A letter for my son

(My son R-jay graduated from high school last night. It was a poignant moment particularly because as President of his class, he helped put together the simple but meaningful ceremony. He was given a special surprise award, Model Student. I wrote this letter when I got home from the revelry. This is a very personal post and I would appreciate if you would spare this post from political nitpicking).

Dear Son,

Tonight, as I watched you and your classmates throw your white graduation caps into the air and give each other high fives and tearful hugs, I couldn't help but remember my own high school graduation more than two decades ago. I saw the same fire in your eyes that used to be there too in the eyes of many of my high school classmates : you want to make something of your life, change the world, be the best you could ever do, make a difference. A few years ago at our silver homecoming, many of my classmates were jaded, bitter, and over kegs of beer recited a litany of woes and afflictions. But yes, there were some who continued to keep the fire burning inside them.

As you went off to join your friends for your own version of a graduation ball (bar hopping, I presumed) I couldn't help but take a deep sigh and come to terms with the fact that times have really changed. But I do hope, very sincerely, that you and your friends will nurture the fire within your hearts better and sustain it longer. Not only for your own sakes, but the sake of far better and nobler causes.

There are so many things that I want to tell you. Now that you are an adult, there are things that you will have to come to terms with and as sad as this may seem, you will have to come to terms with these - the frustrations, the disappointments, the painful realities of life in the Philippines circa 2006 - on your own.

First, I would like to apologize that my generation has not been able to collectively make things any better for you and your friends. Sure, we may have been able to provide more in terms of material things and comfort - your daily allowance in the last four years was more than what I got for a whole month during my time and you have been able to wear more trendy clothes and had the conveniences of unlimited texting and computers, but I know deep in my heart that we have also failed you in many respects. I feel sad for example that your generation has been unable to experience the absolute wonder of climbing trees and chasing butterflies and fireflies, nor the excitement of walking along picturesque Avenida, or even just the sheer fun of watching movies in a big silver screen in the company of 1,000 other people. We could have fought harder to preserve the soul of our race as a people but we have failed miserably to protect the many legacies that our forefathers painstakingly built with their bare hands.

You are a generation with very few real role models and it pains me to realize that you do not even know who Claro M. Recto is, or even Raul Manglapus or Jose Diokno. It embarrasses me no end that we have taught you respect and citizenship as theoretical constructs, rather than by example. It pains me to realize that you are coming into your own as adults at a time when our leaders are behaving like children - squabbling and engaging in intolerable screamfests. I am sorry, and I can only hope that you and your generation will do a better job.

You once asked me after visiting this blog why some people hate me with a passion, simply because I have a different opinion and simply because I chose to speak up. My answer is the same, son. Everybody has to grow up, and just because some people chose to behave a certain way does not mean they are bad people. These are confusing times and sometimes people, perhaps in rage and out of a sense of helplessness, strike blindly at the most convenient targets. Do not ever let this deter you from believing in the basic goodness of people. I know this for a fact: many times in your life, you will depend on the goodness of strangers, and there will always be good Filipinos and people out there. Anytime, anywhere.

But despite our many shortcomings, there are also a number of things that I am proud of about my generation and I hope that you can build on these. We fought so hard to bring down a dictator and to restore democratic processes in this country so that you can find and speak your own voice when you choose to. We also tried our darnest to make your lives better and many among us had to suffer the loneliness of being in a strange land just so you can have that x box you wanted for Christmas or that cellphone that gave you license to belong. I personally wished I could have read you more bedtime stories the way Nanay and Tatay did to me, or taught you how to play the piano or the guitar instead of leaving you to figure out how to burn copies of pirated movies and mp3s. But I had a job and couldnt be home in time even just to ruffle your hair while you struggled with that algebra assignment. I know that I would have to pay dearly for spoiling you a little with material things to make up for the guilt. But I take comfort in the fact that we share the same blood, and that must account for something. I know that in time good intentions will bear us out.

I want you to know that I am so very proud of you - of what you have made of yourself so far, notwithstanding the way we have bungled up our roles as parents and role models.

I am amazed at the intelligence, the resourcefulness, the pragmatism that you and your generation have shown. I look at the computer at the library with perplexity and marvel at how you have been able to fashion a basic contraption into a complete entertainment and processing center while my own laptop is a simple word processing and data storage silver box. I take immense pleasure in realizing that you have learned how to drive a car on your own and without my knowledge, while I had to take lessons at 20. I take great pleasure in realizing that you could figure out the many ways to optimize the features of my cellphone. But most of all, my heart swells with pride when I see how you are able to display affection and pay your respects by kissing even older male members of the family when I myself still feel a little self conscious when I have to kiss your grandfather on the cheek. We come from a generation where showing affection was a sterile gesture and gender roles and rules were a little more strait-laced.

And so, I take comfort in the thought that somehow, the world will go on despite our shortcomings. Because more than anything else, we have taught you how to love; and this we did well.

I just hope that you and your generation will truly do a better job. I pray that you and your generation will not commit the same mistakes we have made. This is your country, this is your future, this is your destiny at stake. Grab it.

And by the way, take care and remember Dad loves you unconditionally.



jher said…
Congrats to the both of you. You are a wonderful father and I'm sure he will be a fine man. :-)
jef said…
simply WOW...three letters that aptly describe my inadequacy to elaborate more. Two thumbs up Bong!
benjieg said…
bong, thanks. got me picturing how my own son would beam with eyes ready to take on the world with his own plans and how he figures the future will be. let's keep on training our kids in the way that they should go so that when they are old, they will not depart from it.
mlq3 said…
this is one of the most beautiful things i've ever read in a blog.
eon said…
i feel that your love towards your son is immense. i wish my father had been as eloquent as you.
Anonymous said…
Hay nako, Bong, eto ka na naman, it's like you're speaking for me na naman! Siguro konti lang ang mag comment on this one kasi your regular visitors I feel are a much younger lot. Kidding aside, this latest blog of yours has touched me. Am a mother whose eldest boy is a semester short of graduation from an engineering course (kakaawa na nga eh), the 2nd one is about 2 years short of a business degree, the 3rd is a HS senior this school year etc. etc. (whew, we got 5 kids kasi, that's why I sign myself as MommyJo!). So i feel a little guilty that I didn't write down something similar when my 2 boys graduated from HS. But I am smiling now because I still have plenty of time and a number of chance, hahaha! You inspired me, Bong, and it looks like I'll be writing something every year beginning next.
Re cha-cha and the change to parliamentary form of gov't, like you I am still ambivalent about it. what I do is read a lot and weigh the pros and cons. I just forwarded an email to friends about a PIDS piece on the diff between pres/parliamentary form of govt, so we may all make an informed choice, I told them. Whatever decision our family makes will not be because some barangay official has come to my door and shoved a piece of paper to my face. Yes, we Filipinos (even those who aren't in the streets!)are a thinking, discerning lot, Let's go and take charge of our own future!
Ciao! MommyJo
BongA said…
Jher, jef, benj , MLQ, eon: thank you, I appreciate the comments. Eon, my dad is not as expressive as I am about affection, but I know that he loves me. One of the things he has taught me is that we show affection differently.

I think that father-son relationships are the most complicated - and yet the most profound.

ymir said…
congratulations sir bong...
chris said…
my father was never articulate about anything like this. But I think he feels just the same for me and I thank you for writing it down.
Joey said…
awww, bong, don't be so melodramatic. kids are having more fun now than we ever did. as long as we don't get taken over by military junta, we'll be okay :)
Taga-Iyam said…
Congratulations to both of you. It sounds like you have a very good relationship with your son....keep it up. FATHER/SON RELATIONSHIP is a balancing act.
My son who was born and raised here in the US....even worked here before he decided "to try it out" there more than 10 years ago is still finding his place there because, he is hopeful that the Philippines is still young to be given up. He does not like the politicians, but, "dedma mo na lang sila", he says....
Keep up the good work and I continue to be with you !
Sean John said…
What a beautiful letter, my friend!
I believe I never had the opportunity to meet R-jay or even knew he existed. If we've been friends longer than his time on earth, how could I have missed that integral part of one of my closest friend's life?
Knowing you, I know that R-jay is very lucky to have you as a father...as long as you were not as cheap with him as you were with your old friends...LOL.
I envy you that you have this great gift. I still long to be a father. Who knows...some divine immaculate conception miracle might just hit me before I hit menopause...LOL
Jepoy said…
wow congrats to him and you :)
tintin said…
hi bong. this is a wonderfully written piece! i wish your son all the best.
BongA said…
Tintin, Jepoy, Taga-iyam, ymir, chris: thanks!

joey: drama ba masyado? mahabang kwento eh.

Sean: yes, you met him. I remember one time you visited us when we were still living in makati (san isidro village.) the years are catching up on us, my friend.

Anonymous said…
What a touching and inspiring letter! I dont have a son but have 3 wonderful daughters. I remember writing a similar letter to my eldest..... she wrote back via SMS! I still have the SIM with me. Congratulations to both of you! -RSA
Joey said…
I actually teach younger kids, and they're having a ball. Like you said, they are not living under martial law, and thus are enjoying freedoms that we might never had. It's a good time to be a kid.
Angel said…
Cheers! Congratulations!
Please give all my love to RJ, and it is nice to see him grow up and mature into a capable and independent young man. All the best! - Angelo
Anonymous said…
Congratulations to Rj and you, Mr. A.
Inspiring letter...I truly can relate although my son is only in grade 4 this June, but nevertheless, I hope I can guide my son to the "correct path" without forcing my "way" ..sometimes I feel guilty, telling him all the things that I wanted him to do..without giving my kid some "decisions" for himself...then I began to realized..."Am I turning to be like my father did before?" reality check...hope not...because that "attitude" made me "not that close" to my dad...One thing for sure, I still believe, we can make this part of the world a better place to live in for our kids! ciao!

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