On a lazy Sunday afternoon, I got to thinking: I am one lucky guy.
I live in a beautiful place with my lovely bride and our goofy dog. Both seem to always make me smile. And, I have two fathers who showed me how to live in their own special ways — leaving indelible impressions on a grateful son.
“I am my fathers’ son,” I remember telling my lovely bride when I was first wooing her.
I never tire of telling stories about my fathers.
The first, my biological father, was a larger-than-life figure in my life, as most fathers are to their sons. His name was Procoro R. Montesino: journalist, writer, man-about-town, and Daddy. He passed away Dec. 3, 1982.
The second, Larry Cabanada, is a loving, selfless, simple, and hard working immigrant who retired from the U.S. Navy some 30 years ago with the rank of Chief Petty Officer. Until very recently, he was always Uncle Larry. (I had issues letting go of the past.) Today, this lovely man is Dad Larry to me.
The first showed me ideas to live by and the second taught me how to live. One was a learned man apt to fulminating about the ways of the world, while the other a pragmatic practitioner quietly teaching by meek example.
I guess I got a complete education.
P.R. Montesino, as his numerous by-lines read, was a champion of the people of Dumaguete City, the capital of the southern province of Negros Oriental in the Philippines. He was an unwavering advocate of the idea that government is for the people and thus should be run by the people. He had one small problem: The nation was being run by a despot — Ferdinand Marcos — and his henchmen, most lacking in principle and bereft of competence.
So, he learned to dance around issues while still making his points. He specialized in highlighting a culture so rich and colorful, co-opting the authorities hell bent on creating a “New Society”.
Not much of a religious man, he understood the power of the church. He knew innately that the people’s belief carried them through adversities — even a dictatorship — as it had with the conquering Spaniards and the plundering Japanese in World War II.
His writing had a gentleness that helped soften even the hardest-hearted of Marcos men. It accentuated the heart of a people without emasculating their rulers. Here is an excerpt of a column he wrote and published Sunday, Nov. 2, 1975:
The living remembers the dead, their departed loved ones today, which is Sunday and All Souls Day.
The living remembers the dead in flowers, with a short prayer, a plea of forgiveness, a muted sharing of love to fill one’s emptiness, a candle lighted in a common grave to bear one’s long grief if such an act means redemption against one’s inadequacies and unfaithfulness.
Remembering the dead on All Souls Day is a good old Filipino tradition, which is an occasion to forge family ties.
He wanted to write about the disenfranchised and how they too were entitled to grieving their dead.
Yet, he was also a force in the community, always looking for opportunities to bring people together. Here is an editorial he wrote Sunday, June 29, 1975, on behalf of the Media Association of Dumaguete about a fire that gutted Dumaguete City’s commercial center to the tune of P3-Million. This was the second major fire in the last few years. Low water pressure and lack of firefighting equipment hampered efforts to put out the fire.
“Passing the buck” will not do this community any good. Rather let us cooperate, accepting the lessons learned from last Friday’s fire, which threatened the entire commercial hub of Dumaguete City.
This is the stand of the Media Association of Dumaguete in the wake of Friday’s conflagration that caused an estimated P3-Million in damage to property.
The crippling city waterworks system of Dumaguete City should not be entirely blamed for the mess of fighting the pre-dawn fire.
On the other hand, putting things right into focus, this unfortunate event, more than ever, should be a warning, shocking us from our lethargy that now is the time to do some positive action and solve the city’s water supply problem beyond lip service.
He would softly cajole authorities into finishing declarations left unfulfilled. In 1974, President Ferdinand Marcos created “Masagana 99,” a farm program that would loan farmers money to help increase the yield from their crops. Unfortunately, some farmers on the island of Negros accepted the money, bought fertilizer and then turned around and sold the fertilizer for profit. He chided offenders and authorities alike in his column “This Way” in the Negros Chronicle:
“Of what used is grass if the horse is dead, or anuhin natin ang damo kong patay na ang kabayo, which is an old Filipino proverb to remind those of us sticking in the old ways of the Ninas Cogon (an idiomatic expression that refer to people who enthusiastically start things but never seem to finish what they start).”
He loved his community. He cared for its people more than he did for his own family — at least that was what it seemed like to my sister and I at the time. He taught me there are greater things in life than one’s self. The hard part is discerning which ones are important enough to fight for.
He was nowhere near perfect. But he had his principles.
My second father is a more practical man. He loves working with his hands. I know this much: He loved and cared for my sister and I. No doubt about that.
My earliest recollection of the man was on June 22, 1984, when I disembarked from a Northwest Orient flight at LAX, Los Angeles International Airport. I was 16 and on my first trip to the United States. I was flying in from Manila, Philippines, to reunite with my mother and begin a new life in America.
There was Larry Cabanada just outside customs, shoulder-to-shoulder with my petite mother, in a baby blue Members Only jacket and cargo pants — long before they were fashionable. He walked over to me and gave me a big awkward hug.
“Welcome to America son,” was the message. But I only saw a stranger in less than fashionable attire trying to impress me.
He quickly herded my mom and I into his 1968 AMC Ambassador — yellow with black vinyl top. The trunk of this boat of an automobile could fit an entire Boy Scout troop it was so large. This was the ‘80s. I thought Americans were supposed to drive Cadillacs.
He took us down the scenic route, through the seaside communities of Santa Monica and Malibu, Calif. I watched the scenery fly by not knowing exactly what I was in for.
Through the years Uncle Larry would take me out fishing. He did not have to, even when my mother insisted. But he wanted to, even when I resisted at times.
We would load up a handful of rods and reels and white paint buckets — rescued from the base at Point Mugu — into the red 1966 Volkswagen beetle, his other car. He would bring his tan plastic tackle box that he kept in the garage. He always pre-tied my lines, the hooks firmly on a guide. We would spend hours of quiet fellowship on the wooden piers at Point Mugu and Port Hueneme fishing for mackarel and bonita.
He taught me how to drive in that old VW bug with the faded red paint. It was a stick shift. This was the first car he bought after passing Navy bootcamp in Seattle in the mid-1960s. More importantly, he showed me courage.
There was a time midway through my driver’s education that I took a quick left turn into a busy boulevard, without first checking for incoming cars. All I can remember was the dust and smoke from the other cars’ brakes as they violently tried not to hit us. In the chaos, I could hear my stepfather say: “What have you done now,” as he clutched the plastic safety handles, knuckles white, his face frozen in absolute terror.
Lesser men would have pawned me out to a driving school. Even my mother suggested as much. Not my Uncle Larry. We went out again the very next day.
Today, I see a brave and determined man who taught me how to live. This man showed me what is truly important: family. That all the money in the world cannot buy you love, respect and joy. That real beauty truly only lives deep in one’s heart.
I am a lucky man, indeed.