In May this year, my third grandchild and second granddaughter came into this world—about eight years after my first grandson, Emmanuel, was born.
Now I am a grandfather of three, a father of three and the biological and musical father of countless concerts that started at CCP, Philamlife and innumerable other venues from Tuguegarao to Davao, from concert halls to restaurants.
I became a senior citizen almost three years ago, but to this day, I have not attended a single senior citizen gathering in Pasig Green Park Village, where I live. I still avoid the LRT-MRT train coach for senior citizens, the pregnant and the handicapped.
But I do use my senior citizen card—while making sure no one is looking behind my back. Same with my white booklet when doing grocery shopping that doesn’t exceed P1,000. I nearly growled at a Mercury Drug saleslady when I was told I could not use my blue card to buy vitamins for my grandchildren.
I admire actor Pen Medina for being open about his age and senior citizen card. Beside Vergel Santos and Randy David, I look like a fake senior citizen with my dyed hair and mustache.
But I still bike. I still look for a pool everywhere in the country after a performance—after my nanny jobs for the performing artists, of course. I can still drink till kingdom come, but I know I am no longer the drinker who had nothing to fear from Joseph Estrada and Fernando Poe Jr., or who shifted from San Mig Light to tequila and drank with heartthrobs Ping Medina and John Lloyd Cruz during the birthday of actor Ronnie Lazaro (ex-heartthrob of “Oro, Plata, Mata”). I let everything out, tequila and all, on Ortigas Avenue on my way to Pasig at 3 in the morning.
It’s a pity that one of my favorite actors, Eddie Garcia—who makes it a point to offer me beer during movie presscons (to the chagrin and horror of star-builder Ethel Ramos)—doesn’t drink.
While I have not come to terms with the physical look of a senior citizen, I have more or less come to terms with everything about my life.
What was my life like when I was the age of my grandchildren? What memories do I have of those six decades?
I was born in a village by the sea called Tilod in Baras, Catanduanes. I saw my first eclipse in Tinambac, Camarines Sur, at age 6, while looking for clams on the seashore. My first family portrait with cousins (now all in the US) was taken in Guimba, Nueva Ecija, where aunt and uncle who were into trading made a fortune as rice dealers.
The early ’60s saw me playing Rizal in an elementary graduation play in Baras, Catanduanes. I appeared in a play called “Seven Years,” mounted on the auditorium of Catanduanes College, where three eminent lawyers from the island came from: Jorge V. Sarmiento (now with Pagcor), Rene Sarmiento (now with Comelec) and Cesar Sarmiento (now a congressman).
This was the decade I saw my first ballet on the island. Since I could not afford a ticket, I climbed a tree adjacent an open window overlooking the stage and saw the best of Anita Kane Ballet in the mid-’60s. I landed on the same stage in the play “Seven Years.”
In high school, I won some extemporaneous speaking contests and lost a regional one to Linda Bolido (representing Masbate, and now with PDI). The late ’60s saw me winning my first essay contest in Metro Manila sponsored by the BIR, and in the jury was one of my favorite writers, Carmen Guerrero Nakpil.
In the ’70s, I got my first job (Graphic magazine) and lost it to Martial Law. I ended up with Kit Tatad in Malacañang in the company of the late Larry Cruz (the restaurant specialist) and Zenaida Seva (the astrologer). This was the decade I married and became a father, found other government jobs and promptly lost them.
This was the decade I met the then 14-year-old Cecile Licad in Legazpi City, and that encounter led me to the CCP in the late ’70s.
In the ’80s and ’90s, I met the world’s greatest artists: Russia’s Maya Plisetskaya, Cuba’s Alicia Alonso, Italy’s Luciano Pavarotti, Spain’s Montserrat Caballe and José Carreras, Mexico’s Placido Domingo, Romania’s Nelly Miricioiu and Alexandro Tomescu.
I’ve come to realize that writers do not make good businessmen and that good concerts do not necessarily translate to good income. You relish the standing ovations but bravely face the deficits. When the economic downturn hits countries worldwide, you suddenly realize you are not alone.
A certain age
So one weekday almost three years ago, I found myself reaching a certain age—but without the status that goes with it. I did not become a successful businessman and opera singer like George Yang, or a successful contractor and soloist of the San Miguel Philharmonic like Eric Cruz, or earn as much as the eminent impresario Eddie Yap.
There is no house to speak of, not even a battered car (I still take jeeps, buses and tricycles). I keep a worn-down bicycle to be in good shape, and another one for my grandson. There are no national awards to gloat over (although I got a few from Cebu, Isabela, Cagayan, Legazpi and Catanduanes, mostly for bringing classical music to the countryside), no earthshaking accomplishments to brag about during alumni homecomings.
I figure in some journalism workshops, talking about reporting the arts scene. But I am sure I will be an embarrassment as product endorser, speaker in graduation rites or guarantor in a business loan.
I am a father of three, a grandfather of three and nothing else on the side. I have earned some virtues and probably lost some of them. You come face to face with your impossible side, but you continue to surprise yourself by being capable of basic goodness and generosity.
Having gone through so much, you can look at life in many ways. Every time you lost money in unsponsored concerts, you tend to look at yourself as a living Greek tragedy. When you share happy moments paddling a rubber boat with your grandchildren who are enjoying themselves immensely, you realize you are better off as failed businessman than succeeding at some point and later on appearing in Senate hearings trying to explain three dozen bank accounts and overpriced fertilizers.
At this age, you can say, “Been there, done that.” After not becoming the person you want to be, you say, “There is no use crying over ‘spilt virtues,” as someone in my Wednesday “Virtuous” Group would say.
Indeed, this is the phase when the many sides of life stare at you in the face and, without hesitation, you try to live and reconcile with the best and the worst that you have become.
The last time I had a get-together with my Frankfurt-based daughter and granddaughter, and the Manila-based one (don’t ask me about the other daughter), I watched my grandchildren play. My granddaughter could negotiate the deepest part of the pool, and my grandson, who never had swimming lessons, tried to do it by instinct (read: floating).
I know my grandson will learn to swim the way I did long ago in the island—by instinct. His activist father, Ericson Acosta, has logged 10 months in a Calbayog, Samar, jail, and I can only wish him more inner strength.
Over beer during this last get-together, as I exchanged stories and laughter with two daughters and a son-in-law, I reflected on what has become of me.
There isn’t much to gloat about.
Turning 63 this Dec. 30, I have only one achievement, if you can call it such: I have come to terms with life.