A Testament to Fatherhood and Fatherly Advice

EDITOR’S NOTE: In part one of a three-part series on fatherhood, Sonny José of Mississauga, Ontario offers his insights around Father’s Day and some sage advice that came from his own father. These three pieces are found in a collection of articles which comprise “Stories from the Boys of 4-C-MENS Ateneo de Manila High School 1974” a 50th anniversary commemorative mini-book from Jose’s high school class. The mini-book, available via audio, is designed to be a legacy piece that can be passed on to the classmates’ descendants, the school’s present-day students, and future generations.

Far-left: my dad and me below him. The two other children on first row are my older brother and sister. The three young adolescent boys are godbrothers of my sister with their mom. The center person in second row is my mom.

Stories from the Boys of 4-C-MENS Ateneo de Manila High School 1974

Thoughts on Father’s Day

It’s 2016. On the eve of Father’s Day this year, I ask myself, in reflection, what it is to be a father. I reckon there is more to fatherhood than merely passing on one’s name, one’s genes, and even one’s legacy or inheritance to one’s offspring. To be a father means, I think, to serve, to sacrifice, and to love one’s family in the name and in honor of Our Creator. As stewards and guardians of our children, it is not so much about “us,” but more about “them.” And so, in the words of St. Francis of Assisi, we give without expecting to receive, we love yet not expecting to be loved.

This reminds me of one silent dude in the Scriptures, a quiet worker called Joseph the Carpenter.

There is not a single solitary word of wisdom ascribed to him, unlike many a prophet, yet he was a commanding presence and a testament to fatherhood. St. Joseph is deemed as the quintessential model of fatherhood and manhood as preached in the Christian churches, a man of humility, dedication, and loyalty to his wife and son. He is neither an Elon Musk nor a big benefactor like Bill Gates, but he carried his simple circumstances with such dignity.

I am also reminded of how the actor Jim Carey described his father as a “measly” accountant. Yet, even as he struggled in life, his greatest achievement and gift to his wife and children was “the freedom from concern.” 

I was somehow able to relate to this when, whilst traveling the dusty roads and rugged outback of rural Sierra Leone in 2015, I was asked by a very bright and talented twenty-four-year-old lass, “Kuya, what is your greatest accomplishment in life?” I paused. I could have advertised my exploits and achievements, but I did not. I simply replied, “To have been able to put food on the table.” 

One of a father’s source of gratification, reward, or redemption comes on the day his children realize with heartfelt gratitude what their father has done for them.

A Father’s Advice to a Son: The Power of an Idea 

Jose and his father in rare photo, Asin Hot Springs circa 1960. 

Back in March 1994, my parents traveled to Toronto to witness the birth of our younger son, Bindoy. They stayed with us for a month. During their visit, I had the chance to have a serious father-son talk with my old man.

I whined about how, as a new immigrant in Canada, I was finding it difficult to get a decent job befitting my skills, education, and international experience. At that time, I was stuck in a low-paying job – first in data entry, then in the call center – in Trimark Funds, the second-largest and fastest-rising mutual fund firm. I lamented what a waste it was of my skills, talents, and education to be trapped in a menial job when I had had more substantive positions previously as an economist at the United Nations Development Program, the World Bank, and the New York City mayor’s office. 

And now here I was doing this boring stuff just to eke out a living. An absolute waste of time, I felt, when I thought I was worth more. I asked him, “How am I to get out of this rut?”

He listened while seated on the sofa. Quietly. Intently. Calmly. Reverently. Patiently. Yes, that was my old man. Always sympathetically listening to, and not pre-judging, his junior.

Then, he finally spoke and imparted to me what would turn out to be a most precious advice to a son, engulfed in frustration, a troubled breadwinner and the struggling head of a young family.

He said: “You know your strengths, son. You have master’s degrees and Ivy League credentials from the best Philippine schools and Wisconsin, right? You have worked overseas and can blend well with foreign cultures and with foreigners, right? You are good in economics and finance, right? You can speak three languages, right? You write well, right? You are a fighter and never give up, right? OK, here is what you can do. Think of an idea. Create one. Study it, research it, package it, finesse it, then present it. Write a memo to the president of the company, and see what happens.” 

Wow, I thought, that was quite a vague and open-ended tip. Where the heck would I pluck this idea from? From a tree? From thin air? From a trash bin? 

“Think. An idea will come,” he said.

Three months later, my family (including four-month-old infant Bindoy and Kuya, his big brother) visited Manila for our annual summer vacation. In that visit, we made side trips to Hong Kong and Shenzen, China, with my in-laws. At that time, the Far East was booming. Cranes everywhere, meaning lots of tall skyscrapers being built. If you looked around 360 degrees, chances are you would have spotted skyscrapers on the rise. In Manila, in Hong Kong, in Shenzen, (then a booming city of two million, transformed from being a sleepy town of barely 20,000 inhabitants only 20 years prior).

These places were simply burgeoning and growing economically and financially by leaps and bounds. Affluence was in the air. Remember the term “Tiger Economies?”

Upon returning to Manila, still feeling jet lagged, I woke up early, at three or four in the morning. Little Bindoy was crying and hungry. My wife was fast asleep, tired from nursing our baby late into the night. So, I got up, prepared some milk, lifted Bindoy from the crib, sat on a rocking chair, and bottle-fed him.

As I rocked him – Zing! An idea suddenly came to me!

Why not offer our mutual funds in the Far East, establish the first Canadian mutual fund presence in the booming Far East! I could lead that initiative, I thought. After all, I am an educated Asian and know the region well enough. I know the boys in Manila. I grew up there. 

When we got back to Toronto, I wrote an email to the recently hired executive vice-president (EVP) of the company and reported to him my “findings from the Far East.” The EVP, David, was the former president of Loblaws, the creator of the President’s Choice brand, and worked for the wealthy Westons, considered the Rothschilds of Canada. He was a graduate of Oxford and had taken his MBA in Stanford. 

I did not think anything would come of my email and so was surprised when, a couple of days later, I received a call from Odette, the company president and David’s executive assistant, asking me to come upstairs. David had apparently read my email and wanted to meet me.

I noticed he had a strong resemblance to the young Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth, and Michael Caine, the British actor. As he invited me to take a seat, he told me, “I read your email and like your idea. What on earth are you doing downstairs?”

I told him I was in client service, in the call center. Then he said, “Starting Monday, I want you to move up here. You will report to Michael, one of my senior VPs, and I want you to go to the Far East with him and study the market for as long as you need. You will be an analyst and will spearhead Trimark’s offshore expansion thrust.”

He then asked how much I was making, then added that, starting Monday, I was going to be paid double my current salary. I found out later that he had immigrated with his wife to Canada with barely $500 in his pocket. Perhaps, I surmised, he understood the struggles I was undergoing as an immigrant, as he had gone through them himself. David literally paved the way for me in the investment management world, and I shall never forget him.

And so I visited the Far East, then Dublin and Luxembourg, then Bermuda several times. At the end of my stint at Trimark Funds, I left as a director. Later, I became the managing director of a hedge fund investment management company in Barbados. 

With a single, solitary idea, the course of my life changed, and the world became my oyster.

I still keep in mind my old man’s words on that quiet evening in Toronto: “Think of an idea, create one, study it, research it, package it, finesse it, then present it.”

It is, for me, a most valuable piece of advice passed on from father to son. I never thought my email would be taken seriously. But I always remember my father’s advice. And the family traits that run in our veins: honesty, integrity, and industry. 

Thanks Papa – for your simple, yet priceless, advice that opened many doors for me. I love you.

2 thoughts on “A Testament to Fatherhood and Fatherly Advice”

  1. Michael Burns

    Sonny, congrats. You are very deliberate, precise, clear in expressing yourself with writing. Thank you.


    1. Oh, thanks, Michael. Hope I did justice to honour my old man’s legacy. Happy Fathers Day (soon) and blessings…

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