January 24, 2004.
Exactly seven years today, my father died on that grim Saturday morning after more than two years of battle against colon cancer. It was a long, painful battle. Nature won. My father was taken away from us at the age of…
Actually we have no idea.
As embarrassing as it is, no one in the family knew when he was born, not even my mother. According to the snippets that I gathered from listening to their drunken stories when I was a kid, my father, the late Eladio O. Agot Sr., was born before World War 2. He was one of those who ran around and hid in the forests when Japanese soldiers rounded up the locals in their neighborhood. He was about ten years old at that time.
My father’s records with the local municipio were lost during the war. He never had a permanent record after that. When he was younger, he told everyone he was a few years older so he could get a job. When he was older, he used another birth year to suit his needs. Nobody seemed to question it.
When I was a kid, we were not exactly the model family in the neighborhood. We were probably the least among our relatives. My father was often drunk and he’s quite fond of gambling. Our neighbors often dismissed him as someone who would never amount to anything. We were poor. Our chances of getting out of poverty was really, really slim.
Fast forward to his funeral about twenty years later, we, the seven Agot brothers, were silently arguing who among us would give the eulogy. I have always been the most articulate in the family. I was the one who had the ability to write and speak nicely even when there’s really not much to say. That time, all of my education failed me. Truth be told, I had nothing too wonderful to say about the man I was named after (my full name being Eladio S. Agot Jr.)
My brother Bobby eventually volunteered. I was curious how he was going to say something really nice despite our particularly challenging history with our father. When he got up, he only said a few words that shook all of us even today, seven years after the funeral.
He said something like this: “Many of you know that we have been the scorn of many of our neighbors and relatives ever since we were kids. Our father wasn’t exactly a perfect role model. But if you want to really know the extent of the impact of the man whose funeral we are attending today, I challenge you to take a closer look at the lives of his seven sons and three daughters. Take a look at what these kids have become after all these years. Only then will you understand what kind of man our father was.”
I fought a huge lump in my throat when Bob said that. It was very short and very straightforward. It wasn’t a lie. He wasn’t being nice. He wasn’t trying to offer empty platitudes to embellish my father’s last image. He was being truthful.
Bobby’s words sobered us up. As I looked around at the signs of success my family managed to pull off in the last five years, my mind was flooded with thoughts of grace and goodness. For all my father’s rough side, there was a trace of gold we almost didn’t notice. He stayed with us. He was there. He was consistent. Distant, but at least consistent. And no matter how drunk he was, the one thing I remember was that he always came home at night. Every single night. Without fail.
“Ang ato, ayaw kalimti” was his motto. In English, it has a wide range of meaning, including “Don’t forget about us, don’t forget what’s ours, don’t neglect what we have between us, don’t forget what we are.” Slowly, it dawned on me that it was difficult to divorce our successes from our father. We are where we are today because Eladio O. Agot Sr. held on to his end of his marriage with our mother. In his own little way, he actually kept his promise to love (grade on my scale is 4.5/10), to cherish (3/10), till death took him away (10/10).
It’s been seven years since my father passed away. And for seven years I’ve seen fathers from all walks of life struggle with issues of fatherhood and family. Many of them walked away from their wives and children. I’ve seen a lot of broken homes, single mothers, fatherless kids, pregnant women without husbands, teenage pregnancy and second families. In hindsight, I can say with full conviction that what we had was near perfect.
Today, we, the ten Agot siblings, often steal away at night to go to Starbucks, enjoy some cups of frappucino and tea, and talk about business, life, church, kids, marriage, etc. There, in the environment of modern comfort and laid back evenings, our conversations often drift to the memory of our father, about how he was absolutely right about one very particular thing: family first.
In the Agot clan, we do anything for family. We are fierce about our families. We do business in the name of our families. We always go home to our families. “Ang ato, ayaw kalimti” is a mantra that has been repeated a thousand times over in our now-expanding households. It has kept us together during the bloodiest fights we’ve ever had in the past years. It has bonded us together during those times when we were almost breaking apart.
We have a name for it. It’s called the AgotLegacy. It is the legacy of the man who may never have scaled a 5/10 in anyone’s grading system but still managed to impress something great in the hearts of his children. How could someone who never even knew his birthday could accomplish so much in this life? I believe it is no small feat for a man to die and have all ten of his children still look up to him with honor seven years after he went down to his grave.
Don’t ask me how he did it, I don’t know the exact answers. All I can say is that it has something to do with God coming into the picture at a time when all of us boys were about to leave home to find our place in this world. God met us on the road and He turned our hearts back home so we could honor our father who, under other circumstances, would have been the easy subject of our dislike and cold indifference.
For all his failures and weaknesses, God showed us something good about him that would only be appreciated as time goes by. Seven years ago, his mantra would have sounded empty and devoid of wisdom. Today, as grown up men who are all acutely aware of the realities of family issues, we can see our father’s wisdom with definite clarity. He mentored us after all.
And so today we honor the memory of our late father Eladio O. Agot SR.
Date of Birth: Unknown;
Died On: January 24, 2004;
Number of Children: 10;
Number of Granchildren: 19;
Remarks: Honored beyond the grave.
Legacy: Ang ato, ayaw kalimti.