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It’s the first time I’m writing about my Dad again – in a more joyful tone. I am celebrating lessons my father has taught me, in words and in actions, as he celebrates what would’ve been his 64th birthday. (I started this October 10th, his actual birthday. It was hard to squeeze in happy thoughts, so this got delayed.)

Live life with no regrets.

I remember when I was around 8 or 10 years old, slumbooks were all the rage. I made a career out of making sure I have unique responses to every question – avoiding the common “MTM” (many to mention) answer and coming up with a great motto. I asked my Dad what’s his motto then and he told me, “In anything you do, do your best so you will end up with no regrets.”

It was easy to understand that when I was 8. I just simply, literally, gave me best in school. Now at 33, I know the meaning of “regrets”. I have a few, as I’m sure my Dad also had when he was still alive. But he moved forward. He didn’t allow those regrets to keep him down – which brings us to the second lesson.

Always plan with God in mind.

Dad was your classic case of “Where the hell did he go?” He was a doctor. But he didn’t really got to practice it. It must have infuriated him. But his calling was to be more than a doctor. He served a mission and while he tried to juggle it – keeping a clinic while serving and conducting retreats – in the end something has to give. And it was his profession.

I say being a doctor was his profession. Being a servant for a religious mission was his calling. One time, when I listened to one of his topics about Mother Mary in a Marian retreat, one thing resonated – Mother Mary didn’t plan her life. She was empty of wanting anything else that God filled her with Grace (Jesus). So I asked him how to apply that attitude in life, given the world and our needs are no longer simple.

His answer was simple: It’s OK to dream big dreams and want the best, anak. As long as you plan it with God in mind.

He taught me how to pray for discernment too. Whenever I am at a crossroads, or need to make a big decision, or even if it’s an offer that is all essence, “good” and “best” for me or the family, I pray like this: “If it’s going to take me away from You, Ama, don’t give it to me. Please help me work towards Your purpose and plan.” This gets hard especially if I “want” what I’m asking for. But I try to empty myself (it’s always a struggle) and want what God wants for me.

God first.

Growing up my Dad prioritized serving Him. It may have been disadvantageous for us when we were young, we didn’t get to see him an awful lot but his dedication to God was an excellent model for us when we were older.

God first. Over and above. Before anything else. This is harder to accomplish. But he did it. He wasn’t there for my sister’s 18th birthday. His dad, my lolo, died on Friday. He served on a retreat the night of Friday until Sunday. Reunions, even the grandest and most important ones, were missed if it fell on a retreat he needed to serve in. There were many questioning looks thrown our way whenever we attended events without Dad and I’m sure many didn’t understand. It was by grace alone that we somehow understood.

I told his at my Dad’s eulogy – about my Dad being taken away from us when were young. But you know what? If you put God first, He will always make it work for you and everyone you love. I am thankful that in the last five years, I had my dad back. He was older and had more free time. I moved closer to him and I get to see him with his apos — kinda makes up for the years when I missed him. During his last months, the organization that he served in prayed for him and for our family – so hard. Help poured like rain, we were never left wanting. He brought Dad back to us.

You start and end with family.

The last two years before he died, there were so many trials that our family went through. We went through it with my Dad’s one and only guiding principle: it’s family, there’s nothing that we shouldn’t do. So we give until it hurts. We love unconditionally. We forgive.

I remember one thing he told me when I told him why he would give his remaining 500 – he wouldn’t have any money left. He said, “That’s when true giving really starts anak, when it hurts.” You do not help just when it’s convenient. You help because you want to, because it’s needed.

Have faith.

I’ll never forget my 32nd birthday. My father gave me 1,000P to treat the kids to McDonald’s (I didn’t have a job then and had problems with collecting payment from my previous boss) and when I texted him to say thanks (I was too shy to say that in person), he replied back, “Hold on.”

This is something I keep close to my heart when the going gets tough – I hold on. I try to have faith.

Being a parent means giving your child wings and trusting them they can fly.

When my eldest got accepted in Pisay, my initial knee jerk reaction was to turn it down. My son who was 12 that time was too young to stay in the dorm. I have not prepared him for it. In fact, we were already enrolled in a high school near our area. We weren’t expecting Pisay. But my son wanted Pisay. He pleaded. So when I talked to my Dad, I cried about it. I told him that the only reason I didn’t want my son to go to Pisay was that I was scared that he’d somehow stumble and make mistakes he wouldn’t be able to recover from.

His reply was this, “Bakit ka matatakot? Nandyan ka naman?”

He then told me, “You’re now in the harder phase Aggie. Giving your child wings of freedom and trusting them to make his own choices. Ganun talaga. Hahayaan mo sila lumipad, pero lagi ka nakaantabay para saluhin kung sakali bumagsak. That’s what we did to you, diba?”

And he was right.I got pregnant at a young age but my life after that has not been a classic story of “sayang si Aggie”. I was able to get back on my feet, finish my degree (even finished another one), got married in Church and stand on my own two feet. All because my parents were there, helping me get my life back in order – the right way.

I was more scared for myself than I was scared for my son. So now, I try to trust and give him freedom. But one thing remains constant, I am always at his back, ready to catch him and bring him back to his feet in case he falls.

Happy birthday Dad. You are always missed.

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