Greatness in smallness
Tatay” stood barely 5’3 in a small body. Only he among his siblings did not have a college diploma hanging in the living room. He neither had a fat bank account nor did he drive a car. If he were asked to submit his resumé he would not have much to write. To many he was small, not much accomplishments to boast of in the usual standards. But to his firstborn he was great.
Long before I understood the word “bonding,” I experienced it with him. I was the only child for seven years; the brother after me lived for only 45 days, and my only sister was born five years later. Tatay would take me along for kite-flying in a field next to our house. I was thrilled to see the kite that I was holding minutes earlier soar. I learned how to whistle a tune, but he associated whistling only with boys. To bring home the message he looked at me when he heard me whistle and said: “I am sure my only child is a girl!”
During town fiestas we would go together to the perya, a local carnival. We ventured to play different games, but a favorite of ours was juego de anillo, from which we once brought home a small platter after so many tries. The enjoyment was punctuated with a ride in the ferris wheel.
We were not fond of the movies. Instead he exposed me to educational films through a hand-held viewer. I was awed by the world’s great wonders, the scenic views and the Rose Parade, among others. My imagination was titillated by fairy tales, and I was entertained by cartoon characters. He saw the good effect on me and he thought of sharing the experience with other children. He organized the films his sister sent regularly from Hawaii in a portable movie box and made it accessible at five centavos per viewing.
He found time writing luwa, an accolade to our Blessed Mother or the patron of particular towns to celebrate fiestas. He did this for free, including the rehearsals of whoever would deliver the luwa. It was the poet in him that propelled him to do so, in addition to his love for and devotion to our Blessed Mother. He began writing poems early: The first time he saw his poem in a national magazine was when he was 11 years old.
It was also the poet in him that was influenced by “Florante at Laura” in his parenting principles. One quotation I remember to emphasize the need for parental guidance is: “Ang laki sa layaw, karaniwa’y hubad sa bait at munit, sa hatol ay salat” (One who has been pampered is often wanting in wisdom from lack of guidance). He taught me to be observant of the natural environment. To remind me of the time to be home, he told me to observe the leaves of a huge acacia tree in our yard. And I realized that the leaves were folded by 6 p.m., when the Angelus bell could be heard from the church belfry.
A man of few words, he taught more by example. He gave importance to palabra de honor (word of honor); that was easy to understand because he always made good on his promise. He often reminded me to pray as soon as I woke up and to thank God
before going to sleep. I saw him doing it; he did not need to say more.
Tatay addressed me by different pet names, and when he called me by my baptismal name it was a warning for me to behave. I do not remember having been spanked; the tone of his voice and the intensity of his look were enough for me. This was his way for me to learn self-discipline, which was very helpful when I left home for Manila. I was 14 when I started college.
I went home occasionally and we did not have much opportunity for bonding except during family meals. I had my world as a teenager, influenced by city life and peers. I wrote my parents occasionally, but it was only my mother who wrote back.
It was only when I started my aspirancy to the religious life that I regularly went home each month. Little did I know that my Tatay was sick; he had high pain tolerance and was not the complaining type. Only when he had surgery did we find out he had liver cancer. One time when I visited him in hospital, he noticed it was getting late and I was still around. He told me to go home and I asked, “Where is home?” He answered: “Convent.” I could not believe that he had finally given me permission to respond to God’s call!
As a tribute to Tatay on Father’s Day, let me put on his lips the words of our Mother Foundress, St. Mary Euphrasia Pelletier: “I have no riches, no special talents; I have done nothing great. But I have loved with all my heart, I have loved!
Sr. Mary Lorenza Sangalang is a Good Shepherd sister.
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