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My father’s secret

Orphaned early in life, my father Domingo missed out on a normal childhood and could only dream of a family and a home he could call his own.

He was born in the small town of Aliaga, Nueva Ecija, on May 12, 1908. On the same day, my grandmother Maria Cruz died after giving birth to him. He was her only child, although he had half-siblings from my grandfather Paulino’s two previous marriages.

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At age seven, he moved with my grandfather to the more progressive town of San Jose, also in Nueva Ecija, where my grandfather had previously established a business. His life there was promising at first, until my grandfather passed away shortly afterwards.

Why he did not return to Aliaga to live with his older half-siblings after his father’s demise was a mystery to us, his children. Until my mother Paz disclosed my father’s secret much later after he was already gone.

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She told us that my father was disowned by his half-siblings. Apparently, my father was an illegitimate child and was not entitled to any part of my grandfather’s estate.

My father was also mum about his life in San Jose after his father’s death. It was my mother, too, who let us glimpse into that dark episode of my father’s life. Abandoned by relatives, he was forced to work as a househelp for a family in exchange for food, shelter and an allowance—until he completed his elementary school studies. Maltreated by the family he had worked for, he moved to another family where he took a photographer’s job to continue his studies.

He married my mother and started a family in January 1935. They were blessed with a son that same year, followed by another son, a daughter and four more sons coming one after the other, as if having a large family was their obsession.

As a parent, my father was aloof and emotionally distant toward his children. He was not demonstrative of his affections—no hugs, no words of endearment, no public display of affection! But he made up for this seeming lack of warmth through the father act he knew best—as a provider to his family and mentor to his children.

Taking up this role, however, did not come easy for him especially when World War II broke out in December 1941. The war made life more difficult for him and his growing family. Fortunately, the war did not last that long. He took the civil service exam and got a job at the old town hall when government operations resumed in 1944.

As a government clerk though, he could hardly make both ends meet, so he also took a course in bookkeeping and did the books of accounts of his Chinese friends who gave him additional cash for the family coffers.

Gifted with a talent for music, he joined the town’s brass band and again made extra income playing his trombone
whenever the band got engaged during fiestas, funerals and other occasions.

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Saying education would be his only legacy to us, he taught us, through his actions, to value our education. He attended to all our school concerns. He accompanied us during enrollment, made sure he knew our teachers in person, and helped us with our class lessons and assignments.

He inspired us with his love for reading. Despite his meager resources, he had regular subscriptions to the Reader’s Digest, an English magazine, and to a newspaper for us to read and to expand our knowledge. He also encouraged us to borrow books from the public library in town.

When he gently passed away on June 29, 1969, he had lived a relatively short but full life. He had drawn some short straws, but he accepted them all and did his best with what he got.

Today, I look back and search for something that sums up and symbolizes all that my father did for us. And I fondly
remember the house he had built where we all grew up.

It was an ordinary rustic structure of wooden posts, bamboo trusses, sawali walls, and cogon roof. But it did not
matter to us then what our house was made of. We just knew that we had a happy family home.

Danilo G. Mendiola, 75, is retired from corporate work and now serves with his wife in the Marriage Prep Ministry of their parish in Quezon City.

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