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Remembering Papa/Lolo John on his birthday

January 27th is Papa’s birthday. He left this earth nearly five decades ago.

Very interesting that my best memory of him is when he was teaching me my first lesson in algebra. Seated deep in a rattan and narra wooden chair, balancing my thick algebra textbook on the armchair, he patiently explained the elements of the algebraic equation. That mathematical language was Greek to me then, but somehow, he injected such clear logic behind understanding the movement of numbers and symbols from left to right or right to left of the equal sign. He put in plain simple English the language of mathematics for this girl barely in her teens.

I haven’t given much thought to my Papa in quite a long time, except when briefly alluding to him in some of my blogs that travelled memory lane. I haven’t thought about the man and traits nor his talents and abilities, much less speak about him in great length to my children who were born many years after he passed. This blog is a tribute to him, and if it doesn’t accomplish anything else, I am gratified that I have been inspired to think more and write more about my children’s Lolo John.

I know that like me, all of my nine sisters and brothers keep his memory enshrined in their hearts.

The siblings would all agree that Papa was funny. Almost like a habit, he often just randomly executed weird dance moves when he wanted to show some lightheartedness. Moving his shoulders up and down on an imagined tempo, he would perform a bouncy rigodon (stride forward and backward), sometimes, humming a made-up tune. His wit was unmatched, I thought, blurting humorous comments that surfaced sharp observations of surroundings in such comical fashion that didn’t fail to elicit laughter or chuckles. He loved to invent words one of which I shall never forget – ampules for the back of the legs. I used it once in fourth grade when I was asked to make up a sentence by the English teacher – “My ampules are aching.” My smugness about that statement quickly dissipated as I saw the teacher’s and classmates’ baffled faces. Slightly showing defiance, I pointed to the back of my legs and repeated my sentence. I love that teacher; she was very polite and just looked away, on to the next student for another sentence. I later learned why the stunned faces. Of course, I didn’t blame Papa for that. That teacher was my oldest sister.

But Papa could also be so serious that you wouldn’t dare crack a smile especially after enjoying the comical side of his personality and seeing the shift to serious. He was most serious when emphasizing to his children the importance of maintaining high academic status, striving for the best grades in school, or imposing discipline. I never heard of tough love in my youth – but that was what Papa had, tough love. He was consistently strict about home rules, like following the early curfew, or studying diligently to achieve the best grades, or eating together at the table on schedule at every meal, or staying quiet when he was suffering severe pain from gout in his feet. When the children made too much noise, he’d say that his feet couldn’t think.

Papa was definitely proud of his children. Yet, he was not one to directly compliment us. I heard his praises for me from Mama who was quick to share them with me. At times, though, I wished he would tell me directly, and that would have been far better than any of the scholastic medals I strove to earn. However, I can see that now as an effort in his “tough love” to keep me from being pompous, complacent or overly confident. I believe Papa saw that in me – the tendency to be overly confident, not in a boastful way, but silently smug and celebratory. A pinch of that would be OK, don’t you think? But Papa just didn’t want a bowl full of that. But he definitely was a loving father and a faithful husband.

I used to say to a few friends and relatives that Papa was the smartest genius in the region – that seems to be a double superlative. That’s what I heard from some adults when I was a young girl. Papa was an achiever. He was the valedictorian in college, and a full university scholar for high academic standing in graduate school.  His professional life was colored with academic positions that gave him widespread recognition for his intelligence, leadership and integrity. First and foremost, he was a teacher. He taught college and graduate students in various schools and universities. He was a professor of math, statistics and education. He was also sought for courses in administration and supervision. He became a District Supervisor for the public schools, was a Dean of Education in the university and college. His ethics were grounded on honesty, decency and respect.

His passion was science, an interest that led him to lively discussions with Mama, a college chemistry professor. They were not always in agreement in espousing their scientific theories, and that made their fired-up conversation carry on through the late evenings. I stayed awake at late nights listening to their debate, and wondered how or when those two scientific minds would meet at a point of agreement. The disagreements were friendly and challenging. When they got tired after hours of discussing scientific theories and possibilities, silence settled, and the debate rested, to be resumed at another evening or another day. By quietly listening, I learned much from their debates. Perhaps, listening to Papa and Mama made me very curious about the cosmos, even to this day. I tend to watch Nova series about space and earth. I listen to programs on physics of the universe. I watch shows on the existence of outer intelligence. All those fascinate me. Papa and Mama had bright scientific minds, but they also adhered to the conviction that all the science in the universe began at the point of creation.

For all his intelligence and achievement, Papa was a humble but persistent man. He knew his limitations, but he tried anyway. He left academia for five years to try to be a farmer. He and Mama stayed in the farm, struggling to make something out of not so fertile 60 hectares a small part of which was planted with rice cared for by a tenant. What did academicians know about farming – not much, besides a few vegetable plots in the backyard of our house in the city. But it was five years of living close to nature, tilling the soil with their hands and planting root crops like sweet potatoes and cassava, and tending to a small piggery right in front of a modest two-story house some 30 feet away from a steep river bank.

The farm was where I spent five happy summers of my youth. As a young girl, I’d climb the low guava trees and sang my heart out with improvised tunes and lyrics, just like Papa sang to the trees and the wind. I dug camotes (yam) the way Papa and Mama showed me. I remember that he taught me to make butter – from white lard (hardened oil) stirred in beaten eggs with a dash of salt. It was the best butter I had ever eaten, I thought. And spread on a fat slice of newly cooked camote, it was heavenly! I watered Mama’s flower garden behind the house. I think, I was a “little farmer” myself. But I never fed the pigs and I didn’t want to know how.  But I watched Papa.  I observed him pour out his efforts at laying food on the trough for the black animals snorting impatiently for their feed — so serious with that task like it was as important as solving a statistical problem on the black board in front of admiring students.  I then saw the humility and integrity of the man, to whom no task was demeaning or humbling to give it genuine attention. Papa was not a successful farmer, but he was a happy farmer.

I like to think that Papa is learning a lot of good tips in God’s farmland. I also like to imagine, he’s entertaining the angels with his wit and humor, and teaching (for a worthy pastime) a thing or two about math and algebra – but especially, about logic. The kind I first learned as I sat on the floor listening to his explanation of algebraic formula and equations, and helping me understand by steering me through a comprehensible path called logic.

Happy birthday, Juan Masculino Pandes, in God’s bountiful farmland!

[Reflection: Learning the language of mathematics through logic, the way Papa taught it, was fascinating. The mystery about logic is that it’s all around us. Perhaps, Papa’s algebra instruction was, in essence, a lesson to help me tap into my inner self to search for the logic in things around me, in relationships, in friendships, in occurrences, in dreams and aspirations. He really didn’t say, put everything in a formula, but somehow, I understand about the importance of balance in life, in the universe, even a hint of the crucial role of physics in the cosmos. No, he didn’t say that life’s problems can be solved in formulas or formulae, but his lesson to me, as I reflect in hindsight, seems to point that there needs to be balance between the numbers and symbols before and after the equal sign. In the bigger picture, symmetry for sanity, order and peace. The truth about logic is not simple, but it’s pure. The sound algebraic equation in the world stays in balance, just like the way the Master Creator intends it to be. And when it’s not, we pray harder.]

Linda P. Jacob


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