By By tata ramon
Si Tatay
posted 20-Mar-2013  ·  
2,016 views  ·   0 comments  ·  

March 18 of this year, my family observes the masurit or first anniversary of my father’s passage into the great divide. I write of my father here in fond memoriam, but also to fulfill the mandate of this occasional column, which is to cultivate appreciation for Catandunganon society and culture. It goes that deeper awareness of sisay kita as a people is best gained through narratives of lived experience. My father, Felipe Marquez Sarmiento who died at age 86, was among the last of his generation. He and his cohort were brought up during an interesting intersection of history that afforded them both a sense for traditional values, and the best aspirations for the promise of progress yet unadulterated by present-day postmodernist blight.  He was a gentleman of the old school who stood on solid moral ground and gazed towards the bright and clear horizon beyond.   An enviable picture, indeed a romantic one, that could hardly be descriptive of anybody of us in our present era.

But my father lived the romance of life. He embodied the best aspects of the old but had such warm enthusiasm for the new. This combination is best illustrated in an anecdote that I most treasure about him. I was in my second year high school. The roof of our old house needed a change of nipa shingles. So my father asked me to go with him up the scaffolding and taught me how to replace the tiklad, the crucial step of which is the proper lashing technique which if badly done will not withstand the battery of an average typhoon. Up there close to our bubong, with a whole new way of seeing our household from above and the rest of the world made up of rooftops and the sky, he told me solemnly that he is teaching me what his own elder brother taught him (his father died when he was four), because a man should know how to fix his own roof. He added however that when I build my own house in the future, he hopes that the atop would be of sim, galvanized iron sheet that is. I must be able to afford more than what he can; he gives me all he has now, but I have to build on it as he expects me to be an improvement of him, in all aspects.     

There were many other things he taught me which when I recall now were conveyed almost with the quality of ritual, like in the passing on of sacred knowledge from master to the initiate. He had me learn how to butcher chicken and pig, repair fences, do basic carpentry, make the ginukon (nawi ring to bind the sighid), sharpen the bolo, fix wirings of the plantsa and light bulb, light up the petromax, do quadratic equations with ease and extract square roots half the necessary time needed.  His was the last generation of fathers who knew how to do everthing; he was the do-it-all man of the house. He did not shy away from hard work and presided over every important sibot at home, like the preparation for fiestas or during typhoons. Such occasions he would carry through properly geared, ga hagkos ning tabak, like a warrior ready for battle. He kept a special bolo for such purposes which he sharpened regularly and kept in a wooden scabbard he himself had fashioned. During “normal” times this core implement of fatherhood stayed hanged strategically behind the back door.

 He gave his all. In partnership with my mother, he has done his best that his economic hardship and other limitations could permit in providing for our basic needs, and for our education. For this, we his children are eternally thankful. But among the most prized aspects of his legacy were the non-material ones, the values and principles he rubbed in on us, not so much by words but more so by deeds.

As I look back now imagining the way he carried himself as a person, what impresses me foremost was his eloquent humility and simplicity. He never exuded any air of self-aggrandizement, never ever tried to call attention to himself, not because of shyness or self-doubt, but because he was so sure of himself.  He used things according to the bare minimum, maintained very few personal effects, was prudent on everything including his thoughts and words. He had an impressive vocabulary in both vernacular and English, can explain things clearly and with depth but he was never extravagant in his expressions. I never heard him utter a single profanity.

While it was easy to please him (had very simple taste), my father maintained little forms of self-indulgence, not so much as a way with extravagance but as a matter of style. For all his modesty, he had some style.  He loved a nice haircut (cropped) and you never catch him with a day’s growth of beard. He wore his long-sleeves and formal t-shirts tucked in (his tummy was always flat). He was so discriminating about colors of his clothes. He always saw to it that he never ran out of his favorite cologne, applied liberally all over (Ong hamot ni sir!). He loved his coffee strong and extra sweet. During meals, he had his own mug of the sabaw. He sipped both coffee and sabaw in noisy satisfaction.  On Sundays, he bought Manila Bulletin and Philippine Free Press and read them all morning at the pantaw. He wrote with a fountain pen. Once, he bought a nice Seiko watch which took him eternity to pay on “gives” through salary deduction. Twice a month, he would bring my mother to the movies.  But my father never drank alcoholic, nor smoked or gambled. He did not go out of his way to socialize, not because he was anti-social but because he would rather spend time fixing things at home. He did not demand that we do things for him. Upon arrival from work, he loved it that one of the younger children fetch his pair of slippers, but that was all, he even made his own coffee.

I see now that his simplicity and humility were merely the logical extensions of his basic generosity and selflessness. Never having made extra economically, his generosity was not about the giving away of material goods but took form as a giving up of his own comfort and indulgence in favor of others. He was always the last to get his share of isisila or of anything we were dividing among us in the family. He would do the dirty work, even during outings, such as tending to the dinarang while everybody was having fun. Career-wise, he never aspired for position or status, not so much due to a lack of ambition, but out of a distaste for power. He did not finish his bachelor’s degree; he merely had a two-year certificate on elementary level teaching (ETC). When we prodded him to pursue his studies, he would say “Kamo na sana” as indeed he only had ambition for his children.  He took silent pride in having been able to see eight children to college, kinanap despite untold odds.

But surely my father’s generosity went beyond his family. He was one who would never win a philanthropy award but stories of his generosity are among those that stuck to my memory of him. One such story happened when he had to do his duty as census enumerator in Calabnigan. Late in the afternoon, he went home hungry so he ransacked the kitchen for left-overs. My mother wondered because she prepared him baon for lunch. He confessed that he gave away his food to a family he encountered whose mother wanted to cut the interview short because she had to find food for her family. But it was almost twelve noon. So my father went through census-taking the rest of the day without having eaten.  During moments of bonding among my siblings, we love to recall the parade of makililimos who were our suki at home. A number of them would not only ask for the usual alms; they would regularly stay for the night. We had made ready for them banig, blanket and a set of utensils for meals. I used to sit with these beggars into the night and have them tell stories. One of them, Tinoy the blind, was particularly good at this because he would accumulate all the tsismis in town as he went about begging. When my father died, one of the most poignant grieving I saw was that of Mer, said to be a leper and a suki at home for the last twenty years or so. Silent tears streamed through her stare as she was told that Tiyo passed away.           

My father’s giving of himself was even more eloquent in the way he always sided with the underdog, the powerless. For one thing he made sure he would always be one of the masa. He took pride in the fact that he worked as kargador sa pier. He would not mind carrying about a bayong and at home he wore shorts and kamisetang truck mended in many places, sinursihan. While he remained a rank-and-file teacher, preferring always rural assignment, he was active in the fight for teacher rights. He was a perennial board member of the local provincial teachers’ association.  I remember there were always teachers at home making consultations with my father on personal problems regarding their rights as teachers.

He was a fighter, my father. He had such acute sense of justice and uprightness, and this is one thing I am most proud about him. He never “kissed asses” (forgive the strong language). He was never afraid to walk up to any poncio pilato and speak his mind.  Another fond memory of him was when I observed him from afar as he manned a voting precinct as chairperson. An issue cropped up, something I did not fully understand, except that my father’s position did not favor the interest of the powers-that-be, then the Albertos. It became critical that at one point, a big-shot henchman of the gods came and intimidated my father into giving in to their demands. But my father stood his ground and the big shot stormed out frustrated. I had never been so proud of Tatay.

While my father was of his generation, in many ways was he atypical. During his time, the policy to live by was tonto ang ga kontra sa sorog. But my father consistently went against the grain in his politics.  He never voted for the Albertos or for Marcos. He was an oppositionist at heart, because, as he put it, somebody must fiscalize. During election period, our world as a family would shrink. No ward leader ever dared approach my parents to recruit them for their candidate, and we never got the early morning knock at the door come election day. We felt social ostracism even in school where our classmates, imitating their parents, touted us for being different. But we did not mind.  We knew that the important thing was to stand for what you think is right even if you are alone.

That I believe is the best aspect of my father’s legacy, independent and critical thinking. He was a benevolent disciplinarian when we were younger (he did not spare the padlos) and made sure we imbibed the desirable principles and values, but as soon as we came of age, he let us be what we wanted. Eventually, he knew of my radical political involvements, but he never dissuaded me; he just told me to take care of myself.

In many ways therefore, my father during his time was an affront to the status quo, a living critique of the prevailing social values. But towards retirement, he expressed in earnest a desire to become a player in the system, believing that he can make some difference. He wanted to run for municipal councilor.  My mother was vehemently against it wondering how he could ever win in an election when he was poor as a mouse. So my father explained to her his strategy. He will hire the sikad-sikad of Tang Pato (Anybody remember him? He drove around the padyak at the time when it was not yet uso as it is now).  Accordingly, he will stop at every corner all over town and make a speech to the effect that: he is presenting himself as servant of the people as councilor; will not receive salary as it will all be given away as scholarship to the needy, and that if they think he is not worthy, then they should not vote for him. To this my mother cringed in embarrassment and launched a noisy protest, short of warning him that if he ever dare do it, she will deny him in public. 

I never doubted that my father, in an almost naïve seriousness of purpose, would do exactly what he planned to. But when retirement came to him, my mother’s illness developed to such seriousness he needed to take care of her full time. It prevented him from pursuing his political plans. Seeing how he cared for my sick mother, my father’s virtues appeared to have approached that of sainthood, he could have qualified for canonization.  In retrospect, remembering how my father gave his all to care for us, I never quite fathom fully how a man could have done it and I wonder now: given the chance, could I have made it too? I melt with the thought that most probably, I would not.

But then perhaps I might, granting that I would access the same source of strength my father drew from: prayers. He seemed to have special connection up there. He prayed a lot and his prayers were heard.  He told us that he had asked the good Lord that my mother should come ahead of him to meet the Creator. It happened. But when he thought his own time was taking long in coming, we heard him say: kaawat sana, ong langkag ko na. So perhaps he prayed to expedite his last journey. He prepared for it, made fuss about locating his favorite barong and choosing the pants he will put on. He picked a beige colored pair of slacks, because for all his modesty, he made little concessions to style.  Truth to tell, my father carried himself dashingly, to the extent that some ladies expressed their crush for him loudly (Ay ong guwapo ni Sir!), of course to the great consternation of my mother.

Tabangan sinda ning Diyos, our beloved Tatay and Nanay.      

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