When Ed and I were certain that I was expecting a baby boy, I wasn’t about to let Ed have complete naming rights, as he had with our firstborn, Anna.
Thus, naming our second child became contentious, with Ed wanting another “Edgardo,” while I argued that Juniors inevitably had to live up to their fathers’ fame.
We compromised by prefixing “Juan” (for Ed’s father, Juan) to “Edgardo” and thought the matter settled. But what about his nickname?
As Juan Edgardo was such an endearing and chubby baby, we ended up calling him “Sonny Boy” throughout his early years until his teens.
The births of our children have been associated with momentous events in our marriage and in the country. Sonny Boy was born a Cancerian in 1972, a tumultuous year marked by the founding of the Accra Law Firm in May, and his christening on the day martial law was announced on radio.
We were filled with foreboding during this period in our lives, but we tried to live with some semblance of normalcy, at least for the sake of the children. “Normal” meant we were spared the violent aspects of this time; not so for some friends.
One night, when we were living in White Plains, Sonny Boy came down with a very high fever and convulsions. With Ed out of town and our pediatrician Dr. Eva Poblete staying in Makati, I dared call up Defense Undersecretary Manuel Salientes, who granted me a pass so I could rush Sonny Boy to Makati Medical Center despite the curfew under martial law.
As a founding partner of Accra, Ed labored long into the night with his cofounders to push their firm up the ladder of success, in spite of the circumstances. The children must have felt his long absence, probably more so Sonny Boy. Fortunately, he seemed to thrive in Xavier School, at the time run by Basque Jesuit priests and a strict headmistress, Ms Jenny Huang.
According to Fr. Jaime Bulatao, because of an excellent academic program, Sonny Boy would have the advantage of learning Mandarin. Seeing the situation in the country today, Father Bulatao was not only practical but prescient!
Another blessing was the wholesome crowd of boys who became his lifelong friends, two of whom, Derrick Santos and Ito Valdez, became best men at his wedding. Daily, he’d come home like he had been in a fight, tousled and grimy. With his family name beginning with “A,” he was usually paired off with Jigger Antonio in his carpool, and he became friends with the Lopez and Pineda boys and his neighbor and buddy, Jako Yupangco.
Before entering high school, Sonny Boy showed his rebellious streak by refusing to go back to Xavier School. After graduating with honors from grade school, he thought he was entitled to change schools and stop being tutored daily in Mandarin. We let the issue go until we had returned from a long-promised trip to Europe with his Ate Anna, who had waited two years so we could all travel together after his graduation.
For sending him back to Xavier School, Sonny Boy announced peevishly, “Fine, but don’t expect me to work for honors!”
To rub it in, he also added, “And Ma, it’s Sonny—just Sonny!”
Henceforth, Juan Edgardo became just Sonny. Gone was the boy I could cuddle and even spank, gone into his father’s realm of attention and masculine impressions.
Although Sonny didn’t take walks with Ed, like Ed had done with Papa Juan, there were family vacations at our Nasugbu beach house and short trips abroad.
When he was about 7, while on a trip to Japan, I sent Sonny into the men’s restroom, instead of taking him to the ladies’ room. He came rushing out in alarm, saying that this old Japanese man thought he was Japanese and started to speak to him in Japanese.
“Ma, didn’t you say we shouldn’t speak to strangers? This man thought I was Japanese, so I ran out!”
From then on until he could manage on his own, Ed would accompany him to the boys’ room.
There comes a time in a boy’s life when he starts making his own decisions, and in that boyhood world, paternal influences may no longer prevail. But a mother’s prayers do help!
Ed and I had agreed that if we had the funds, the children were to continue their studies in England. Ed had visited the United Kingdom when he was the 14th president of the University of the Philippines, as a British Council guest, and had been impressed by its educational system.
As soon as the children finished high school, they took the collegiate entrance exams and left for the school of their choice. Sonny was choosing between two Jesuit schools and two Benedictine schools.
If I had my way, it would have been Downside in Bath, a delightful village teeming with history, but Sonny chose Douai in Reading, maybe because the headmaster, Father Geoffrey, had won him over with a platter of KitKat goodies. To this day, Sonny’s favorite is a UK KitKat bar.
From Douai, it was the London School of Economics, where he earned his degree with honors in International Relations and a background in Economics.
When Ambassador Felipe Mabilangan Jr. became our ambassador to the United Nations, what a wonderful opportunity for Sonny to be assigned there! I was confident that with Ada and Philip there, he would imbibe the “vibe” of the UN and NYC and, maybe, be a budding diplomat. But to his father’s exultation, Sonny chose to come home and take up law.
As he was now in his father’s turf, Sonny knew he had to brave Ed’s high expectations—for instance, if he was writing for The Collegian, why wasn’t he the editor? If he was in the top 20, why not in the top 10?
Then came other baptisms of fire: his graduation from law school, the bar exams and results, and acceptance into the Harvard School of Law.
I remember his call, close to midnight, to inform me that he had been accepted at Harvard, and after my joy erupted into tears, I asked him if his father knew. Sonny made me cry even more when he said he thought my prayers made the difference.
In 2003, Sonny and Tootsy were married, and I felt assured he was in good hands. In his teens, he had moved out of my hands into his father’s mind and will. In his 30s, he was ready to start his own family, with the love and support Ed and I could give him: “A man should leave his father and mother and should cleave to his wife.”
When Ed died, Sonny was in China and had to rush home. But this time, he must have missed his father’s warm bear hug, his constant cajoling and wise counsel. At this threshold, gone was the father whose counsel he treasured most.
It is at a time like this that I hold fast to the little boy, who, in my mind, is still vulnerable, who is trying to be the father that our family has lost. Sonny has tried to be father, even to his sisters, and that speaks greatly of a young man who, in the midst of a debilitating electoral campaign, can still manage a “Sonny” smile and be a “Father” to us all.
In my prayers, he is still my “Sonny Boy.” —CONTRIBUTED