Happy birthday, Dad.

Today is my Dad’s birthday.

I love my Dad to bits. I have no brothers or sisters, so I was a total Daddy’s girl growing up. It made me a horribly spoiled brat, which in turn helped me learn a whole mess of things the very VERY hard way. I can still be bratty — ask my lover — but I’m a much better person now. I hope.

My Dad’s father was a bandleader on a cruise ship in the 1920s and ’30s. They would stop at ports in Shanghai, Formosa (then, now it’s Taiwan — such a waste of a romantic name), Manila, and all around the “Orient”. They were called “Tano and His Orchestra”. My Dad says Tatay ‘Tano (short for Cayetano) played something like seven instruments and was a heck of a bandleader. Eat your heart out, Glenn Miller. Hmm. This is probably why I have such a love for big band and swing music.

Of course they passed through Japan, and that’s where Tatay met Nanay. 🙂

The shy little Japanese cherry blossom meets the good-looking, globe-trotting Manila boy. She didn’t stand a chance. How can you resist a well-traveled, well-spoken, musically talented (and how!), attractive young man who goes after you relentlessly?

Why relentlessly? The man worked on a cruise ship — he had no time for over-long courtships! Of course it’s entirely possible that it was a long, drawn-out romance, developed over many stops in Japan, but I prefer the whirlwind romance model. So in my possibly revisionist version of events, he swept her off her feet, they were married, and he carried her off to Shanghai.

So I guess you could say he literally Shanghai-ed her. 😀

No mean feat, that. You have to consider the fact that my Nanay spoke not a syllable of English. She was purely, absolutely Japanese, so maybe Tatay spoke a bit of the language. Looking deeply into someone’s eyes and sighing will only get you so far, and at some point you do have to say, “So. Wanna get something to eat?”

They settled first in Tsingtao, China. My Dad, the second eldest of seven children, was born there. After some time they moved to Shanghai — bustling and cosmopolitan, with a lovely European flavor that brought an Old World sophistication to its exotic mystery. They lived in the section of the city where most of the Japanese community settled as well, but my Dad studied at the British School. They spoke only English and Japanese, which explains why he still speaks Filipino with a stiff, awkward enunciation.

Aside: You’ll hear this speech pattern mostly with Fil-Americans — though they can be fluent, there’s that over-enunciated, overly clear delivery that marks them immediately as people who use Filipino as just a secondary tongue, learnt at a later age. Have you ever heard Lea Salonga speak Tagalog? That’s precisely it.

Funnily enough, three of the most important men in my life share this speech pattern: my Dad and my son (whom I’m raising with English as his first tongue — he’s 5 and speaks perfect English, but if you ask him a question in Filipino, he’ll look at you and say, “What?” Uh-oh…), and my lover. Oddly enough, he grew up not speaking Filipino as well. But he turned out very well, so there’s hope for my son, haha!

Still with me? Good.

Anyway, when the Japanese invaded Shanghai in 1937, my Dad was a year old, and they fled the violence, ending up in Japan for a while. They returned to Shanghai, and stayed there through World War II. After the war, they were repatriated to the Philippines and they settled in Davao. My Dad went to school at the Ateneo de Davao, and raised hell there with the likes of Fr. Arsenio Jesena, SJ (yes, all you Blue Eagles out there — Fr. JJ indeed.) and was a proud member of Ms. Coty Cobangbang’s mafia, bless her soul.

In the ’60s, my Dad pulled up stakes and moved to Manila to seek his fortune. He worked for Litton Mills and Marubeni, if I remember correctly — he was Sales Manager, I think. In the early ’70s, he met my Mom, who was a professor at UST. She was a tough, no-nonsense spitfire who was one of the first women on campus to drive her own car. She taught my Dad to drive, in fact.

They were married in 1972, and I came along in 1973. My Dad joined the family business, started by my maternal grandfather, and took over from his brother-in-law. He worked, worked, worked, gave me a good education, a passion for reading and travel, a sharp and critical mind, an unsinkable sense of humor, a taste for everything Japanese (of course), and a predisposition to alcoholism and nicotine addiction.

So now my Dad’s retired, takes his insulin shots three times a day, and his grandson to McDonald’s every other day. He’s still trying to learn how to play “Robots” for the Game Boy Advance SP, and uses me as an excuse to buy cigarettes.

My Dad’s a genius, and a good man. He can’t speak straight Tagalog to save his life, is terribly OC about his things, has a terrible temper when pushed to the end of his vast amounts of patience, loves Elvis (me too), is a bit of a recluse, is addicted to TV, and bears an uncanny resemblance to the actor Nestor De Villa.

It’s his birthday today.

I love you, Dad. Happy birthday.

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