Sleep, my darling baby…
Ili-ili, tulog anay…
Abadabadabada says the monkey to the chimp…
Before any of us 11 siblings could see, music had seeped into our souls.
A two-pack a day smoking habit had dropped Dad’s old tenor-soloist tones into a baritone drawl, but it remained full of melody and emotion. Funny, that — only in song could he let go of his gentler side. His speech was – still is — usually formal, sometimes acerbic, sometimes scathing or sarcastic.
All of us heard the croon before we saw the light. All of us heard the words, spoken softly, before we learned to read: Of angels and heroes and knights and big, bad wolves.
Rolando Lopez Espina, a journalist, is now semi-retired and devoting his days to columns for a number of local Bacolod dailies. He was at the prime of his career when Martial Law yanked the rug from under the Philippine press.
By then, he and Nanay had moved back from Manila, where the older kids were born, to Bacolod City. To serve their people, they said. To give back to their province, that beloved, exasperating Sugarlandia.
Always a crush
Dad was a very busy man. He was executive assistant of then governor Alfredo Montelibano, Jr. Like all assistants of charismatic men who have no heart for details, everything fell on his lap. Everything, that is, short of elite political squabbles, which he never had a heart for. (Heck, he returned the balance of campaign money of then VP Lopez and Ferdinand Marcos, back in the days when they were cosy.)
Most of us siblings never enjoyed the luxury of lolling around the house in lingerie or jammies. The moment we stepped outside our rooms, we had to be ready to face the parade of people who dropped by daily.
Dad played host to a motley group – hacenderos, encargados, striking union workers; Philippine Constabulary officials and criminals (we have lovely stories about them and their offers to “help” with problems LOL). There were local government officials and their subordinates… not to mention his colleagues in the media (whatever was left), civic organizations and an array of religious groups.
Dad and Nanay were stalwarts of the Christian Family Movement and, later, the Neo-Catechumenate Movement – a Catholic group approved by the Pope and one that sought to give life to the old, more egalitarian Christian communities.
Dad’s mealtime prayers are the stuff of legend and have caused breakouts of laughter. I suppose that’s what prayer should be like. He’ll include not just the hungry, but the sick and the dying, the lovelorn, those suffering amid conflict and injustice, those who cannot forgive, those who waste their talents, even those thinking of committing crimes and the suicidal. The first time he mentioned the last one, we sneaked looks at each other, wondering if he knew something we didn’t. Nah, the journalist was just infusing his prayers with the day’s headlines… and prayers for the desperate remain to this day.
They had a caboodle of kids. Yet they kept taking more on. I do not remember any year without cousins and relatives living with us.
The Music Was Our Mirror
Our family friends all had big families and our parents encouraged all kinds of creative activities, concerts and stage shows among these.
Not that Dad’s children ever needed much encouragement.
Music was as familiar to us as spoken speech. What we couldn’t say, we sang – how very much like Dad.
We rattled around town, first in an old, ugly Corona, then Econovan and later in a Harabas and Torana with windows open, yodeling our way through the entire Sound of Music soundtrack.
We had a household of books… a mezzanine library with floor to ceiling shelves wasn’t enough. The dining room, the living room and every bedroom were full of books that switched locations, depending on family members’ whims.
We all learned to read very early, thanks to Dad and Nanay, who always made time despite their busy schedules to share fairy tales and Philippine legends. We loved our mock screams every time Dad dug into the story of Teniento Gimo of Guimbal, in Iloilo.
But till today, what we really remember are the musical fairy tales of Danny Kaye. Even Dad’s great grandchildren can warble, “Once upon a time, there was a little girl, who was very, very pretty, and very, very good. Once upon a time there was a little girl. Everyone called her, Little Red Riding Hood. Her hood was red and her eyes so blue. Blu—ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh.”
A Better Man for Her
Like traditional families of yore, we all pretended Dad was Boss. We all knew, of course, that gentle, soft-spoken Nanay was really it.
She could tame that whiplash tongue; make him swallow his pride – aaaah, our waterloo, all of us!
Dad always liked to say that Nanay made him a better man. He never heard any of us argue. Nor any of Nanay’s relatives who always thought she deserved better than a journalist who had more pedigree than money, haha.
Dad was – is – very much a flawed Christian. The Neocatechumenates carry the cross. Pride and anger and impatience are his crosses to bear.
And yet, he was always a devoted dad, a hands-on dad where events and milestones were concerned, who searched for affordable weekend jaunts for his huge gang of little hoodlums. And he presided over a dinner table where nothing was beyond discussion.
Dad and Nanay like being challenged, being asked to prove their statements. And they did this by combining theory and theology with real-life stories, which their jobs offered plenty– Nanay being the head pediatrician of a big, public hospital at the time of Batang Negros.
I don’t remember Dad defending martial law, though Nanay was always the more socially progressive half of the couple.
As his children became increasingly loud protesters of a dictatorship, he listened, nodded, tried to explain the compromises that local officials had to make, the need to make the most of a bad situation. He never apologized for the excesses of the Marcos years.
Once or twice, we saw him dress down PC officials for abuses. For some reason, nobody took this against him, maybe because he tried his best to supply their other needs – or maybe because Nanay was their children’s doctor and treated them for free as she treated dozens of children of rebels for free.
Compassion, Not Fire Nor Brimstone
The idealism for free expression we got from Dad. The zest for social action we got from Nanay. Every screw up we’ve done is on us, not on them.
That they were Katoliko Sarado was clear. But their compassion and preference for compassion over fire and brimstone are what our friends will always remember. Their maxim has always been – we teach what we believe, but our love knows no boundaries.
When I started my rebellion, Dad managed to track me down – in an underground house, no less! We had to decamp ASAP after that since it was pretty clear he got his info from his intel friends.
He threatened to cut me off – though he never raised his voice through all that. And then he went directly to Tito Von, a favorite bachelor uncle and our guardian in UP, and gave him money to keep for my desperate days. “I know you will help her so here’s some for that. Just don’t tell her it came from me.”
He was Mr. Status Quo, give and take a few nudges leftward. So when, at past 60, he stepped up to speak at our rallies, we kids – and most Bacolod journalists are his adopted kids — thought it a milestone.
The Other Daddy
When I lost my husband, the father of my children, Dad stepped in when he could. That is why Commie was such a little man at a young age, why he loves perfume, and why he has a collection of enough shoes to start an emporium.
Even Dad’s singing could not gift Commie with a musical voice. But he did pass on an appreciation and love for music that his grandson gave to Sophie and Vitto and Sam.
Commie also imbibed his love for children, the tolerance for rambunctious, sweaty fun; the penchant for seeing where kids will run with a discussion; the preference for firm reprimands rather than corporal punishment… oh, yeah, and my son also, sometimes unfortunately, inherited that streak of sarcasm and sharpness of tongue.
I can count on few moments that bring more joy than seeing Dad’s face light up as Sophie and Vitto start teasing his coughing – emphysema though he has stopped smoking, his manner of walking (Parkinson’s).
Then and now, the best moments come courtesy of singing. For some reason, Dad’s cough never gets in the way when we cede the spotlight on “Edelweiss” or “Too Young”.
When I see the kiddos with cocked heads and bright eyes, and hear them teach Dad their new songs, the soul sends off a quiet prayer of thanks.
Twilight And Legacy
Dad’s 80. Every year counts. The loss will come one day and it will be tempered with joy at the knowledge of his reunion with “Nene”.
For now, thanksgiving and making every moment of togetherness count.
I’ll tell you Dad’s greatest legacy. His sons are wonderful fathers, if sometimes prickly husbands. So, too, his grandsons, Commie, Julio and Gianca – who dotes on his niece like he were dad. And his nephew, Tito Franz, who steps in to command the household when our sisters are away.
The rest of his daughters, who will always make him the standard of fidelity, will make sure the other grandkids do him proud.
Happy Dad’s Day, Dad and Commie.