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My father, the enigma

I’ve always thought of my father as an enigma. He always said he didn’t even finish high school. But now he’s regarded by literary scholars as one of the finest fictionists in any language since the beginning of the 20th century. If I were to rate him, he must have had an IQ score near the range of 180 and up. And not just because he was my father, since other intimate friends and critics would say the same thing.

When I was in grade school in the 1940s, I was lucky enough to gain access to his own little library at home, with some books that survived World War II. There were no gadgets during those postwar years, no Wi-Fi, mobile phones, or stereo. What occupied our time beside school and play was the urge to read, read, and read more.

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Among the books I laid my hands on at a tender age was “Evangeline, a Tale of Acadie,” which I avidly read from cover to cover. Later, I got hold of “Up From Slavery” and “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” which I found easy to read as they were written in simple English that made them easy to understand. From these books, I read about the plight of the African slaves in early America.

Much later, I got hold of “The Count of Monte Cristo” by Alexandre Dumas, a book I found hard to put down. These and other books were all in my father’s library. He would tell us kids that because of his lack of formal education, he would read voraciously any book he could lay his hands on, from journals and handbooks to textbooks, fiction titles, whatever. This must have added immensely to his knowledge of general information.

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Not satisfied with the few books he could manage to buy, he also enrolled in a distance education program with the International Correspondence School in Scranton, Pennsylvania, focusing on English and bookkeeping. As a result, he topped the third-grade civil service exams, ahead of his contemporaries. He started out as a lowly clerk in the provincial treasurer’s office and was later promoted to traveling deputy treasurer. He would visit the remote towns of Nueva Ecija on horseback, carrying with him books to read on his rest periods along the way. He would later pass the second- and first-grade civil service exams and eventually get appointed as the first provincial assessor of Nueva Ecija, much to the envy of other more highly educated aspirants.

In those hard days after the Liberation, we had to content ourselves with just a small Philco radio installed on a shelf beside our dinner table. One other thing I was amazed at was my father’s love for the opera and classical music. We always tuned in to the Kraft Classical Hour each Sunday afternoon, and he would always ask me to call him from whatever he was doing if ever Lily Pons came on to sing the Mad Scene from “Lucia di Lammermoor.” The deal was that he would give me 10 centavos each time I alerted him. I’ve always wondered how he became so knowledgeable about opera. When I returned home from America in 1969, one of my pasalubong for him was an LP record of “Lucia di Lammermoor.” He was also conversant in three languages: English, Spanish, and Filipino.

In his later years, he felt vindicated that all the battles he had fought for in his acclaimed novels were won, or at least recognized—the abolition of the tenancy system and implementation of agrarian reform, the widespread use of Filipino as the national language, the restoration of democracy in the country, and the formation of a strong sense of nationalism among the youth.

My father was the one person who strongly persuaded me to return to the country after my postgraduate training in Boston, admonishing me: “You’re needed here in your country. They don’t need you in America!”

Now, after 50 years of practice, I can say that he was right after all. I have no regrets in heeding his call. He remains an enigmatic person to me—a genius, and my idol.

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Dr. Floriño A. Francisco, 81, is a Cabanatuan City-based pediatrician and 2010 TOPICS (The Outstanding Physician in Community Service) awardee. He is the son of National Artist Lázaro Francisco.

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TAGS: Floriño A. Francisco, High Blood, remembering one's father
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