A child’s normal after breakfast routine is to lounge on the sofa and watch cartoons. On some days, pouring the toys on the floor and playing fantasy is explored, add to that the daily squabbles with the younger brother. This was never my routine.
At the age of four, I was trained to wake up at 6 in the morning to help prepare breakfast. After eating, I have to help wash the dishes, sweep the floor, and wipe the furniture. Once I’m done, I’m required to read books thicker than the average encyclopedia. After reading, I have to recite the summary in ENGLISH. Should I fail, trust that my butt will receive a good beating from his trusty belt buckle. Some days, I kneel on salt while facing the altar, with arms wide open, encyclopedia on each hand. I had to learn how to “siesta” because if I don’t sleep during lunch, I’ll receive a good beating. At a young age, I learned how to fake sleep for the benefit of my butt.
I wasn’t allowed to say what I feel. Crying was not an option either. As an aftermath, I shut up when I’m mad, hurt, or faced with a heated discussion. I kept everything inside. My pen became my best friend since it allowed me to express what I felt, provided I write my entries in a safe place.
Every Christmas, I was asked to stand in front of the family and recite “A Christmas Carol” and “Congo”. I didn’t understand anything at the time but they came in handy once school started. As I grew up, my shelves became filled with books – both for light and heavy reading. As years went on, I learned to spice things up a little by living inside my head since life was way more interesting there. I was rewarded with a room of my own when I was in 6th grade and I made sure 90% of my time was spent there.
It’s funny when my friends call me a loser for not being familiar with Super Mario, Dragon Ball, and all the games and cartoons they enjoyed back when we were young. I’d like to believe my childhood fell in a category far different from theirs.
Things were much harder when I was in school. I was not allowed to receive a grade lower than 85. I was reprimanded for every grade lower than 85. The speech was the same: “walang Agbon na bobo“. Values were taught at an early age too. It was important to be prim and proper. Don’t speak when you’re not asked to, don’t interrupt, boisterous laughters are not allowed, no talking to boys on the phone, no talking to boys period, treat guests well, serve them food, sit properly, etc. Yes dear friends who say I’m stiff and prim and proper, I have explanations. Let me be when in random moments I burst into song or tickle you or whatever, for it is only when I reached my 20s that I learned to “let loose”.
Back then, I never understood why I had to go through all those “hardships”. I used to hate him for letting me experience pain, for mocking me, for not being supportive of me. We were sworn enemies until I reached college.
He stopped giving me a hard time when I told him I passed the UPCAT. He was even more thrilled when he learned that I shifted from BA Language and Literature to Bachelor of Library and Information Science and transferred from UP Baguio to UP Diliman. I was surprised when he cried the day I left for Manila. All my life I thought he despised me for being born out of wedlock. Little did I know that that’s his way of “mentoring”. I was only able to appreciate the training I received from him when I was in college. Writing papers was easy, doing research was a piece of cake, and studying for exams was effortless. Sem breaks were spent in province. To my surprise, he was there with every arrival and departure with tears in his eyes, ready to hug his beloved granddaughter. He listened (although he struggled at times) to my stories about college. He beamed when I thanked him for everything he taught me. I did not graduate with honors because in college, I began to live. I went out with friends, played music, danced the night away, sang my heart out, and had fun.
My former enemy became my best friend. He became my partner in crime, especially during moments where we want to make all the members of our family laugh. He flew all the way from Mindanao to attend my college graduation and he was smiling from ear to ear when I showed him my college diploma. I learned to forgive and love my grandfather for all he’s done since eventually, I realized, he had my best interests at heart. Maybe that’s the thing with mentors- they know what they’re doing but you don’t. Most of the time you don’t like what they’re asking you to do because you don’t understand why they’re asking you to do it. On the other hand, if they let you in on the reason behind their asking you to do things, the outcome becomes predictable which in turn ruins the process of learning. My grandfather asked me to do a lot of things growing up. What I failed to realize was, in the process of making me do things, he was molding me. Although he has a very different way of showing it, I know that my grandfather loves me very much.
It’s true what they say about connecting the dots- you don’t do it forward simply because you will never be able to. Today I understand why my grandfather did what he did. I wouldn’t be the woman that I am if it weren’t for him.
I remember him telling me during one of our very intimate conversations that he dreams of attending my wedding and seeing my future children. My only prayer is that he lives long enough to walk me (with my mom and uncle) down the aisle on my wedding day. I also wish that my kids will be given the chance to meet him.
Today my mentor/grandfather/partner in crime turns 81. He is one of the FEW men I look up to in this life. I am blessed to have been mentored by such a great man. I love you, Lolo.