Presented on July 26, 2008 at the Mass of the Christian Burial for Eduardo del Rosario Valencia
"If you spend all your time worrying about dying, living isn't going to be much fun."
These could have been my father’s words… — they are actually from a popular television show.
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One thing for sure, my dad liked to have a good time. And the things that made him happy were simple and consistent:
In the summer, it was fishing on his boat, catching one big fish or lots of little ones, steaming crabs and having a feast that lasted hours, a backyard barbeque while entertaining friends and family, or going for a Sunday drive in one our many convertibles. The boat was his favorite pastime and sometimes we would go out every single Saturday and Sunday from May through September and he always made sure his kids were with him.
In the winter, it was reading the Sunday edition Washington Post from cover to cover, watching the weekly football game or occasional boxing match on tv, cooking a good meal—always a big breakfast on Sundays with pancakes, bacon and eggs. And for dinner usually something Filipino, fish frozen from his summer catch, a stewed chicken or roast of beef. He was the best cook and learned all his mother's Filipino recipes and then mastered his favorite American dishes too.
He also loved a good scotch on the rocks and a cigarette — Johnny Walker Black and Camels to be exact. He liked these vices just a little too much as they eventually negatively impacted his health later on. He told the same joke many times, "Did you hear the one about the guy who starved to death? The doctor told the patient to quit smoking so the guy stopped eating too because he said 'what's the point of eating if I can’t have a cigarette after my meal?'." Yes, my dad was stubborn about his ways.
When I look in the mirror and I see him in my face. When I look into my son’s face, I see my dad there too. My dad was so excited when Westin was born. One of the first observations he made was “I think he looks Filipino!” In addition to my Filipino facial features, I got other “not-so-obvious” things from my dad including artistic talent, a mathematical mind, high energy level and street smarts. He even taught me how to be organized, drive like a hot shot, the fastest way to iron a shirt, and how to keep a scrapbook of memorabilia.
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As I scan through my memories, there are so many things my dad taught me that make me the person who I am today.
When I was 5 years old, he removed the training wheels on my little red two-wheeler and pushed me down a hill. I got stung by a bee as soon as I took off, but he yelled to keep going anyway. And before I knew it, I was riding a bike like the big kids. This made me brave and not afraid to take risks.
When I started first grade, he taught me how to pack my own lunch — a simple bologna sandwich with an apple in a brown paper bag—and how to set my little wind-up alarm clock so I could wake up on my own without my parent's help. This was how to be self-reliant.
When I was 8 years old, he taught me how to water ski and to drive our speed boat while towing him on water skis. Note: There were no other adults on the boat — just me and my two sisters. This was fearlessness (or maybe craziness).
When I was 10 years old, I baked a miniature devil’s food cake with my Suzy Homemaker Easy Bake oven and gave it to my dad . He was so happy with the results that he encouraged me to cook, "bake a full size cake for me next time". I’ve been cooking ever since.
When I was 15 years old, he taught me how to drive a car and insisted that it must be a stick shift. And it wasn't just any ordinary stick shift, but my grandfather's 1955 xk140 Jaguar roadster, not an easy car to drive, even for an experienced driver. This made me a good driver and I also shared his lifelong passion for sports cars.
When I was a teen, he brought back a Karaoke machine from Japan, on his first trip back to the Philippines. It was something we had never heard of here in the U.S. but we started singing with him. This is how he showed me to have a good time and be the life of the party.
He taught me how to earn my own money, first by paying me 25 cents each to iron his dressy shirts. Then encouraging me to work — so I delivered newspapers and did lots of babysitting from ages 10 to 13 then got my first real job at a sandwich shop the age of 14. I’ve been working ever since. When I started my own business, I was confident. This was how to be financially independent.
He was always picking up the tab at a restaurant even when he didn’t have to, giving someone a job when you didn’t have a job opening, coming to everyone’s rescue when they needed help. This was how to be generous.
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When he started having strokes over 15 years ago — caused from smoking, he began a slow decline that was very hard for us to watch. He gradually lost interest or the ability to do all the simple things he liked. First the cooking and entertaining stopped, then the boat was too hard to handle, eventually travel became difficult, cooking got reduced to basics, even scotch did not taste good and was eventually dropped.
He eventually lost the sparkle in his eye and that spark for living life to the fullest the way he used to have. Though he still enjoyed our phone calls and visits, he was a mere shadow of his former self.
I was planning to come see him on his birthday on September 24th, which had an annual ritual over the years since I lived in either Philadelphia or Los Angeles. I now regret not coming to see him earlier this year, maybe in April or May. The last time I talked to him was on Father’s Day. I had sent him a framed print of his Coolidge High School photo that I had restored and colorized with much help from a close friend. The original black and white photo has always been my favorite of him and it has been on my dresser or desk for many years. The card read “To the most handsome father in the world! Happy Father’s Day.” I had thought about that project for a couple of years and had planned to give it to him last Christmas so I’m very glad he got to see it.
Although I was not ready to lose him last Saturday, I have to hope that he is in a better place where there is no pain and he can do all the things he likes. After the final stroke, he seemed to wait for me to fly to Washington DC from California. Although he was in a coma at this point, I got to spend his last 24 hours with him before he took his final breath.
He leaves behind his wife of 51 years, three daughters and his four grandchildren. He provided a good life for us and I know that he loved us all. I definitely had a special connection with him. Being the first child—we spent a lot of time with together when I was little. He used to take me with him when he was delivering automotive parts and sit me on the counter. He even took me to his favorite bar to show me off.
Our dad lived life on his own terms—he lived it his way. His theme song of life was by one of his favorite singers, Frank Sinatra, and the song was My Way.
And now, the end is near;
And so I face the final curtain.
My friend, I’ll say it clear,
I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain.
I’ve lived a life that’s full.
I’ve traveled each and every highway;
And more, much more than this,
I did it my way.
Daddy, if you can hear me, I am comforted to know that you lived your life to the fullest. I love you and I will carry you in my heart forever. For certain — you will never be forgotten. And I hope very much that we meet again on the other side.
Your loving daughter, Debra