Lessons from My Father

My dad wanted to be a rockstar. He was born with a talent, he had a voice, could play the guitar like it was no one’s business, and he wanted to perform before huge crowds. After college, he received his mother’s blessing to go abroad to achieve this dream with a couple of friends. There, he formed a band and performed night after night, moving from Hong Kong then Taiwan and all around Asia.

This was my father in his twenties. Whenever he would recount this particular time of his life, it was always with a fond smile on his face. I could tell how much music meant to him. Which is why, whenever I’d ask him the reason why gave up the shiny life of a performing artist to move back to the Philippines, I was always left confused.

He told me sometimes the work got tiring. He grew lonely. He’d perform songs on Christmas Eve in front of other families, and while everybody else was enjoying their holiday in the arms of a loved one, he’d go home to a cold hotel room, no family, no adoring crowds. But most importantly, he explained to me the real deal breaker behind his decision: one day, after one performance, he realized there were much more important things in life than the life of glory and glamor he had always yearned for in his youth.

Right now, my father is a music teacher and a humble volunteer at a church called Christ’s Commission Fellowship (CCF). As the band leader, he leads a team and arranges their performances to bless multitudes. Sometimes, I witness people be moved to tears, just by the flick of his wrist over a piano. I see the most stiff-shouldered person attempt to dance, old couples close their eyes to the music, swaying. Before this, he had to quit his sales job after moving to the Philippines. All this, he said, because he wanted to devote his life to what truly matters.

When I was young, I always associated giving with something physical, like tithes – 10% of your income goes in a crisp white envelope, down a chute. I imagined a million hands, cooking hot soup for the starving families in a country I could not yet pronounce. I imagined incredible sacrifice, making headlines; I imagined loud praise.

Whenever there is a conversation of giving, I always remember my father. He is one of my foremost inspirations and influences in my life, and all he had to do was to model a life of giving by actually living it. While other people would speak of donating to charities or making plans of climbing mountains to help indigenous people with scarce resources, my father simply quit his full-time job in order to make time for his children at home. It was an arrangement he and my mother decided, so that we could be looked after. It was because of this that me and my siblings grew in an environment of support and love some other children did not have. He chose to sacrifice something he loved – performing and producing music – in order to give his life more fully to bless other people.

As I grow older, the more and more I realize how giving is not always a huge grandiose act. 

Sometimes giving is quiet, without need for proof or fanfare. Sometimes it is without physicality. Sometimes it’s just the humble act of giving your time and presence.

Giving is waking up every 5AM to drive your daughter to school, even if she is half-awake during all your car conversations. Giving is listening kindly to your wife’s rants about work without judgement and providing words of support. Giving is sitting down next to your son and just watching him play video games, just so you can understand the new craze he’s getting into. Giving is offering your time to your loved ones, even when you can still be doing many incredible things you are still capable of doing, things you still dream of, just because you want to be able to give your whole self to them.

Like many people, when I think about giving, I am often distracted about the “best ways” to do it. But thanks to my father’s modeling, I realized there is no proper way, just like how there are no better ways or bad ways in giving back. Which is why it is so difficult to qualify giving; the moment we start putting certain acts of giving against a measuring stick is the same moment we lose all meaning of the act itself.

As a community we can sometimes be distracted by the outcome of our choosing to give. “Who will know that I did this?” or “Will it look good if I post a photo of this?” or “What if no one appreciates it?” and maybe even “What if it’s not enough?”

One lesson I learned from my father is that we are where we planted for a reason. Let us not miss out on the opportunities around us by focusing elsewhere. If you have a family, let’s start giving our time and presence for them. If you are surrounded by friends, listen to their troubles. If you have a humble job that many consider menial, show your best, most excellent work, and go to sleep at night at peace, knowing you have done your very best with what was given to you.

Giving should not stop after one act. Rather, it should be lived, day by day, in small, yet meaningful moments.


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