01 February 2017

The Math Genes, the Language Genes, the Practicality Genes


When I was a young boy growing up inside Fernando Air Base in the sixties, all I really wanted to be when I grew up was to become a pilot. Working in a school? Never crossed my mind!

I loved the Air Force – I still do! I loved being an Air Force brat. I loved watching airplanes. When there were no classes, I would spend hours upon hours – sometimes with friends; sometimes by myself – lazing at that bend of the road in front of the hangar and tarmac just watching the planes taking off and landing.

Fernando Air Base used to be – and still is – the Air Force’s training wing. So most days, there were just light planes coming and going. I watched them nonetheless. I was so fascinated by how something so heavy could lift itself from off the ground.

There were days when I was treated to something more special. At the roar of a C-47, the majestic Air Force transport plane, arriving, I would drop whatever I was doing, get on my bike and speed off to the runway just to catch a sight of it touching down. Like most Air Force brats, I could tell what aircraft was approaching just from the sound of its engine.

However, much as I loved the Air Force, I’m so sorry to say, but I was going to be a commercial pilot! Yes, I loved the C-47; but it was also a tad old for its own good and there were those even in the Air Force who – whisper it quietly – referred to it in very unflattering terms: the flying coffin.

Besides, I used to tag along with my Dad every now and again when he used to go to Nichols Air Base – Villamor these days – and ask to be left behind at Base Operations while he went about his business. Going to Nichols was an upgrade on “bird-watching” at Fernando, if you get my drift.

Because Air Force planes shared the same runways with commercial flights at Nichols, there was a steady stream of Philippine Airlines BAC-111s coming and going for their regional flights. The greatest treat was when there was a DC-8 or Boeing-707 taking off or landing.

I already thought of the C-47 as majestic; but next to these intercontinental travelers, it looked like a midget! I wanted to fly one of those; and I couldn’t do it with the Air Force.

So spending three decades working in a school? First of all, it never even occurred to me that there was even the remotest possibility of that ever happening. My Mom was a teacher; and whilst her anecdotes about her time teaching elementary kids in Nasugbu during her maiden years were amusing, these also made it plain even to a kid as young as I was that one did not make money working as a teacher.

Now go find me a boy of ten whose ambition in life is to be poor. Just like every boy my age, I wanted to grow up and have a big house, go around the world and have lots and lots of money!

But then my father, perhaps from whom I inherited my own unwavering sense of practicality, was not necessarily the fountain of encouragement or inspiration.

“If you want to become a pilot,” he used to caution, “then expect a lot of Mathematics!”

He might as well have told me to think of becoming something else. Put things this way. The Mathematics were programmed into my father’s genes. Language, this was programmed into both my father’s and my mother’s.

God, in his eternal humor, made sure that my older brother Ronaldo inherited all the Mathematics genes and that the remaining four of us children inherited Mom’s profound loathing for the subject. If you do not find this funny, neither did we; and especially so during Math classes.

Don’t anyone get me wrong. I probably could have done better had I tried. That was the problem. Math was, to me, this endless cacophony of numbers that I had utterly no use for other than to count the coins inside my pocket. Trying in a Math class to me offered as much entertainment as watching a line of clothes dry.

I did, however, inherit the practicality genes. Thus, even at a young age, I realized that becoming a pilot really fell under the category “not gonna happen.” Time to move on, then, to Plan B.

Except, of course, that I didn’t have one; and now go find me a boy who even knows what a Plan B is.

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