A dear friend’s father died yesterday. It got me thinking about my own Dad. Tatay Cargo, like my Dad, is a Pangasinense -- a group of people in the northern Philippines who pride themselves in those age-old traditional values of solid work ethic and diligence. I was not really planning on writing this, or rather I was planning to write about my Dad on his birthday next month, but I am just gripped right now by an urgent need to write this Father’s Day tribute to my Dad, in light of Tatay Cargo’s passing, or rather graduating into Heaven.
My Dad was born in 1944, so that makes him 71 next month. The Bible says the average lifespan is threescore years and ten (a score means 20 years) and so Dad has just passed that average by a year. Every day that passes by I think about it as a bonus day for Dad.
Not a day passes by that I do not feel sad by what I could not do for my Dad. I am the eldest in the family and I’m now 40 years old, now feeling a little too late about paying Dad and my parents back. Part of me yearns for the capacity to give Dad more -- perhaps tours around the country, a nice house, more of my presence, more of my time, and more of my resources with them.
In Jewish customs each household was to sacrifice the firstborn, or the firstling of his livestock, to God. The firstborn son can be redeemed by an animal sacrifice though. Nonetheless, the thought is that the firstborn is supposed to be given up wholly for God. I would like to think that God’s calling me into the ministry is God’s way of calling Dad to give me up as a sacrifice.
So that what looked like such a lucrative future for me in the years past became nondescript instead (by worldly standards). I was class valedictorian in elementary (bukid nga lang), I managed to get into a science high school and got some awards in debate, graduated cum laude in Zoology, seized a Nancy von Kellog academic scholarship grant in medicine… and then suddenly quit it all for love and ministry.
To this day, I do not know if my decision (as well as my husband’s, for he was a promising metallurgical engineering graduate and a school mate in science high school as well) was misguided or not. Mary who broke the alabaster box was perceived by many as having wasted it. But I do know that had I become a doctor, I would not have been as involved as I am now with the ministry. Or maybe not, I don’t know. I would not be able to carve a normal private home life for my kids in the very public nature of ministry, had I been in a cozy cubicle treating physical illnesses of other people.
But then this is not about me and so I go back to my Dad. I love, respect and admire Daddy. I may be so much like my Mama in terms of personality. Dad is people-oriented. I am private. Dad is stoic. I am emotional. We are both stubborn though, and we both stand on what we believe, to the point of sacrificiing our convenience. He always instilled in us to study hard, to use our brains, to not mind gossip, to deal fairly with people, to always smile and to be polite and honest.
Dad used to be a mahjong addict. He can go on a 48-hour mahjong spree fueled only by cups of coffee and sandwich. Yet he never went beyond the set amount of money Mama allowed him to spend out of his own salary as a Civil Engineer at the National Power Corporation. When he was in his 40’s, he repented of his sins, accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as his personal Savior, read his Bible and was enabled to give up the vice that has held him for so long.
He was soon talking everybody’s ear off about the Gospel. His favorite verse was about preaching in season and out of season and he seemed like preaching out of season a lot of times. I used to dread bringing my classmates over to our house because I knew he would preach to them. I know he came across as annoying -- preaching in streets, neighbor’s houses, busses, terminals, etc -- but I know heaven has a special place for these annoying preachers who are snatching souls from hell.
No one would wonder why, at midlife, Dad opted to retire early to become a pastor. He is still the wings behind my Mama, that amazing superwoman who has achieved so much because Dad encouraged her to. He is still a pastor now, still hollering the Gospel at times, building a vibrant church, running a Bible School. Yeah, building lives, restoring homes and grooming men for the ministry -- all at 71 and counting.
I comfort myself with the thought that though I haven’t showered my parents with much material things, (I'm working on it, I hope I still have time), I have showered them and my sibs with prayers. All of them are successful, godly, responsible, polite and involved in the ministry. Biboy plays the saxophone in church and manages a farm; Alvin is a civil engineer, the choir director in church and savvy church violinist; Micmic is a nurse, clinical instructor at a state university and the church pianist, Pongpong is a nurse as well, the registrar of our Christian school, church pianist as well and now studying his second course, Plang is a teacher in our Chrisitan school and powerful alto and soloist, Grace is a 2nd year medical student (who will hopefully finish what I have given up) and Janjan, our youngest, is a most talented guitarist.
Those that are married have married into godly and good spouses as well. I myself have settled in my heart to marry only a godly, responsible man and I have -- and a pastor at that. God has rewarded my Dad with blessings that would live on for eternity. Dad stands tall in the sight of us his children and I know, before God. After all these years, he still never fails to wake up at dawn to lead the family devotions. We all joke that he is our alarm clock. He is still doing good physically, financially and spiritually.
Unlike other old men, he has not gone cranky at all. He still has incredible patience and an easy-going air about him. Give him a board of chess (he was once chess champion in the whole Cotabato province) and a Bible and he would rest content. I love you, Dad. You have never been mushy with feelings and expressions but I know you love us so much and we love you back so much. I always thank God for bringing me into your home.
I am writing this because I want all and sundry, and especially Daddy, to know this while he can still read this. I don’t ever want to read a eulogy that he will no longer hear. Happy Father’s Day, Daddy!