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For My Father, Death is the Ultimate Equalizer

This year marks the fifteenth year that my father passed from this world to the next. I still vividly remember that afternoon of August 9, 2008, how my wife and I went hastily inside papa’s room because a relative saw him breathing heavily, as if gasping for air. The writing was on the wall. We could not do anything. My uncle Tata Jaime, my cousin Elsa, and another relative stood motionless at his bedside waiting for what was to be inevitable. In a few minutes, my father was gone. Silence filled the air – a moment forever seared into my memory.

If my father were alive today, he would have turned 110 years old last April 10. There would have been a big birthday celebration. He would have been very happy to be surrounded by his three children and their spouses, eight grandchildren, and 11 great-grandchildren. What a momentous and happy gathering of my father’s relatives and friends April 10 could have been.

But it was not meant to be. God had a different plan. My father died in 2008 at age 95. As Mark Twain once said, “The only certainties in life are death and taxes.”

Yet, despite the absolute certainty of death, no one wishes to live a short life. We want to see our children succeed in their profession and build a happy family of their own. We want ample time to play with our grandchildren and provide them with a nurturing environment to grow and become what they want to be. We bargain with God to give us good health to spend more time with our loved ones.

Like an ordinary mortal, I am sure my father went through all these pleadings. At the end, he probably was thankful and happy that he lived for 95 years, despite not having the wherewithal to become financially independent especially in his old age.

I learned early on that my father came from a peasant family. He was proud of his class origin. There was no shade of embarrassment when he would recount how he walked to and from school during his elementary school days. Despite his family’s meager resources, he put himself through college with a degree in education. He spent his entire life teaching in the public school until he retired. Through it all, he successfully bounced back from what life had thrown at him, including losing a seven-year-old son – a victim of a rare disease caused by eating poisonous fish caught through dynamite fishing.

However, I find myself asking: Why did my father not have the ambition to become a superintendent of schools? He was a meticulous planner and was very dependable. He had the ability to focus and work well with others. He had a strong work ethic.

Why did he not aspire to be an engineer? He was very good with numbers and had the ability to analyze complex mathematical problems apart from being overly attentive to details.

Why did he not just become a farmer or an agriculturist and develop the swath of land owned by his parents? He was a practical man who soiled his hands when he had to. He would have loved growing crops and livestock to earn enough money to send his younger siblings to school.

Why did he not choose to engage in a type of work that would have made him amass a huge fortune like some of his friends and contemporaries did?

What regrets, if any, did my father keep to himself with the kind of life he lived?

I will never know the answers to these questions. Besides, I don’t think my father ever entertained these questions because, in my mind, he was perfectly happy with what he had become. He was a simple man with a simple taste. He found meaning and fulfillment reading the newspapers, visiting and cracking jokes with his childhood friends, being a good provider to the family, and seeing his children and grandchildren achieve something important to them.

But, going back again to my question, did my father have any regrets at all in his life? I am sure he had. But did it really matter to him? I don’t think so.

As far as I can remember, it did not really matter to my father that we were not rich as some of his classmates were. It did not matter to him that he was not as famous or popular as some of his co-teachers. It did not bother him that he was not as influential as his high school classmate who became a provincial treasurer.

My father never really cared about “this stuff.” He fully knew that when death comes knocking, we are all equal. We leave the way we came into this world – with nothing. No one is rich; no one is poor. No one is powerful; no one is powerless. No one is famous; no one is less famous. As if by design, no person brags about his/her prowess when Death looks at his/her straight in the eye.

My father knew that no matter who he was, no matter what his social and economic status in life was, no one could buy immortality; no one could escape death. For him, death is the ultimate equalizer. This universal truth was what mattered to him.


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