This month marks ten years since my father, Manuel, passed from this world to the next exactly a week after his 75th birthday. He took his last breath while I was at his bedside caressing his withered arms—a moment forever seared in my memory.
Although he’s been gone for a decade now, there’s not a week that passes when I do not remember him. I read the morning papers and recall how animated he would be discussing the political events in the country. I’d hear some classic 60s song and recall how he liked to play the tune on his accordion.
At work, I think about how my father would have enjoyed being in our newer and bigger law office. (Yes, he was a lawyer, too.) At happy times and even at busy times, he enters my thoughts as a welcome guest.
But the Yuletide season always brings home the memories of the day when I was struck by grief the magnitude of which I had never before experienced.
Growing up, I always dreaded the day when my parents would die. I knew they couldn’t live forever. Yet, I don’t think anyone is ever really prepared to lose a parent.
It took me several years to fully understand that my world had changed permanently when my father died. He had been the one stable anchor during my entire life. He was my rock, my teacher and my security blanket.
What would my father do?
True, I’m an adult and can standalone. But I must confess that there are times when I still need my father. Perhaps that’s why, when facing a personal or professional dilemma, I always find myself coming back to one simple question: What would my father do?
Don’t get me wrong. This is not a plea for sympathy—I’m fine and all’s well—but simply an observation of how Christmastime has become an annual ritual to celebrate the imprint that my father has made on my mind and my life. How the life lessons and values he instilled in me would be the foundation of my character.
Summing up my father’s life, I keep coming back to one thought. Never will you meet a man who more faithfully lived his values. Allow me to share a few.
My father was a man of integrity. He lived by the adage “an honest day’s work for an honest day’s wage.” He always gave his clients the highest quality of service for whatever he got paid—and at times, even when he wasn’t. He never took advantage of his client’s trust and confidence for personal gain or profit.
His word was his bond and he fulfilled every obligation he ever undertook. He hated shenanigans in government and he took to task public officials who dared try.
My father was self-made and self-reliant. He was a product of the public school system and he was proud of it. Despite their family’s meager resources especially after his father’s death during his teens, my father managed to put himself through college and law school as a working student.
When he passed the Bar, he worked as a clerk of court in the Court of First Instance (now, Regional Trial Court) of Manila. Ten years later, he quit the government and started his own private law practice in order to support his growing family.
He was a voracious learner. His intellectual curiosity knew no bounds. He liked to gorge on books and magazines. He taught himself how to play the piano and the accordion and to play music by ear. In the late 1980s and while in his 60’s, he learned how to use a personal desktop computer and was then one of the few lawyers who filed computer-generated legal papers in court.
My father was selfless and strong. He disliked the idea of being a burden to his children. He tried to do things on his own even when he knew his illness would leave him physically exhausted. As he faced his final days, he still worried about his children taking time away from work to care for him.
My father was a responsible man. He provided his family with a decent home and stable life. Although he wasn’t wealthy, he gave his children the best education he could afford, believing it was more valuable than any inheritance he could ever leave behind. And when he knew he was nearing the end of the road, he settled his earthly affairs so that his wife and children would be spared needless anxiety.
While my father may not be around at tonight’s noche buena, I know he still lives on because I carry him with me each day through all that he taught me and all I do that honors him.
Merry Christmas, Dad.