Dad during his last birthday in 2009 and during his 35th and 37th birthdays, with his favorite birthday gift, his third daughter Geraldine. She was born on his 34th birthday.
Happy birthday, Daddy
PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez (The Philippine Star) - July 17, 2018 - 12:00am

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 2 Timothy 4:7

This is what lies on my father Frank Mayor’s epitaph on the starkly simple marble marker on his gravesite at the Manila Memorial Park in Parañaque.

That was how my father was in life: strong as marble, often unyielding, a basically simple man who loved lutong bahay (he loved nilagang baka and lemon meringue pie, which his mother Mary baked from lemons picked in their yard in Bugsuk Island, Palawan), kept a leash on spending till he was a grandfather (“Can’t afford it!” would have been his virtual ringtone, if ever he had one) and ignored frivolities.

For instance, he never allowed me to spend on reducing salons (which had lots of print ads that beckoned to me like light to a moth) when I was a plump teenager, anxious to have Farrah Fawcett’s body; or turn on the airconditioner nightly in our bedrooms when opening the windows wide open would do. He would sigh in exasperation when I was late for Mass (presumably because I was still putting on makeup), “Kulang na lang baliktarin ni Joanne ang mata niya!

He wouldn’t use his credit card just so I could travel abroad for leisure. He felt it should be something I worked for, aspired for, in those days when budget carriers were still non-existent. (I was already married and with a son when I first stepped into an international airport for my own takeoff, and not to see off a relative.) He also didn’t believe, having had to send four daughters to an exclusive girls’ school, that spending for braces on my teeth was a priority.

That was Dad. And I was molded to believe that I should work hard not only for my meals — but for my dreams.

* * *

But Dad wasn’t simple and spartan when it came to two things: his daughters’ education and celebrating his birthday. He always had a birthday bash. That was the one exception in his rules book, the one time he allowed his family and his staff to deviate from his own groundrules. Our house would be filled to the rafters as we would have a feast and he would uncork his favorite bottles for his guests. Once, we even had a dance in our backyard on his birthday!

Last July 13 would have been Dad’s 86th birthday. Thirteen was Dad’s lucky number, even if he wasn’t inordinately superstitious (we never had 12 pieces of 12 fruit varieties on New Year’s Eve, for instance). My uncle Robert (“Bob”) Mayor was born on July 13 (two years before Dad) and my sister Geraldine was born on July 13, too. Dad got his biggest career break on the 13th day of a particularly lackluster month (I forgot which particular month that was), and that career break was life-changing.

So, last Friday, July 13, Dad would have revelled in his own birthday party, like a kid does when he has his first big party at McDonald’s or Jollibee. Especially since it fell on a Friday and Dad liked bucking superstition like he liked to buck the odds in life.

He ignored superstition because he believed in the power of hard work, and he walked his talk till the day he found out he had cancer of the pancreas in 2009. He was such a role model to his colleagues that they left his locker unoccupied even after his death, like a shrine to his work ethic.

But though he worked hard and thought nothing of being on call even on weekends, he knew when to make an exception.

* * *

Despite Dad’s stern ways, the groundrules of his principled life and his unyielding work ethic, he knew when to celebrate! When he was still single, he gave his youngest sister an expensive watch when she graduated from nursing school. He gave my mom fancy gifts on birthdays and anniversaries, and took her twice to Europe when they were in their sixties.

And despite the fact that he always barked, “You don’t have to spend money to lose weight” whenever I asked if I could go to Joanne Drew (the popular reducing salon in my teens), he gifted me with an 18th birthday party at the top of the Hotel InterContinental.

That was one of the lessons Dad’s life taught me: Set aside a day (at the every least) or an occasion to celebrate yourself. Yes, yourself. Each one of us deserves a celebration. For Dad, it meant enjoying his birthday, and the greeting of each and every well-wisher. When people tell you to “Enjoy today, it’s your day,” you better believe it. That’s why I agree with mothers who would cook for their loved ones’ birthdays but would rather eat out on theirs. Have breakfast in bed. Go to the salon. Whatever makes you happy, because life is short. He knew it.

Dad died eight years ago on July 6, a week before he turned 78. It’s as if he knew that he should celebrate birthdays when he could, because he wouldn’t make it to his 78th. In this day and age, that was young. His father Nazario died at 92, and his five surviving siblings are blessed with good health.

* * *

In life, it isn’t only your battles that you have to choose. As Dad showed me, you also have to choose your bashes. By all means, have one. Life is too short for you not to have a bash.

Happy birthday, Dad! Enjoy your bash in heaven.

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