Alfredo Pena-Montilla Villaruel Jr lived a full life. Probably anything you may have thought you must do, he had done. The good, the bad and sometimes, even the ugly. But he did them all in his own terms. Even dying.
My father was diagnosed with a tumor in his temple in 2002. His doctors told him that the growth of the tumor was so slow that it could probably be really harmful to him by age 85. And of course, who knows if natural or even accidental causes may result in fatality even before reaching such an age...that the family decided to leave the tumor untouched. That plus the statistic of a 70-30 success rate, 30 being the success ratio. So with diet and medication and alternative healing, dad struggled and fought his nemesis. At one point he was doing rather well, in fact we all thought he had it down and managed it well. Until the seizures occurred. They we not unlike epileptic seizures and you can see each attack does cause pain. One serious attack left him in hospital for almost a week. One recently left him in a coma for a couple of days. And still he fought. He wouldn't let cancer get the better of him.
I visited him last July 2005 with my two year old daughter and he played with her and even teased her despite limited bodily movements. The emaciated shell could never really give justice to the strength of character encased within. And boy did my dad keep his sense of humour intact!
His memory was failing him, medications resulted in Alzheimer's, and he at times would not remember who are the people around him but when I asked him who I was, he said "You are Grace." and smile. I told him there were two Graces in the house, my sister-in-law also being a Mary Grace...and asked whether he knew which Grace I was, which name preceded Grace. With a wink, he answered "Well, I'd really like to remember!" And we all laughed - him included.
One time I was helping him walk towards the bathroom and asked whether he wanted to "do number 1 or 2". He replied, "Whichever comes first." And laughed like an imp.
My daughter was eating her breakfast cereals and he would reach into her bowl to get a few spoons to tease her - testing whether my two-year-old would protest or cry. This he did while he had extreme difficulty making arm movements at all!
Nonong, as he was fondly called by family and friends, to us his "children" we called him Dagda. Having only one biological offspring, he and his wife Connie took several of Connie's nephews and niece (that's me!) under their wings. Although I was not officially adopted, he was my father since the age of three.
Dagda taught me how to love languages. When we lived in Cebu, he took up French at the Alliance Francaise to learn the language. That's when I meet Asterix and Obelix for the first time and fell in love with the French language. His "larger than life" Hispanic ancestry also made me interested in Spanish and influenced what course I took in University.
He was a cool dad. He'd take Alvin and me to museums, build and fly gigantic kites, wash the car on weekends and visit zoos. Without fear, we'd take on the road and travel unknown highways with just a change of clothes and a towel each. Every weekend was an adventure to either a camp or swimming pool (Camp Marina in Cebu) or the glorious white-sandy beaches of Cebu.
I learned to love Frank Sinatra because of him (Although I hated it in highschool). Each day, he'd come home from work and after dinner, he'd ask the maid or my elder brothers or me to buy him three bottles of beer. Whilst listening to "Old Blue Eyes" he'd sometimes sing along while slowly enjoying his SMB (San Miguel Beer). On weekends he'd have his friends over, like Jun Hover or Ramon Casa or Papa Jess Betia, all of whom have passed on before him. It just surprised me one day when I was talking music with some friends in Abu Dhabi that I knew almost all the lyrics to all Frank Sinatra songs! Unconsciously, I had memorised them while I say in the dining table doing my homework as my dad was listening to them, all night, 24/7.
I loved sharing books to read with him. He liked Isaac Asimov and Carl Sagan and loved Sci-Fi movies. We all watched battlestar Gallactica, Star Wars, Close Encounters, E.T. and many similar movies oh yes and all the old Superman movies with Christopher Reeves in the lead. He'd leave books he's reading lying around the house. He'd often read several books at the same time. So you can pick up a dog-eared book and make your own bookmark somewhere. Even when I took activism seriously in college, I started leaving leftist reading materials around the house, he too shared in reading them so he could understand what it was that I was so focused into. He'd start conversations and disucssions about this too!
Dagda also like being happy. We shared "You Could Die Laughing" by Gary Lising's book many a times and laugh out loud. We'd watch comedic sitcoms like Mork and Mindy and TV and laugh as he would try to imitate Mork saying, "Nanu, nanu!"
He was a great cook. Who could ever forget lazy Sundays with his French toast or his delicious lengua estofada? His very own nilaga (with bone marrow) still leaves my tongue all watery. He also made a mean sopa de ajo with old toasted bread.
He had the gift of being a green thumb. He'd buy these books on how to grow ampalaya, castor, sigarillas, garlic and try to plant them in plots over our house. He'd often succeed too! In his white sando and shorts and rubber slippers, he'd happily till the soil, plant the seeds and water them until they bear fruit.
His business ideas were ahead of his time. I remember sometime in the 80s he talked about bottled water and nobody thought it would be such a hit. Look at us now, so dependent on bottled waters all over the world. He talked about garlic and dried tomatoes then too, and look how big an industry sun-dried tomatoes are today!
He was a great artist. He painted in water colour and oil. His impressions of Bacolod Park and Manila in the 70's whne he eloped with Connie were breathtaking! Sadly, he never got to paint again.
He was trying to write a novel about Alejandro, Faustino and Isidro Villaruel and had convinced me to help him. We've had a few drafts and exchanged emails but he got sick and we dropped it off. I will try to complete this as a promise fulfilled.
But for all his grand plans and talks, he had his feet firmly on the ground. We never missed a Sunday in church as a family. He led by example, that hard work, integrity and honesty will get you top marks.
When he got sicker, he would worry that we would be unable to cope. He didn't want to be a burden. He was a fighter till the end. Last July, his doctor told mom that he'd be lucky to live past his birthday which was August 2nd. He outlived that "deadline" a few more days.
His remains now lie in The Holy Trinity chapel in Paranaque. He will be cremated tomorrow so that mom can take him with her anywhere she decides to settle.
No matter how kindly or badly life dealt him the cards, he chose to do things by his own rules, like Sinatra's classic song, yes, he sure did it his way.
I love you Dad and I will miss you forever.