When I was a child, I always felt that my dad was some kind of a hero. He appeared larger than life to me. I still remember the many times I would watch in awe as fights between goons and gangs in our neighborhood quickly disperse with just the sight of him. Surprisingly, meanies turned into angels whenever he was around them. Our house is always visited by people who would like to seek his help and advice. He often had a ready answer for everything. He often had the best solutions to their problems. Everybody just gravitated towards him. Whenever he talked, everyone stopped and listened. He maybe just like any other ordinary man to some but in my eyes, he was a hero.
My father, Virgilio Santos, was a self-made man. He grew up in the salt beds of Las Pinas to a poor family. His father was a fisherman and his mother was a plain housewife. While some kids in their neighborhood passed the time playing in the streets, he worked in their “irasan” to help his family make ends meet. Life for him, even from the start, was hard. This did not stop him though from dreaming big things for himself. One of his greatest dreams was to finish school and with quiet determination, he did. He got his college degree just when I was about to enter high school. He consequently earned his masteral degree right before I graduated from college.
My dad was by nature a man of God. His great desire to love and serve Him made him stay in the seminary for two years. However, when he came to realize that there were a thousand other ways in a hundred many places where he could serve God best, he chose to become a lay. He continued to live and spread his faith by sharing it with his family, friends and colleagues during his lifetime. Prayer time, as long as I remember was always an important event in our family. The sight of him with his head bowed down in prayer was a usual picture around the house. He would often tell us that every occasion, be it good or bad, is always a good reason to celebrate with God.
My dad was by far a man for others. Right after he got out of the seminary, he decided to join the Philippine National Police because he wanted to help as many people as he could. For him, there were only two ways to interpret the law, that is, either right or wrong. There clearly was no in between. He was uncompromising with his beliefs and principles. He fought for them with unflinching courage. This did not make him rise from the ranks fast but it had surely earned the trust and confidence of his men, as well as the respect of ordinary people who came to him to seek justice. He never once flaunted his gun nor asserted his position or authority on anyone. He used to say that he is not exempted from the law just because he happened to be the one implementing it. He had long accepted the fact that he cannot change much the bureaucracy in the government institution where he was serving but that did not stop him from trying. He strove to make a difference by performing his job with honesty and integrity. He was a man full of love, as witnessed by the way he had involved himself to so many causes and how readily he stepped up to any given situation. His immense love went beyond our family. It was so far reaching that it embraced everybody. He made helping people not just his duty but also his vocation.
To my young eyes and even up to this day I see my father as a hero. He may not be as noble as Dr. Jose Rizal or as brave as Andres Bonifacio but I know in my heart that my dad was just as great. I had witnessed the many simple yet extraordinary ways he had expressed his love. I had seen with my very eyes the significant marks he had left in the lives of each and every one who had become part of his life. I had felt the many sincere ways he had touched people. He served as a shining inspiration to them, but more importantly, to me. From him I learned to go beyond myself, to think less of me and more of God and others. He taught me to put my blind faith in God and let Him lead the way. He made me realize that family goes beyond affinity and there is nothing more fulfilling than making someone feel grateful to God for my presence. Through his example, I learned to value work and to give my best in everything that I do. It is through his footsteps that I now follow my dreams and make them happen. He had left me with an inner strength to rise above difficult situations and fight for the right reasons. He had passed on to me the gifts of faith, hope, love and charity. My father died four years ago but I can still feel the loss of his presence every now and then. He may be long gone but his legacy and spirit continue to breathe and live on inside me and the many people he had touched.