04 January 2011

Sometimes Dad Knows Best


You have to understand how my Mom ruled the household: she was the archetypal Reina Emperatriz, capital letters intended. She was born under the stars of Virgo and – thus – was a hard-to-please perfectionist whose rule over the brood was characterized by order and regimentation.

I meant that description fondly, of course. Those who know me well will also quickly come to the conclusion that I am – thus – not unlike my Mom in my ways. Indeed, there is a truism to this; albeit, as I was growing up, our clashes of personality were inevitable and one for the parenting pamphlets.

I am not, however, about to turn this into a reminiscing of personality clashes with my Mother. Instead, as one of our high school players proclaimed to all and sundry over Facebook that he somehow found a way to gain entry to one of the more notable universities in the land, I was reminded of when I was in a similar situation many, many years ago.

I had, as a matter of fact, applied for acceptance into that very same university – and no other. Such was the brinksmanship that I was capable of even at a very young age that I had set my mind into going there and did not even entertain the possibility that I would go to another. Thus – and foolhardy now I can say in hindsight – I did not even apply in any other college or university.

I do not know. I just sort of always felt certain that I would get accepted. Well, not always; that is a fib. By late April, when some of my own classmates had already enrolled at that university, the postman still had not come with my acceptance letter. I was starting to get worried; but only slightly so. Rather, it was my Mom who was more upset that it was almost May and I still did not know if I would get in or not.

In fact, I made a trip to the university to investigate what was taking so long. Outside the Admissions Office, there was an encouraging notice that the last batch of accepted students was to be announced on the first week of May.

I went home to tell Mom. She was not very convinced; but then, she seldom was. She was always the sort to have a Plan B; and while I have – these days – evolved into something similar, back then I was still quite capable of simply shrugging my shoulders and taking the come-what-may attitude.

But of course the story of my life – as I had written before – is that I almost always have to pass through the eye of a needle before I eventually get that which I want for myself. To make a long story short, the postman did arrive with my acceptance letter and I had barely a week to get ready for enrolment.

When the big day came, I woke up early to make what was then the three-hour trip to the Big City. I think from the moment I got up Mom already started reciting her litany of reminders. Do not call attention to yourself. Do not look like you are enrolling in a university and had enrolment money with you. Do not do this and do not do that. It went on and on.

Dad was to go along with me and even he was not spared from the litany. Dad, of course, knew what he was getting himself in for when he married Mom; and so he patiently nodded to every single thing that he was told to do. Did I not say before that Dad was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force? Well, Mom was without a shadow of a doubt his Commanding General!

The plan was remarkably simple in spite of Mom’s stringent list of procedures: I was the college greenhorn from the outback and Dad was to make sure he accompanied me from window to window until my enrolment form got stamped and I received my course cards.

Dad, who had nodded obediently to everything Mom said to him before we left, naturally did nothing of the sort. As soon as we arrived in the Big City, the first thing he did was to buy for himself a newspaper. Once inside the university, he found the nearest vacant bench, promptly made himself comfortable, brought the newspaper out from his man-bag and told me to get on with it on my own.

Bravo! Albeit, I was not sure which I was applauding: his brazenness in disregarding everything Mom had said; or his willingness to let me find my own way through enrolment.

You have to understand. This was way before computerized student management systems were even conceived, so the queues fronting the office windows were horrendously long. As I quickly found out, all I needed to get enrolled were two things I already had in my possession. First, my eyes; there were signs, of course. Next, my mouth; if I was not sure about something, all I had to do was ask.

There was nothing to be embarrassed about. We were all incoming college freshmen and everyone was equally ignorant about how to go about things. Thus, it was perfectly normal to ask questions and everyone was good enough to help. It was as simple as that.

There was a third: the money. Ahhh…. The money…

Being Mom, she sent exactly what was printed on the prospectus. Mom was a professional elementary school teacher, but she would have just as easily been successful in a career – had she tried – as a certified public accountant. Such was her zeal for exactness and accuracy. Unfortunately – there is always an “unfortunately” – Mom failed to read – and not that I bothered to ask why – the parenthesized addendum that stated in fine print that the tuition and fees were subject to change without prior notice.

To make a long story short, I was already at the cashier’s window after having stood through the longest queue when I discovered that the money Dad had given me was short of what I had to pay. Since the allowance Dad had been given for the day was just enough to get us back home, I had to seek out an old teacher who was then already working in the university to borrow some money so I could then pay my tuition and be officially enrolled.

The most unfortunate thing about this was that I had to fall in line all over again and had to return the next day just to pay back the money I borrowed from my former teacher. Over time, though, I learned to appreciate the experience of learning to enroll myself in the university. Had Dad accompanied me to every window, I would never have had the confidence to simply ask my way about and find my way from one window to another. That would also have meant he would have to accompany me to enrolment twice each school year.

The experience of borrowing money from somebody who was not even a close family friend – and he was a real gem for being so generous – also taught me to insist, whatever my Mom said, on asking for more than what the enrolment documents stated. It also taught me to find my way around the campus with a month still to go before classes officially started. What I really gained was a head start into college life.

Having worked in a school all my life, I obviously see young college students enrolling like I once did all those years back. Some of you may find this surprising, but there are sometimes even upperclassmen who are still accompanied by their mothers during enrolment. When I see these students, I just smile quietly to myself.

Our society can be very, very matriarchal; but there are just times when it is just best to let Dad do things his way because – indeed – sometimes, Dad just knows best.








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