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Lessons my father taught me

I grew up in a family of 10 siblings, seven boys and three girls. In our father’s dream to send us all to school, we were brought up like Puritans: no smoking, no drinking, practically no pleasure trips, no parties. Birthdays were celebrated with the simple fare of boiled chicken and pancit prepared by our mother — in our regard the best cook in the world. Everyone was in church Sundays. And we all had dinner together at our long table, with our father leading the prayer before the meal.

We were not rich, but not poor either. My father was the provincial assessor and in those days was the highest paid novelist in the Ramon Roces publications, particularly Liwayway weekly magazine. But with all 10 of us in school, the family income never seemed to be enough. My mother, who was entrusted with the family budget, had to scrimp on every centavo to make ends meet. There was a running joke in the family that providing each of us new shoes and socks already cost our hardworking  father “a fortune!” We were each allowed only one pair of shoes for the whole school year.

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But even with such financial constraints, my mother saw to it that we were all decently dressed and well-fed. My father had a lot of books in his library, such as “The Count of Monte Cristo,” “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” “Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie,” “Noli Me Tangere,” “El Filibusterismo” and the Holy Bible. I was fortunate to have read them all even before I graduated from high school.

We were known in the community as a very disciplined lot. We all tried hard to make good in school, knowing that our parents could not afford the cost of more tuition if we became repeaters. It took our parents some 20 years to see us all through school, with flying colors, so to speak. On my graduation from medical school, we all trooped to the iconic X’or Studios on Dimasalang off Escolta to have our family picture, everyone resplendent in togas, hoods and caps. It was one memorable family occasion that was capped by a hearty dinner at the famous Antigua restaurant in Chinatown. Our father was so proud of that family picture he had it framed beautifully and hung in the living room of our old house in the province.

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Much later, before I left for America for my postgraduate internship and residency, my father and I went to Manila. He brought me to the famous Abelardo Tailoring (President Manuel L. Quezon’s tailor) to order three business suits for me. I used these finely cut suits during my five-year stay in America, where I was a Harvard fellow in adolescent medicine during my last two years. I was about to accept an offer to be an associate in adolescent medicine in Harvard, but my father the nationalist said that no matter how good I was, I would always be a second-class citizen in America. He added: “They don’t need you there. Come home and serve your countrymen.”

The obedient son, I heeded his advice and came home. I was reluctant at first but before I knew it, I was lecturing in various schools and civic groups, establishing my own clinic, teaching and writing on the side, joining the local hospital staff, getting married, and siring three wonderful kids who are now grown and all professionals with their own families.

There’s no regret as I look back to those days with my father. It was from him that I understood what being “a man for others” meant. He always admonished me: “You did not become a doctor to enrich yourself. Be of service to those who need your expertise. And always try to make a difference in whatever you do. Don’t be content with just making yourself and your family comfortable. Always have a heart for the poor.”

It was for this reason that after he passed away, I established the Lingap-Bata Medical Mission in our barangay to provide medical service to children of indigent families. The mission is now on its 19th year of service and was one factor, among others, why I was selected the TOPICS (The Outstanding Physician in Community Service) awardee in 2010. It gives me a sense of fulfillment to have followed my father’s advice to be a man for others.

Students and researchers from Manila and all over who visit our Museo Lázaro Francisco often ask me, “How was it like to have National Artist for Literature Lazaro Francisco for a father?” In reply, I quote these lines from poet Edgar A. Guest: “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day/ I’d rather one should walk with me than merely show the way …”

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Cabanatuan-based pediatrician Dr. Floriño A. Francisco, 77, is also a freelance writer.

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TAGS: fathers and sons, Floriño A. Francisco, High Blood, remembering father
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