It’s my dad’s 87th birthday as I write this. I spent the last few days scanning old photographs in preparation for a slideshow I was making for the celebration. Seeing those photos reminded me of the many lessons I learned from him while growing up.
Even when I was a young kid, my dad allowed me to walk to my friends’ houses that were near our house — around 2 or 3 blocks away — but always with the condition that I tell him what time I would be home, and that I would call him at the office when I do. One time, I promised to be home by 2pm, but I was late by 30 minutes. Unfortunately, my dad was home at that time and he had a stern look on his face as I came through the door.
“What time did you say you’ll be home?” he said.
“Two o’clock,” I replied.
“And what time is it?” he said.
“Two-thirty,” I said.
“Look, you better learn to be mindful of time. When you tell me that you’ll be home by 2:00, come hell or high water, you better be home by 2:00,” he said. He continued lecturing me about the importance of time but the point had been made. Thanks to that, I learned at a very early age to be on time — a habit that I carry to this day.
Another lesson I learned from him was diplomacy. I would sometimes say things that made him mad, but when I explained what I meant, he would calm down and say to me, “Don’t say it that way because I can easily misunderstand. The way you said it sounded so arrogant, that’s why I reacted that way. Remember, it’s not what you say, but how you say it.”
It is a lesson I am still learning to this day as it is not an easy one. But a corollary lesson to it is also learning to listen to people — and not to react emotionally but trying to understand the underlying thought and feelings behind the words they say.
The next lesson was about writing and editing. It wasn’t a lesson he taught directly, but he provided the environment and opportunity for me to practice what I learned in school. On Saturdays and during summer vacation, he would bring me to the office and let me type his many business letters while he dictated them to me.
My typing skills vastly improved because of this. I also edited his sentences on the fly when he made minor errors in subject/verb agreement or using the wrong pronoun. Of course, a lot of credit goes to my school teachers for teaching well, but my dad provided a way for me to apply those lessons in a very real and practical sense. I thought my little edits and corrections went largely unnoticed until one morning, he showed a letter I had typed to the entire family. He read to them a certain sentence that I had rephrased and praised me for that correction, saying that it sounded better and that I did well in correcting it. That encouraged me to go on honing my skills in grammar and writing.
Perhaps the best lesson I received from my dad was learning to be independent. He gave me an allowance and taught me how to account for it. I learned the terms “debit” and “credit” before I was 10. He made me answer the office phone, or call his business contacts to set appointments — teaching me how to communicate in a professional manner — and this was before my voice changed. He would let me try things on my own — riding a jeepney, biking, driving, and later on going to college in Manila, living independently, and so on. He was not afraid to let me make mistakes but he was always there afterwards to help me process the lessons gleaned from them.
When I think of my dad, I remember a story by Anthony de Mello:
To a disciple who was always at his prayers, the Master said, “When will you stop leaning on God and stand on your own two feet?”
The disciple was astonished. “But you are the one who taught us to look on God as Father!”
The master replied, “When will you learn that a father isn’t someone you can lean on but someone who rids you of your tendency to lean?”
Happy Birthday, Dad, and thanks for all the lessons.
Originally published in Sunstar Davao.