After three years of reading mostly the columnists in this section, we thought we’d also give space to other fellows summing up their lives and life’s philosophies now that, as our youngest of the eight featured seniors here, 67-year-old Carlos G. Dominguez, puts it, “there’s more years behind than ahead of us.”
I listened to them and here have collected their voices.
Carlos G. Dominguez
Sonny may not realize it, but apparently he’d been preparing for seniorhood all his life—“doing only what I know I can.”
“I can’t solve everything,” he says. “Once I’ve done the things I have set out to do, I quit. That’s why by the time I left the government I had received my satisfaction.”
The attitude served him well when he joined President Cory’s Cabinet, first as undersecretary for agriculture, then as secretary for natural resources, although back in the private sector, he could hold his ground better: “I refuse to work with people I don’t like…”
He tells me: “I plan to live to 101, and die from a gunshot from a jealous lover of an 18-year-old girl.” And I tell him that in my book, anybody who ambitions to go out that way ought to write a memoir.
“I did give it a thought, but in two seconds I decided against it. I didn’t want to make enemies, you know. I believe in karma.
“I just want to have fun, the legal kind, now that there’s more years behind than ahead of me.”
For rest and recreation, Sonny talks of a second home in Portland, Oregon: “For the longest time, we’ve kept a house there, because my mom lived there… We’ve come to like the place. We usually go there with the four kids in the summer. When the six grandchildren came, the rule was no yaya, no toddlers. But when a yaya got a visa, the problem was solved. For domestic weekends they all come to our home in Alabang.”
For competitive and noncompetitive sport, he shoots—in Oregon: “It tempers my aggressive tendencies. I became state champion in Oregon. I also hunt for game, and raise a few heads of cattle in Lipa.”
Two hotels and a banana plantation on 500 ha of leased land keep him connected to his hometown, Davao, and high-school friends. He finds more time, though, with his college mates from Ateneo de Manila.
“But without the friendships that developed between our wives, I don’t think we could have held on as long as we have.”
In 1997, he formed a foundation and has sustained it through donations from family and friends. It’s run by three people, one a Muslim, who select every year from the top 15 percent of the class five Muslim scholars whose families’ annual incomes fall below P100,000. The five are given free tuition and books, and a monthly stipend of P2,000. Eighty have graduated and found jobs here and abroad.
Sonny believes that education is the key to leveling the playing field for the Muslims of Mindanao and surmounting the prejudices against them. “Yes, prejudices!,” he says. It’s the endeavor he expects to surpass the 101 years he expects to live.
I have referred to Tita Techie many times in my columns, and always with admiration and affection. She remains young and attractive at 89, and her life’s philosophy could very well be the secret to her good looks, good health and happiness.
She says: “I did not plan my life. Everything I have came to me without any effort on my part. Life has been good to me. I’m happy because I tend to always look at the bright side.
“We were four sisters, and I was not the prettiest or the smartest. But somehow that never bothered me. I looked at it this way: I was the tallest, and that pleased me! I grew up never envying anyone. I saw people who had everything but were not happy.
“Now I know that the secret of happiness is gratitude for whatever God gives you. Let’s face it: God knows what you should have and what you shouldn’t have.
“It’s really simple. A grateful person is never unhappy. I’m grateful for the life I have. I’m happy I’m old. There are certain freedoms that are not there when you’re young. I feel that now I’m entitled to do what I want to do and not do what I don’t want to do.
“Take it from me—it’s great. I love being old!”
Chona is clear-minded, decisive and articulate. She needs no prodding. She has no trouble expressing herself at all. And everything, even her future, seems clear to her:
“I have always enjoyed a full personal and professional life balancing family and career, multitasking as most younger individuals do, feeling happy and invincible. Then with the onset of an empty nest as the children went on to live their own dreams, my husband and I were left to enjoy a different, more relaxed lifestyle, with more time for ourselves, for our dreams of joint retirement from the medical profession and of countless travels.
“As fate would have it, my husband contracted an incurable illness, leaving a void in my life and a feeling of solitude and discontent.
“Gradually, however, over the past few years, life has taken on a different meaning. I have grown to love my solitude and freedom—to make my own plans, live peacefully alone without any househelp. I love to visit my grandchildren here and abroad, but I also cherish my moments of freedom to lounge around, read books, meet old friends and acquaintances, and make new ones.
“I follow no particular schedule: I travel on a whim; I eat what I please; and I go to my office for half a day for the pleasure and stimulation it offers. But I know I’m no longer indispensable. If I have to give it up because of physical or mental incapacitation, I shall not resist.
“Letting go of children and a spouse was practice for the biggest test that’s still to come—letting go of everything and placing myself in the hands of Divine Providence.”
“I didn’t run with the bulls in Pamplona,” Ric corrects me. “I ran away from them as fast as I could. I was married and all, but much younger then. I hope to, one day, before I get too old for it, run with my four boys in the same festival.”
Right now Ric has his sights on skydiving as the new frontier to conquer. His water activities have been banned by the family due to what to him was “a mere minor accident” while scuba diving.
He was not lost at sea, he says in his defense. “I’m a highly trained diver; I can survive 72 hours in the open sea. I was never in any real danger, except to my wife, Bea, who got so traumatized, she made me promise not to dive again.”
He expects the prohibition to be lifted “one day… I miss the excitement of diving and spear fishing… Weekends, I play golf with a group of about a dozen friends, some old, some new, in Malarayat, Batangas, where we have built a place. We stay overnight Fridays for an early game the next day.”
“Old friends are going,” laments Ric, himself 77, “but there are more and more new friends these days. Many of my friends from our years in London, for instance, are gone now, so we’ve moved our base to Paris, and find it an easier and friendlier place to meet up with friends in Europe. I’ve always loved Europe—I studied, lived and worked there. As a matter of fact, one of my boys was born there. I also have ties with San Francisco, having grown up there, and I get a chance to renew my ties with that beautiful city, at least once a year. Our only daughter lives there with her American husband, and their kids.”
With no major health problems and enough financial security after retiring at 60 from the Asian Development Bank and putting in 10 years after that at the Philippine Deposit Insurance Corporation, three years as its president, he says, “I look back and see them as my fruitful and creative years.”
Susie almost couldn’t find the time for this interview: “This month alone my schedule is crazy—my oldest grandson is arriving from the US to stay for about a week before he goes off to school in Australia. My husband is still feeling under the weather after the holidays while I have my own medical concerns, although nothing is serious for either of us, thank God.”
Susie began working straight out of college and has kept her work pace even after retiring from the Caltex board and began managing her own business interests and looking after her two kids. She lost her first husband to illness and remarried a fellow Caltex executive.
“Both of us had children working and living in the States, so we traveled at least once a year to visit them—in different states. Lately, though, we’ve had to space our travels. This year we spent Christmas and New Year here, a good thing, with the horrible US winter.”
Susie doesn’t really mind being so busy. She says she still likes it—“getting things done. I keep my schedule full and, consequently, my life full.”
But, she adds, “I do make time for exercise and, when I feel like it, some solitude, too.”
Susie served as president of the alumnae board of St. Theresa’s College, Manila, and is grateful for the opportunity to reconnect with classmates and make new friends with younger alumnae who live here and abroad.
“If anything keeps me energized, it’s my genuine interest in people,” she says.
It seems you can’t take the scientist and manager out of Rene, an engineer and a management teacher.
“It might feel, sometimes, like grappling with the ‘Traveling Salesman’ problem in engineering school, the object of which is to find a path that minimizes the distance travelled to all required destinations. By the way, that’s not as simple as it might sound. In the typical logistics problem involving hundreds of destinations, the instinctive approach of just proceeding to the closest point and then to the closest point to that, and so on thereafter, will usually yield a solution significantly longer that the shortest possible route.
“Anyway, I won’t need a linear programming algorithm to plan out my route for a day involving only a handful of destinations. Still, given the flagging energy of the advancing years, it helps to map out such a minimum distance route for each day in a senior citizen’s life. Mine might go: Leave home—Teach class—Have coffee with friend—Visit business client across town—Grab fast-food lunch—Search bookstores for old book—Drop by post office to claim parcel—Pass by tailor to have barong made—Pick up laundry—Meet friend for drinks—Return home.
“Less distance traveled equals less energy expended. It is important for old men to conserve their energies.
“The next problem, faced often during the course of the day, is remembering the sequence. What am I supposed to do next? It’s called the ‘Traveling Senior’ problem. Fortunately, I will have it all written down on the yellow Post-It in my pocket.”
“I’ve always looked forward to aging graciously,” said Ruben once.
I didn’t have the heart to tell him he’d have to age first. He still has the same bachelor weight and waistline, although in years he more than qualifies.
“I’ll be 78 this year with no major health problems. I am able to eat anything, but I’ve always been partial to fruits and vegetables.”
He feels confident that after many years of working, he has squirreled away enough nuts for the winter.
“We enjoy traveling with our children, not always together—there are seven of them—but whoever can. They’re all married and have given us 14 grandchildren. Three live in our family compound, two abroad, and the rest have their own places. I’m especially pleased that they’re close and get along very well. It’s the ‘perfect’ family Mandy and I have always dreamed of.”
Ruben starts his day with stretching exercises, then joins a group of friends for serious walking, trekking and hiking.
“We climb mountains. At 75, I climbed Mount Pulag in Benguet. At 76, I did Mount Apo in Davao, and at 77, just last year, I was in Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia. Ah, but for relaxation, nothing beats the home-service Swedish massage Mandy and I enjoy once a week.”
This year, he says he finally agreed to be president of Forbes Park Rotary Club—until June.
“I’m happy I did. We have several worthwhile projects, among them, in partnership with Gawad Kalinga and Australian Aid, we have built 1,200 homes for the poor, with 2,000 more in the making.”
Aside from the Rotary projects, he says, “there’s nothing I won’t drop for another mountain to climb.”
I found tall Ben among my uncle Marquitos’ regular e-mail connections; I happen to be one of them. He was quick to respond and could as easily place me as he could come up with one suitable poem after another about aging. But I insisted on hearing his own voice.
“Of course I remember you. I am reminded of the lovely sketch your uncle Ding drew of you while you were still a student. And then you used to visit your grandparents while they were living in Park Avenue, Pasay. We used to play basketball there every Saturday of each month.
“You also know that Marquitos, Ding and I are graduates of Notre Dame way back in the 1950s. We are all over 80 now. You might call us overstaying citizens. Why? Our Census Office has declared that the average lifetime of a Filipino male is 68 years. I have been in the Pre-Departure Area of Life for 17 years. Hence, every day is a blessing. Curiously, each new day is also the youngest I’ll ever be. I’m 85 and I brag about it. I love to hear people say ‘you don’t look that old.’
“Despite ailments—and I have more than a few of these—I enjoy my life as an octogenarian. To keep ‘looking good,’ I like to swim. To stave off Alzheimer’s, I keep my mind active. Unless I am sick, I take much pleasure in reaching out to friends daily via the Internet. I found out that this was the best way to stay mentally alert.
“Everyday I e-mail to friends articles and stories, even music and photos. My goal is to bring a little sunshine into the lives of others. It delights me when contacts reply that these postings created many ‘a-ha’ moments that inspired, encouraged and motivated them. My contact list includes some 60 like-minded friends. If friends are family you have chosen for yourself, I have been rewarded with quite an extended family.
“I was 70 when I retired from my last job as Senior Consultant in the UN System. After retirement, I probably made more mistakes as a senior citizen than when I was a professional economist working in the Philippine Government and in 33 developing countries.”
And when I asked him for a photo, he sent me his latest passport picture, saying, “Well, you asked for it.”