Pen Strokes

November 7, 2008

Through My Father’s Eyes

My Mom and Dad with my youngest daughter.

My Mom and Dad with my youngest daughter.

I think that I was just 9 years old when I first saw it… A handwritten sign taped to the upper right-hand side of my Dad’s medicine cabinet mirror. I remember just two words from that sign… “Discipline” and “Dream”…

I didn’t really pay that much attention to that sign since, at age 9, you don’t really pay much attention to those stuff. But, for some reason, the words, “Discipline” and “Dream”, stuck to me. It wouldn’t be until I was much older that those words would have a clear meaning to me and help me to understand the man behind the legend… that was my Father…

He was born Nunilon M. San Agustin in the shanties of Ilo-ilo City (Southern Philippines). But his Father, my Grandfather, gave him the name “Nene”, which meant “little girl”, because, as a toddler, he would often cry for even the flimsiest of reasons.

My Dad was also smaller than most boys his age.  The fact that he was small and that he was named “Nene” made all the other boys in his neighborhood pick on him… That would be the biggest mistake of their young lives.  For, you see, though my Dad was viewed as a “little runt”, he was one TOUGH LITTLE RUNT!

Mama at 18

Mama at 18

At age 6, my Dad beat up his first bully, an 8 year old who terrorized all the other kids in my Dad’s old neighborhood. He never let the fact that he was small bother him. If he lost the first match, he would almost certainly win the rematch! Having to defend himself from bullies left and right toughened him up even further. Even his name, Nene, didn’t seem to faze him. He wore it like some sort of badge proclaiming that Nene was his name and that there was nothing anyone could do about it! He also wore it like a chip on his shoulder, daring anyone to knock it off; and if they tried, he’d knock their block off! Thus, he began to build a reputation that would define him in later years.

Like many of the poor in the provincial areas of our Country, my Dad was forced to stop studying and look for work to help support the family’s needs. He had not even finished high-school when he chose to seek his fortune in Metro Manila.

Life was tough in Manila! With hardly any money, he would hire himself out as a construction worker or a janitor or just about any odd job he could find! He even became a boxer and would sign up for matches after his regular day’s work just to earn a few pesos more. The next day he would come back to whatever work he had black and blue from all the punches he received the night before. He may have lost some of his boxing bouts, but he never gave up! And the same could be said about his attitude with life… he never gave up!

One of his later jobs would be as a janitor and messenger for a company which sold trucks and buses. Working as an Accountant in that company was my mother. Now, let me tell you a bit about my mother… She held two college degrees, one in accountancy and the other in economics; and, at the time, she had recently won a beauty contest in her hometown, Lucban, Quezon Province!  Beauty and Brains!  And because of this, the boys in her office were all apprehensive about asking her out on a date. I guess they were intimidated by the fact that she was smarter than they were.  So, the men in the office, basically, kept their distance from her… That is until my Dad came along!

I’ll bet everyone in the office laughed at the prospect of my Dad dating my future Mom! I mean, what the heck could this JANITOR have been thinking? Was he nuts? Did he hit his head on something? He wasn’t even good looking! What chance did he have at getting a date with a woman like that?

Papa in his younger years

Papa in his younger years

But Dad was no mere mortal! He feared no one! He used to tell me “Don’t be afraid to try… You might just get what you were trying to get…”  You see, his fearlessness wasn’t merely an act to defend himself against bullies; he was fearless inside and out! He knew what he wanted and was never afraid to go out and get it! The fact that he asked my mother out and that, eventually, they would be husband and wife, should give us an idea of just what kind of a man he was! I’ll say it again! He is fearlessness! And it wasn’t confined to just fisticuffs and dating, it translated into every part of his life! In fact, he is “fearless” personified!

Dad got his first big break in that same company too! Though he had no experience, he was given a chance to sell trucks and buses.  This seemingly small twist of fate gave rise to a legend! Dad was so good at selling trucks and buses that he had garnered both local and international sales awards! His sales ability, and his fearlessness, propelled him to even greater heights! He would, after several years, step up from his current position to sales manager then to vice-president for sales and marketing then to president of one of our countries biggest importer of trucks and buses! I’d love to tell you more about my Dad’s legendary rise; but, this will have to be a story for another time!

Yes! Dad’s rag to riches story is inspiring, but I was too young to have noticed all of these things happening around me. All I knew was that I was never wanting; I always had a roof over my head and food on the table. I never really knew who my Dad was or what he stood for. For me, he was just a strict man who wanted to torture me all the time!

As I grew up and started my own family, however, the stories about my Dad began to have new meaning for me. Growing older, I had experience so many bitter failures and the stories about my Dad’s fearlessness kept me going… They kept me from giving up… They still do.

Not too long ago, my Mom asked me to help her clean out the attic and I obliged. I had already removed stockpile after stockpile of junk from the attic when I noticed my Dad’s old medicine cabinet; and yes, the mirror was still intact… and the note was still there!  The note, in my Dad’s faded handwriting, read “Without DISCIPLINE we don’t deserve to DREAM…’

I stopped for a while to consider the life I had spent that I sometimes threw away.  For the first time in my life, I began to understand the legend… the man that was my Dad! I now knew what had made him fearless… Discipline! We all have Dreams; but are we disciplined enough to follow them? My Father was.

And, for the first time in my life, I could finally see the world… THROUGH MY FATHER’S EYES!

A Speech by:
Enrique Salvador E. San Agustin

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