into either stereotype, and happily you morphed into someone in the middle, developing into the Bunso I know today.  I like to imagine you had some of my trademark flamboyance with the spoken and written word, and your mother’s creativity, and gift of focusing on the important things, but in truth you are your own person, albeit constantly evolving into something more each day.

When you insisted on attending the school of your choice, enrolling in a course program that no one recommended (but yourself), and joining new clubs and interest groups, I was surprised, but I shouldn’t have been.  You have a been like a sponge, gathering influences, perspectives and ways-of-thinking that I have never had the pleasure of gathering, you have the physical and mental tools to do so much more than anyone in generations before yours.  Why should I be surprised if you no longer resemble the 11-year old I left in the Philippines an eternity ago?

After all is said and done, I’m just glad that you have turned out the way you have, and I’m happy to have made a small contribution into bringing you into this world.  Although I will always be proud to be called Papa by you, in almost every way we are equals and co-travellers in this Journey called Life.  Hold my hand anak, and whenever you have time for me, let’s explore the world together!

Happy happy birthday Bunso, you deserve every happiness God gives you today, and every day thereafter.  I love you very much, kaawaan ka lagi ng Diyos !

“I loved you the day we met, to this day still…”

Joe and Linda, also known as Mom and Dad, with Ganda and Bunso. I wish I could show classic pics of them on their wedding day, but I can’t.

I’VE BEEN such a blabbermouth about eclectic, sometimes sophomoric topics that it would be a travesty to my frivolous blogging if I didn’t, if only once, mention my folks as a couple.

I know history can never be changed (sorry time-travel devotees), and what’s done is done, but sometimes I try to revisit the scant facts I know about how my folks met (reminiscent of the movie Serendipity, for you Kate Beckinsale die-hards out there), just to give myself a shiver, knowing that a slight misstep or two towards their fateful introduction might have produced very different results for five middle-aged men (me and my bros), and I might not even be sitting here blogging this today, if you know what I mean.

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On Rizal Ave, better known as Avenida then and now, Joe and Linda met, in one of its many combo buildings that were stores on the ground floor and offices above.

Joe was around 26 when he met Linda, who was around 19.  Probably only two people can confirm it now, but it was Linda’s dad who introduced them; all three worked in the same company, a leather-goods manufacturer on Rizal Avenue Manila, in 1958. I’m biased, but the pictures show they were a strikingly good-looking couple.

Again I never thought of asking either of them, or if I did they were probably circumspect in their respective replies, so as far as I’m concerned, at least for Linda, each was the first serious relationship for the other.  I won’t say they had similar personalities, because they didn’t, but they didn’t have contrasting personalities either.  It’s safe to say they complemented each other, both being ambiverts, mildly gregarious people who wanted to get ahead in life and were pursuing the Filipino dream.

It’s formally known, I’m not sure, as the Church of the Blessed Sacrament, but to many it’s simply Sta Cruz Church, and it’s where Joe and Linda wed, in 1959.

Could they do this while raising a family?  Without a doubt, for sure would be their answer, by the way the married soon after a short courtship, sealing the deal in Sta Cruz Church and their firstborn Tim coming nine months after their honeymoon in Baguio.  Judging from their pics, they went to quite a few places and did the rounds around the country, enjoying each other’s company before the brood that was to come.

And come they did, Donald barely a year after Tim, Noel (that’s me) four years after that, and George another four years after that.  Jude the youngest was born three years after George, and as the odds of having a daughter seemed more and more distant with each son born, they stopped at Son Number Five.

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Mayon Volcano, one of the many picturesque sights Joe and Linda visited. Wish I had the real pics! 🙂

Five sons, seven grandchildren, and 53 years later, many relationships have blossomed and floundered, administrations established and torn down, empires built and crumbled, showbiz careers launched and died, but the partnership called Joe and Linda is still standing.  Some of their contemporaries are still there right along with them, but very few have retained the friendship, passion and affection that their marriage enjoys.

I don’t just say this because I’m one of the products of that relationship.  There are of course arguments, philosophical discussions, the inevitable highs and lows of any union, but on the whole they are remarkably blessed to have continued bringing out the best in each other.  I wish I could avoid the use of cliches like that last one, but they do make each other look good, complement each other’s strengths and don’t hesitate to admonish the other’s shortcomings.

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It was a sad goodbye when my son and daughter left the Philippines last month, although a new life awaited them in NZ.  One of the sadder goodbyes they had to make was to my folks, who had become a sort-of second set of parents to them, in the absence of their mom and stepdad, and dad and stepmom on the other side of the pond.  Ganda and Bunso (pictured above) needed their support and guidance, and my folks enjoyed their company and seeing them grow into young adults.

In a strange way it’s one of the best legacies they could leave across generations, giving a part of their experience and generosity to their departing grandkids.  Without my asking them, I’m sure they left lasting impressions on Ganda and Bunso, who have never stopped marvelling at their enduring love.

I wish I could be there with you Joe and Linda, happy happy 53rd wedding anniversary from five grateful sons, seven appreciative grandchildren, and an ever-growing circle of family and friends.  Love you always Mom and Dad!