Defying ‘titohood’ and ‘tandersness’ | Inquirer Opinion
Sisyphus’ Lament

Defying ‘titohood’ and ‘tandersness’

Kraków, Poland—I dreaded turning 39 more than 40.

I turned 39 in Miód Malina, an old, traditional Kraków restaurant with brightly painted walls and a wood-fired oven. In between spoonfuls of zurek and reminiscences with my law classmate Kasia, it hit me. In a year, I will be formally, legally, officially disqualified from being young.


Hitting 20 barely registered. After law school, 30 came and went.

But 40 looms ominously.


I now appreciate a balanced chef’s knife and the perfect floor tiles. I happily trade buckets of Brew Kettle for shots of Dalmore.

I was firmly rebuffed when I called at 1 a.m.—from the airport after a flight delay—to ask my high school classmates if I could still make the inuman.

When you strike conversations with girls, they all answer with “po.” Worse, second cousins innocently reject you as too old to know their cartoons.

Freezing my music in the ’90’s was ignorant bliss, now ended.

I saw Judas Priest with my law classmate Misha. Rob Halford rode onto the stage on a Harley. Then hobbled to the mike with a cane.

I saw Razorback’s Tirso Ripoll mobbed behind a small bayside stage at Singapore’s Esplanade. His face soured when, two toddlers in tow, an ecstatic fan shouted that he idolized the band since high school.

Beyond Tirso, my legendary professors such as retired Justice Vicente V. Mendoza and Dean Pacifico Agabin are aging gracefully. My last crab bee hoon dinner with one began with: “I brought my medicine.”


Then rookie professors Barry Gutierrez and Florin Hilbay are now in their prime, fulcrums of national debate.

Just in 2014, I was the Inquirer’s youngest columnist and the only one below 50. Doctors Gideon Lasco and Kay Rivera have since good-naturedly made it known they’ve wrested this mantle from me.

At 39, must I finally force myself to sight the midpoint of this great journey called life?

Am I coming or am I going?

Approaching the halfway mark, shall I decelerate, savoring the many experiences, myriad travels and wealth of friendships thus far? Or shall I speed up, knowing so much more lies ahead?

Sen. Manny Pacquiao was 30 when he won a world title in an eighth weight category. Mark Zuckerberg was 27 at Facebook’s IPO. Should realizing this frustrate or challenge one to fill a final year of youth to the brim?

The 20’s are for finding dreams. The 30’s are for giving up all but the most dear.

Law and writing about law remain dearest to me. I find myself disillusioned by the likes of the Falcis same-sex marriage hearings. One can be guilty of direct contempt of court and of engineering legal strategies mocked by law students and justices alike, yet be featured on TV as a luminary.

We want legal thinking in 140-character bites. We prize influencers not for having substance, but for sounding witty on social media.

So I need to craft more legal “Game of Thrones” memes.

More broadly, I dream of helping build industries that do not yet exist, and taking Southeast Asia into the fourth industrial revolution. I want to be there when our companies make global acquisitions. I want to hold the pen when law writes the frameworks for artificial intelligence, blockchain, autonomous vehicles and the Internet of Things.

Fantasy stories symbolically juxtapose elves with humans. The elves are always smarter, wield greater magic and are even more good-looking. But the latter’s greatest strength is, they are born to die. Their lives are candles destined to burn out, but in the short time they burn, they burn brightly and majestically.

Basti Artadi captures my attitude to turning 39. Singing in the now defunct Purgatory in Makati, he suddenly blurted out, “T*ngina niyo, hindi ako matanda!” Then gently added, “I’m f*cking younger than Tirso.”

He flashed a half-drunk smile, seeing my shirt with the cover of Wolfgang’s debut album from 1995.

I remain eager to seize the day, take the phone call from God, sound my barbaric yawp, and suck out all the marrow of life. Let 39 bring a year to burn bright, without yet burning out.

React: [email protected], Twitter @oscarfbtan, This column does not represent the opinion of organizations with which the author is affiliated.

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TAGS: Age, celebrating life, growing old
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