Friday, August 18, 2006

A Life That Mattered

Heck of a way to start a blog, but I wanted to share this with the family I connect to on myspace. I lost a dear, dear man on August 18. He & my grandmother now rest in peace in the Philippines. It was my honor to write my grandfather's eulogy, which I wrote from my father's point of view, as he was the one to deliver it.

When I think of Tatay, I think of his sense of humor, his generosity & his tough but abiding love. Now those happier times are acting as a protective barrier of memories around my heart, because after 90 years of life, the world has lost a man whose life mattered greatly to so many people.

I'm not sure from whom Tatay inherited it, but Tatay had a great sense of humor. It's one of many things I know he instilled in his children, grandchildren & even his great-grandchildren. It came in the form of funny stories or jokes he could tell & re-tell and it would still be as funny as the first time he told it. It came in the form of tricks he played on the younger generations. His eldest great-grandson, Michael, who'll be 18 soon, will still shake his head in wonder when he remembers how Tatay used to pull quarters from his ear when he was a toddler. My nephew Elvin, an accomplished artist, will tell you Tatay was his first art teacher, the one who taught him how to use his imagination & be more creative with his thinking. He remembers asking Tatay to draw him an elephant. Tatay instead drew a picture of a mountain & some trees. When Elvin asked Tatay, "But Tatay, where's the elephant?" Tatay replied, "It's there! Behind the trees!"

My parents were known to teach us & their grandchildren lessons using parables and quotes. My daughter, Genevieve can tell you that my mother was fond of meaningful quotes, her favorite quote being, "I shall pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again."

Ask her what her grandfather's favorite quote was & she'll say:
"If you see a monkey in a tree, pull its tail & remember me."

I'm glad that if nothing else, my children and Tatay's other grandchildren will remember Tatay for his sense of humor. He was not an easy man to get to know. He carried himself with the trademark DeGuzman stoicism, with a stern, handsome face and a seldom-seen smile. But when he smiled, it was a brilliant smile, sly & full of mischief. I believe it was his smile that won my mother over. That and his singing voice, a remarkable tenor, which he used to serenade Nanay when he courted her. Tatay's voice was well-known in this area and in the United Methodist Churches where Nanay & Tatay were members from Paniqui, to San Francisco, California, to Lakewood, Washington. I believe it was Tatay's sense of humor that kept Nanay in love with him for over 60 years. That and perhaps the fact that as a retired schoolteacher, Nanay had the patience to put up with Tatay's antics.

I can tell you about his career as a land surveyor with the Philippines Bureau of Lands, where he used his job to teach his two older sons about integrity, compassion & character, never allowing the struggling farmer to pay more than his fair share of property taxes. For Tatay, what mattered wasn't what he learned, but what he taught. Cesar & I were too young to accompany him on his expeditions, so our lessons of Tatay's dedication & generosity came later when Tatay & Nanay retired from good paying secure jobs to move to the States, where Tatay took a menial job as a maintenance worker at a hospital so he could send money home to the Philippines, giving me, my brother & my older sister the hope of of coming to the US one day.

Time after time, Tatay & Nanay came to our aid, even after we started our own families. When they should've been enjoying their retirement, they were instead babysitting our children, chaperoning field trips, chauffeuring them to school, making sure they were well-fed and well-dressed, playing foster parents when need be. But more than this, they helped us teach our children the importance of family, the importance of lending a helping hand and the importance of keeping faith in God a central part of our lives.

For Tatay, I believe it was never about his success, but about his significance in the lives of his children & grandchilren. He was never more proud than when he witnessed us succeed, and he was never more hurt than when we failed to acknowlede his hand in our successes. I hope Tatay knows that we know we couldn't have made it to where we are now in this world without him and all that he taught us.

Because of Tatay, I know what matters in life, because Tatay lived a life that mattered. In his unique way, whether he intended to or not, Tatay lived to make others laugh, he lived to make others care, he lived to make others feel loved, he lived to help those in need and he lived to be remembered long after he's gone.

We love you, Tatay. We will never forget all you & Nanay taught us through your acts of love & kindness. May you both rest in long-deserved peace together again in God's hands.