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Saturday, June 16, 2012

My Dad, Col. Leonardo "Narding" Banzon

The door in his bedroom slammed hard right after he and my mom had a fight. This was rare. They never showed us kids their quarrels. Almost all their fights were done in private and quitely. My mother was crying and my dad was furious and stormed out of the house. I knew then that it was serious. And my world was never the same after. It was 1975, and though I was only 11 years old at that time, the realities of life was like a hard slap in the face. That's the first time I heard them talk about separation. And in an instant, I was no longer a child.

But more importantly, I saw the human side of my father. The true person behind the tough and commanding persona.

Dad with his Fighter Plane

I come from a brood of 8 children - 1 girl (our eldest, Joanne) and 7 boys with me being the youngest. As a child I remember that we all adored our beautiful and glamorous mom whose personality could power a million lightbulbs and idolized our over-achieving, strict and serious dad.

My Dad, then a Captain with the Philippine Air Force, 1st from the Left.

My dad was a ranking officer in the Philippine Air Force. He flew planes and at some point in his career was with the 5th Fighter Wing and part of the elite Blue Diamonds Aerial Acrobatic Team. He had an imposing presence being tall, very fit and with the deep, strong and confident voice of an officer. He played basketball in our neighborhood league and would whip the teenagers and young adults to shame. He even scored over 50 points in one of the games. He was handsome but quiet and brooding. He was also a strict disciplinarian and would rule us boys with an ironfist without the velvet glove.

All these plus his many achievements and awards plastered on the walls of our study room made me see him as super human. Mythical even. To me, he always loomed larger than life and I immensely idolized the guy. To the point that I had difficulty even carrying a simple conversation with this great man because I was always at awe of him. Especially when he was in his military officer uniform.

I always found Dad intimidating when he was in his uniform. Dad in Washington.
And through the eyes of an innocent and idealistic child that I was, I knew all of my Dad's toughness was the perfect match to my Mom's beauty, charm, wit, glamour and loving heart. I saw them as the perfect pair and probably idealized them as a couple even more than I idealize my dad as Superman. She was the perfect wife to a successful and debonair senior military officer.

My Mom, Merced Hernaez Banzon

Mom as a Law Student - Dad just fell crazy in love. As in "laglag ka boy".

Their union was a golden moment in time that etched an indelible mark deep in my Mom's heart that would make her love Dad unconditionally no matter what. A reality that is true to this day. No amount of heartache and hurt would make my mother give up on him. Truly a love eternal.

She also kept things interesting. One time, when Dad was training in Virginia, USA - mom surprised him with a visit and brought with her the day's newspaper saying that she was there to deliver him his daily periodical.

Mom arriving in Virginia to surprise my Dad. From
Left to Right: Tito Sonny, Mom, Tita Corazon
They are blessed with eight children: Joanne, Erwin, Jun, Dicky, Raoul, Baby (aka Jo Mari), Rene and myself. Philip Zayco, our next door neighbor and 1st cousin is like an adopted 8th son. He was always in our house as we were at his.

Dad and Mom made sure that we all got a good quality education but balanced this out with family activities and "weaved ribbons of memories" that we would all take with us way into adulthood. Trips to Baguio, Bataan, Caliraya and even simple family picnics and gatherings were what gave us all a sense of family. Unforgettable moments and memories in our lives that to this day is a source of warmth and happiness for me especially whenever I feel sad.

A day in Luneta Park with 7 out of the 8.
From Left to Rigth: Greg, Raoul, Joanne, Baby, Dicky, Jun and Rene

Our family car....the batmobile? We'd fit 8 kids plus two parents in this baby.

Trip to Baguio with Mom and Dad as a young couple
Rene and I at the Zoo.

Yan ang gupit. Military Discipline....military haircut for Baby?
Through the years, and as we saw our Dad's tough facade melt away either because of the strains in their marriage or just because he grew mellow with age, Dad allowed us many liberties including being "hippies" even if he was a member of the military who frowned on this kind of social expression.

Bell Bottom Days....and long hair...

Dad, Jun and Raoul in a Bonfire in Baguio

Dad also allowed us to see his warm and friendly side as we grew older. He became "one of the boys" and kept pace with us in our many activities together as a family.

Bond...Mighty Bond....

Dad with Abs in his 50's?
Sino'ng papatayin nyo?

Abs runs in the family. Dicky and Raoul in Montemar Beach

Dad had very high expectations and seemed to set the standard in terms of living an excellent life. He encouraged the three youngest boys to excel in sports. And so, we did. All three of us - Baby, Rene and myself were Captains of the La Salle Greenhills Track Team with Rene and Baby also leading the team in College at DLSU. All three were also multi-bemedalled athletes throughout highschool and college. This also served as foundation for my being an athlete to this day.

Rene and Baby in their college running days.
As our Dad (and Mom) aged and our childhood home slowly became an "empty nest", I would still think of my Dad and what he would say or do as I faced my own challenges at work and in my personal life. I used what I saw of his life and his standards as a barometer in my own career and life in general.

Over the years, we would see less and less of each other but would be in touch via "text", occassional phone calls and whenever he is in Manila. Over time, I saw him age from a dashing debonair to an ageing statesman and eventually, into a grandfather and even a great grandfather (from my sister's children). But the look of dignity and sharpness of being a military officer never left his face.

From Left to Right: Baby, Rene, Joanne, Raoul, Mom, Erwin (hidden), Dad, Me and Dicky (hidden)
The growing family. Mom and Dad now have 17 grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren
The kids are alright....6 of the 7 boys plus mom and dad during Rene's daughter's debut.
From Left to Right: Erwin, Dad, Greg, Rene, Dicky, Baby, Mom & Raoul.
The Family (although Jun is in New York) - From Left to Right: Raoul, Greg, Dad, Dicky, Mom, Joan, Baby, Rene, Erwin.

Just in case you were wondering how Jun turned out.
Our American brother, Jun and wife Evelyn.

Though not apparent before, I seem to see an emerging similarity between my Dad and I. In more ways than one.

Dad in his late 40's
40's now...
I saw both sides of my Dad. His enigmatic, perfect and mythical superhuman days and his human, humble, mellow, caring side. He inspired me to pursue and reach my full potential. As an athlete, a career corporate executive, a father. I know I have disappointed him more than I have made him proud but I a continue to strive to excel so that I am able to meet his standards which is a reflection of how highly he sees me.

More importantly, I pray to be a great father and have as much positive influence on my own children as my Dad had in mine.

My son and I in Sydney, Australia's Darling Harbor.

Happy Father's Day, Dad. Have a good one.

Dad and I sharing a laugh 3 weeks ago.


  1. This is beautiful! Happy father's day, Tito Greg! :)