I always celebrate my birthday simply with my family: We go to church, ask God for blessings, then dine at a chicken restaurant. Before heading home, we turn over a bit of cash or a sack of rice to a convent; the sisters subsequently distribute the donation to the poor in our community.
I consider myself a religious man. A Roman Catholic since birth, I pray unceasingly, live as a true Christian and will die defending my faith. I am a member of church organizations and deem myself lucky serving God .
Then I, the youngest of three siblings, turned 60. It was just yesterday when my mother was calling me “Totoy” and my kuya was calling me “Ayo.” How sweet those terms of endearment were. The years passed so quickly, like minutes: I was just running an errand for my mother and then I had grown up, become employed in two banks, gotten married, had three children … And then my compulsory retirement came.
Through the years I was sustained by my faith and my family.
When I became a senior citizen, I had a different birthday celebration. A day before my birthday, my family and I flew to Singapore where my eldest daughter is based. I was to meet my future son-in-law, Ridwan, who is a Muslim. I was filled with mixed emotions at that time: fear, joy, anxiety, sadness. Thinking that I was to meet for the first time a possible new member of the family with a different faith made me feel sick.
I had prepared myself for the event but as the day grew nearer, my prayers became intense. I had talked lengthily with a priest concerning interfaith marriages, interviewed Muslim clients about love and religion and spent long hours of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, seeking enlightenment. Of course, I also had long and heated arguments with my daughter about her relationship with a Muslim. I couldn’t believe how she, whom I had raised to be a good Catholic, who studied in a Catholic school from nursery to college, would fall in love with a Muslim. God forbid, I told myself, it’s my daughter or my faith!
But it’s said that love is experienced in so many mysterious ways. In those heated discussions, my daughter never gave up, and neither did I.
Soon we were at the Singapore airport. Before we disembarked, I prayed to God that my family would be as strong as ever. Then my daughter and Ridwan were welcoming us. For the first time I saw my future son-in-law: a fine man, well-built, soft-spoken, the same age as my daughter.
My daughter laughed long and loudly as she introduced us. Ridwan and I were both wearing red shirts and the same color of pants. He greeted me and my family. As we extended our hands toward each other, we found ourselves in an awkward moment: his hand trying to shake mine but my hand going to his forehead as if to bless him. We both laughed, and I knew our difference in faith had become irrelevant.
I celebrated my 60th birthday in a Catholic church in Singapore. I thanked God for His blessings, including the happiness I saw in my daughter’s eyes when she was with Ridwan. I asked God to lead me to clearly see His will, and to guide my family in this event of my life.
After the Mass, we met up with Ridwan. This time we had my birthday meal, not in a chicken restaurant, but in a halal eatery, a dining place for Christians and Muslims alike. After experiencing unknown food in my mouth, I delivered my short lecture in a low but firm voice: how I’ve lived my faith and served God, and how I’ve been faithful to my wife for 30 years. Ridwan was silent and looked serious. And in a soft but assuring voice, he delivered his message: He loves my daughter dearly and, like me, is serving God faithfully. He is respectful of his parents who are elderly, and his father has only his mother for a wife. He lives simply with his family, which includes a brother and a sister who are professionals.
As he spoke, I saw my family smiling, and my eldest daughter looking at him lovingly.
We stayed in Singapore with Ridwan for a few days, and I came to know him more. Back home, my wife told me in jest that in the future, if she had her way, she would get her grandchild from the couple and make him an altar boy in our parish.
Mario D. Dalangin, 61, says he is eagerly awaiting apo from his children.