My Dad: A Story of Faith, Love, Perseverance & Sacrifice
“Dad, what are you most proud of?”
“Your siblings, too, because none of you give us any trouble, but I am proud of you...but maybe I'm biased because you're the one asking,” he giggles. “You always told stories, ever since you were little. I’m not surprised you write your stories now.”
I know what my Dad is referring to. He’s referring to the fact that I got a second chance in a certain area of my life, and I wasn’t afraid to grab hold of it, never once thinking I wasn’t ever good enough to deserve it, and choosing to be vulnerable enough to write about it at some point with the intent of offering anyone a little bit of hope in a world that’s lost so much of it.
Anyone can say a lot of good things about their Dad, especially if they are a good Dad---but my Dad is pretty awesome. He is patient, he is kind, he is humble, he is hilarious, he is godly, he is faithful, he is fair, and most important to me, especially as a child, he made my mom laugh. CONSTANTLY. Still does, to this day. His ability to make a melancholy like my mother cackle with laughter, and the constant sound of laughter and giggles growing up made me feel secure. I didn’t grow up with a lot of things, or a lot of money, or a big house. I knew that finances was something our family struggled with a lot, but if I could hear my Mom and Dad both laughing, I knew everything would be alright.
My parents met when my Dad was 24, and my mother was 19 in the Philippines. Putting a few stories together from others who knew them during that time, apparently my Mom was the village hottie and my Dad was the newly ordained pastor that moved to her side of the village in the Philippines when he was called to pastor the local church she attended. As an informal way to introduce my Father to his new congregation, a deacon of his church held a potluck get-together at his house. My Mom was introduced to my Dad there. “She looked so beautiful,” my Dad recalled. “She was wearing a simple dress, and she wore it modestly. Simple and modest. That's why I liked your mom.” That was December 15, 1963. My Dad pursued my mom immediately. He’d take advantage of his “family visits” to go to my mom’s house that she shared with her siblings to teach her songs---a trick my mother says he used to get through the front door. My Dad immediately told my Mom his intention was to marry her.
“I don’t want to court you,” my Dad said to my mom on those visits. “I want you to be my wife, then I will court you until we’re old and for the rest of my life.” LIKE.A.BOSS. Kid you not, as I grew up, I saw my Dad courting my Mom every day. He'd do things for her all the time, like cleaning, washing the dishes, and cooking. He always made sure to say things that wouldn't hurt her feelings, and he always made it a point to never say anything negative about her around us or around other people. He literally worshiped the ground she walked on...and does so until this day.
After my Dad's persistence with my mother after they first met, they got engaged 4 months later----and shared their very first kiss. Then, 22 days after that, on May 2, they married.
But it wasn’t that simple, you see.
Mom didn’t grow up with her biological father. We call him “Lolo Poro” and he was executed in World War II by the Japanese. My Mother was barely a year old. His unfortunate absence still leaves a void in her heart to this day, and if you ask her about that time in her life----a time where most people can’t even remember that far back---she can’t speak of it without crying. My grandmother, “Lola Naring,” raised 5 fatherless children, my Mom being the youngest, and being the youngest meant you were held at a tighter reign. As my mom grew in age, so did her beauty, and that reign grew even tighter. I am certain it was because Lola Naring felt she had to play both roles of mom AND dad that she refused consent to my Dad’s request to marry her youngest daughter. Lola Naring wouldn’t hear of it. She was adamant that they never marry.
So, my Dad approached my Mom’s oldest brother, my Uncle Fred, to see if he could gain favor in that way. “Oh, he did not take to me marrying your mama positively, either,” my dad recalls. “Everyone thought your mom was too young to get married.”
So, my Dad did the only thing he knew how to do: he prayed. He prayed for his wife, whom he knew had to be my Mother; he prayed for favor in the eyes of her family, and he went about his business, trusting that God was going to do work on his behalf…
…and God did, because not a few weeks later, Uncle Fred got a telegram from Lola Naring that said, “I give my blessing for Baby to marry that pastor.”
My Mother would find out later that Lola Naring’s seemingly sudden change of heart was due to an intercession by…Lolo Poro---yes, my Mother’s dead father.
Let me explain.
Lola Naring had a dream the night before where she was walking on a path that led to a bridge. The wind was blowing slightly, and hear heart was heavy and ached terribly. She was alone, but looked up from where she was standing thinking her eyes were playing tricks on her for In the distance, she explains that she saw a figure walking towards her. As she got closer, she realized it was her dead husband, Poro, who had been executed 20 years prior.
"Mama," Lolo Poro calls out to her---a term husbands call their wives in that culture. Lola Naring is startled as he hands her a scroll, tied with string, looks at her with longing eyes----eyes that look so identical to my mother’s in the few photos I’ve seen. Then, he simply turns around and walks away until she can’t see his figure anymore. She calls out to him, but in her dream, no sound comes out of her mouth, and when she raced after him, he was always some distance away, unable to catch up to him no matter how fast she thought she was running. Heart racing, she opens up the scroll he handed her.The scroll is a document. The document is a marriage certificate. On it had my father and mother’s name.
Last year, when meeting Ross for the first time, my Mom told Ross this story. After she finishes telling it to him, my Dad looks Ross square in the eyes and says, “Son, if the match is made in heaven, you still have to work the details out on earth.”
My parents pledged a lifelong commitment to each other in front of their church family 22 days after their first kiss in Bario 6 Baptist Church. My mom was wearing a recycled white dress that she altered to make her own: short sleeves, knee-length, and cotton to accommodate the humidity so well-known and tolerated in South East Asia. My Dad wore a white T-Shirt, black dress pants, and the bowtie he often wore to awards ceremonies at the theological seminary he attended. They were too poor to afford a photographer, so they don’t have a wedding album or any wedding photos, and those in their church cooked food out of the goodness of their hearts to hold a reception. The ceremony started at 6pm, and since electricity didn’t arrive at the village until 10 years later, lamps were their only source of light. My Dad said that marriage was hard work from Day One. They had my oldest sister just 10 months after they got married and in 3 years, they had 3 children under 3 years old. They ultimately had 4 more children after that.
“Dad, what was the hardest thing about marriage?” I asked.
“Having all of you children,” he said.
“Dad, what is the best thing about marriage?”
“Having all of you children.”
And with their children, my parents decided to leave the comfort and familiarity of a land they still call “home” to accept a calling to pastor a little church in Kahului, Maui. They were in their 40’s. That journey didn’t come without struggles, either. Prior to leaving, my Dad went through intensive surgery to remove a clot in his lung that everyone thought, including he, would take his life. My Dad handed a goodbye-letter to my Mother before going into surgery that day, asking her to be strong, to take care of their children for him, and to do what she needed to to give us all a better life. Mom, though burdened with the idea that her children would have to grow up without a father like she did, went directly to survival mode and did the only thing she knew how to do at a time like that: she prayed.
My Father survived the operation and his trophy is a large scar on his back from his right rib area that curves all the way to his right scapula. It keloided over the years, but when I see it, I am reminded I could have also been a fatherless little girl.
I think about my parents: in their 40’s, a litter of children, and taking all their belongings on a 17-hour plane ride across the Pacific Ocean to a land unfamiliar to them. What level of sacrifice does one possess to do something like that, and how did my Dad develop such a character trait?
To know my Father’s is to know where he came from and from whom he came from.
My Father was born in September of 1939 in the province of Negros Occidental in the country of the Philippines. He was the son of Frederico Ronquillo de los Santos (“Lolo Dicoy”), a lathe machine operator at the local Sugar Plantation, and a midwife---the woman I was named after---Guadalupe Ortillo Murillo (“Lola Uping”). Lolo Dicoy died of a heart attack long before I was born and Lola Uping never remarried. Having been raised in Hawaii my entire life, visits to the Philippines to see Lola Uping was scarce. The last time I saw her was during a visit to her village in October of 2001---she was 98 years old, still feeding and bathing herself, and still had a relatively sharp mind. I remember peeking into her bedroom early one morning and saw her sitting on her chair, Bible wide open, handkerchief to her eyes gently wiping tears away. When I caught her crying, she looked at me and smiled embarrassingly.
“Lola, why are you crying?” I asked.
“Because Jesus is so beautiful,” she said.
As much as I believe that, I also know she yearned to reunite with Lolo Dicoy whom she lost 20 years prior, and the two sons she lost several years prior to my visit with her due to health complications. I bet she also wanted to be rid of her frail, earthly body. She died peacefully when she was 100 years old next to my Dad as she breathed her last, leaning up against him on the couch. Well done, good and faithful servant.
Two years after Dad was born, World War II broke out. As a malnutritioned toddler, born third of 5 during the invasion of the Japanese, my Father and his family suffered through poverty and a life of hiding that led his mother to often times hide the family deep into the jungles as fighter jets roared over them. My Dad was 7 years old when he received his first-ever pair of shoes---a pair of Marcelo’s, the cheapest brand you could get at the time. Prior to that, he had gone mostly barefoot. He remembers being so happy that when he went to bed at night, he’d sleep with those shoes on. My Dad loved those shoes so much, that when he eventually grew out of them, he doesn’t even remember if he ever got a second pair! Twenty-five years ago, my Mom got him a pair of Cole Hans as a Wedding Anniversary present. I was 10 years old and I remember watching him shine those shoes, day and night, wearing them only to church on Sundays, and when he wore them, he’d look down to admire them everywhere he went, just like when he was 7 years old. Though I didn’t grow up with a lot of money, I never ever felt for shoes the way my Dad does. In a way, I call him “lucky”---lucky that he got to genuinely experience a character trait that is now missing from much of this world and is so embedded into his DNA: gratitude.
When the war ended, so did Lolo Dicoy’s agnosticism which consequently introduced a new way of life for my Dad and his family: faith, church-going, singing, and chorale groups. It was during this time that my Dad learned how to sing in his Sunday School that he attended with his three brothers and youngest sister. Belief in Jesus was central to the identity of their family as he grew up and is what eventually landed him in Theological Seminary to obtain a Master’s Degree in Divinity.
I remember coming home from high school one day and seeing my dad go into the kitchen cupboard, take out a slice of bread, spread a scoop of ice cream on it, fold it in half and bite into his makeshift ice cream sandwich. When I asked him what his fondest childhood memory was the other night, he recalled he was 5 years old going into the city with his parents one night, tossing and turning the night before from pure excitement, buying ice cream and a loaf of bread from a street vendor and making these makeshift ice cream sandwiches. “When you’re poor, “he recalls, ”you make do with what you have and can afford. Everything can be a treat if you make it so. Ice cream on bread was a treat.” At 78 years old, he still considers it a treat.
Hearing my Father recall all of his stories is my treat. If I had more room to share more of his stories, I would...but that might even be a book for another time. His life has taught me so much about Faith: he continues to live with a purpose outside of himself. He taught me how to Love by showing me how he loves my Mom. He taught me how to Survive by making sure that life is filled with laughter and to seize each moment of giggles and cackles. He taught me Perseverance as I've witnessed him time and time again praying into the lives of his children as he intercedes on our behalf. He and my mom have never missed a night where they don't go down the list of all of us and pray for us individually and for our families. He taught me what it means to Sacrifice: by laying aside his own personal agenda and answering a call to serve his community and family by moving to a land unfamiliar to him.
So, on this Father's Day, I raise a toast to my Dad and all the dad's in the world who always chose the harder route because they knew it was the right thing to do; men who put their wives and children before themselves; and men who embody real manhood and masculinity by exuding a life of love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
And I raise a toast to all the Mothers out there who have to be dads, too.