Marko Angelo is my eldest son. And he just graduated high school. He was born 17 years ago, I was barely a grown up myself then. At 19, everything was happening so fast that the only thing I clearly remember about November 29, 1992 was that it was a blur. But one thing I will never forget is that first time I held him in my lanky arms and realization that hit me like a rock – I am a father.
A proud father. Nothing else in this world matters as much as my family. My proudest moments do not involve being onstage or in a movie or having a piece published or a photograph exhibited. I was proudest when my youngest, Aeneas, and younger daughter, Sofia, played their first memorized piano piece, or when my younger son, Leon, came up to me to give his opinion on my directorial concept for a play. Or everytime their Ate Sofia sits down with me to discuss the last book she read.
I had to hold back the tears when Leon won a literary contest and lost my voice cheering everytime he scored a goal (a total of 6!) in a soccer tournament. I was speechless when Marko told me that he’s starring in a school musical, and I could stay put in my seat watching Sofia in a play at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. In one of our theatre group’s performance last year, I could hardly believe my eyes watching Aeneas and Gabriela performing a song live onstage with so much gusto and sincerity.
I was late for the graduation, the travel from Manila to Alabang took longer than expected. I stopped by my father’s house a few blocks from the school to change – Marko would never forgive me if I showed up in my usual jeans and sandals. Something with a collar and footwear that cover the whole feet, that’s all he’s asking for. When I got to the auditorium, they were about to call the graduates onstage already – just in time. Being late, I was seated at the balcony, so I had to change camera lenses to get a decent photo of him walking up that stage and standing proud on that podium. Just as I was locking in that lens, I heard it: “Marko Angelo Altomonte.” I looked up and there he was – looking so smart and proud in his toga. The ceremony was pretty sober, quiet, sedate, and as he bowed to the crowd, his hat fell and he fumbled with it for a moment before finally putting it back on. I had on this really big stupid smile that I was trying to hide behind my camera, and as I clicked away, I thought to myself – that’s my son.
They’re my children, all five of them. And I am proud of each one and of all of them. I am a lot of things, but the one thing I know that I really am is a father to five beautiful children.
Driving him back home after the ceremony, I asked him what his plans were for the evening. I didn’t really plan for anything as I didn’t want to get in the way of whatever plan he had, this was his evening. And though I wanted so much for him to say that he had nothing special planned so I could take him out to dinner and just sit down with him all night and congratulate him over and over again, I wasn’t really surprised and just smiled when he said that he and his classmates were going to a party. This was evening.
After a quick change of clothes, he was back in the car, and we were back on the road, and too soon he was getting off already at some café where him and his friends would be meeting up. Ahh, too soon.
What I didn’t get to tell him was that I was so proud of him and that I love him very much. That I wish him well as he now enters college to chart his own destiny; that whatever happens to always remember that I love him very much and I would always be there for him and would do all I can to make him happy.
Congratulations, Marko Angelo.