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We are buying our first family car. To be more precise, my two yuppie sisters have agreed to finance the purchase of a car to be used by our family of seven. My father and my third-born sister have already made the reservation last weekend, and although I, being an overworked and underpaid government physician, will not make any financial contribution to the purchase, I cannot contain my excitement. Despite my father and mother having been married for almost 29 years, this is our first family anything.

We have never had our own house. My elementary transcript of records is a mess because as a child, I have had to live in Quezon City, Balanga, Navotas-Caloocan, and Las Piñas. In Grade 2 first quarter, I even had to take Chinese language lessons because my sister and I were enrolled in a Chinese school. Being chinky-eyed, we both blended with the crowd, only to learn after three months that we needed to be transferred to another school because our family was moving to my maternal relatives’ residence in Bataan.

We have no family business. My mother used to sell dry goods in Agora and my father once attempted to sell bananas by the truckload to banana chip factories, but realizing that these entrepreneurial attempts brought more burden than relief, both decided to focus on being the dedicated civil engineer and housewife that they were (and still are).

We have no family investment or family bank account to speak of. No family library, family music/DVD collection, or family insurance. We do not even have a family pet.

What we did have from the start was a growing family collection of medals, plaques, trophies, certificates, and diplomas that my parents had hoped would bring all of us a better life. Thank God my father and mother were right.

Being the eldest, I became privy to our family’s financial constraints at a young age. Every quarter, my and my siblings’ anxiety over the forthcoming periodic exams was matched by my mother’s growing unease over having to look for money that she could use to pay for tuition. My father worked long hours in the construction site but the 15,000 pesos he earned per month was not enough. My father would then ask for bale from his bosses and my mother would ask me to accompany her as she borrowed money from relatives and friends, knowing that these people did not always have the kindest words to say to both of them. At some point, people even questioned why they were having a fifth child when they were having difficulty raising four kids.

Still, every day we had food on the table, and every June, my siblings and I turned up at school in time for the first lesson of the year. We did not always like our baon and we did not always have new sets of books and uniforms, but we never did mind. Content with hand-me-downs and Christmas gifts from relatives, we rarely shopped for clothes or toys. We grew up without expecting birthday parties, and if we wanted to buy something outside of school requirements, we had to save up for them. Every so often, the entire family would celebrate an academic achievement by having lunch in Jollibee, only after going to Sunday mass.

Although my parents spoke openly about our limited budget and perpetually preached about the value of thrift, they never argued about money, or the lack of it, in front of us children.

“Kaya kayo, mag-aaral kayong mabuti kasi kayo ang pag-asa namin. Huwag kayong mag-aaway kasi kayo-kayong magkakapatid lang ang magtutulungan.”

That was what my parents always said. The inadequacies — whether perceived or actually experienced — they tirelessly made up for with sheer dedication.

We have a familial proficiency in mathematics because my engineer father sat down with each of us as a child, showing us how to compute using our fingers. Even after a heavy day’s work, he would readily shove his blueprints to help us solve for X. The same hands that sawed wood and molded concrete, he used to neatly cover our notebooks and books with plastic. Now my mother could never help us answer our homework, but she was always there to bring to school the forgotten baon, or to buy art supplies for the project that was nearing its deadline. Full-time housewife, stage mother and cheerleader, she gave the loudest applause and was always the first person to shield us from critics and detractors.

You could say we were spoiled in that manner. From this upbringing you get five honor students, three UP cum laudes, two engineers, and one physician. So far.

Today, there is relief in knowing that my mother can get a haircut in the parlor or buy new daster whenever she wants to, without having to worry about what our family would eat the next day. I have been telling my father that he can choose to retire early, and devote time instead to setting up his food business. There are talks about finally buying a house to call our own, but the family car is a good start.

This transition coincides with a most interesting time in my training as a public health officer, and the realization is two-fold:

First, we were never really poor. There were unfulfilled needs, but not to the point that we were starved or deprived of a good education. Working with the underserved Filipinos who are always hungry, homeless, and hopeless made me appreciate how much more I had growing up.

Second, the good life is earned. The comfort that our family begins to enjoy now is only because of the culture of excellence inculcated in us from the beginning. People are poor and stay poor only when they choose to be.

So forgive me if I sound like a three-year-old kid waiting for his first car ride. Although I will neither be able to fit inside the car (family of seven), nor be able to drive it (having forgotten all driving lessons I took before residency), these are happy times for the family.

We have waited a long time for this; at last, the tides are turning.

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49 comments

  1. I had the same background growing up, except my parents’ roles are reversed. I don’t think the tides are going to turn soon for our family, with me being the eldest and still in med school, but this brings some much needed optimism.

  2. Thanks for sharing, Ronnie. This is funny and heartwarming at the same time.

    Now we know why you and your siblings are such a smart bunch! (in and outside of the classroom) I wish I (and all Filipino parents for that matter) can even be half the kind of parents your folks were. More blessings are sure to come your way. Enjoy your new family ‘something’! 🙂

  3. Oh, and I hope your blog would have a Twitter-sharing button! Just a simple Christmas wish 😉

  4. ganto din kami nun. although 2 lang kaming magkapatid, feel na feel ko yung hirap at pagod ng mga magulang ko. there was even a time na sira na ang sapatos ko pero walang pambili. but now, my brother is working in singapore as an architect and i am an IT consultant privileged to be assigned to client sites in the US from time to time. God is really good and helps those who help themselves 🙂 i wish your family more blessings! enjoy the car 😉

  5. “People are poor and stay poor only when they choose to be.”
    This is actually my father’s dictum too. 🙂
    Believe it or not, we have similar beginnings…but it happened faster in my family.
    Now, nobody will even believe if I told them that before, we also had no house of our own, and the house we live in had no comfort room, that I was born at home, that I walked to school, that I used to sleep on the floor, that I only get new shoes once my old ones are already worn…etc..
    The tides will definitely turn Ronnie. 🙂
    But it’s not just from hard work…it’s also because of Him.
    Stay blessed. And continue to be a blessing to others.

  6. I really, really enjoy reading your blogs!!! 🙂 My Mom kept on telling us how you guys are so smart! Hahaha! Now I can tell her your parents’ secret. Your parents are so lucky having you and your siblings as their children as well. I wish I could make my Mom retire or at least take some time off from working too hard, or give my retired Dad a day off from looking after my sisters, or perhaps give them both a good, long vacation. They deserve it. I bet you’ll be able to just give your parents ANYTHING at the rate you’re going right now. They are truly blessed! Till the next blog. 🙂

    • I just wish they’re still in good health when the time comes. Ang tagal ng residency, naiinip na parents ko. Hehe. 🙂

      • Hahahah! Me, too! Gusto ko pa naman magsubspec, and Mom was like, sigurado kang gusto mo pang magaral? 😛 Let’s see after fourth year. Our fields aren’t exactly easy…:) Till the next blog, Ron! 🙂

  7. Ang ganda ng pagkakasulat and really inspiring. I can relate to this since we have a similar background, except that I’m the youngest and the only one who was able to get quality UP education. Sa edad kong 23, naiinip na ako na umunlad ang pamilya namin dahil ang daming umaasa. Pero salamat dito, binigyan nya ako ng pag-asang dadating din ang tamang oras.

    Congrats, doc. 🙂 Tama ka, it’s more than the car in itself.

    I never really knew you but I have been following your blogs since high school (through Peyups)! Buti bumalik ka sa pagsusulat. Muli, salamat. 🙂

  8. Congratulations! Certainly a well-deserved treat. Enjoy the car ride. Thanks for sharing such an inspiring story.

  9. Bai, this is inspiring! Congratulations on this one! Sooner or later you will be a big time neurosurgeon! Good luck bai!

  10. Congrats dok! And God bless! Sunod na niyan, bahay at lupa, na may swimming pool. 😀

  11. ronnie, sorry it took me 10 years to say this, pero thank you for helping me solve for X in high school 🙂

    -dionese

    • Hahaha. Nakakatawa ka, Dionese. But yes, you’re welcome. And thanks for the visit. Si Naomi na raw ang number one promoter ko. 🙂

      • onga, sa kanya ko nga to nakita eh. first time ko dito sa site mo. kaya on that note, kung gusto mo ng break from all the cerebral madness that is med school, yung blog ko naman ang puntahan mo. yuck, shameless plugging. actually, make that shameful pala.

  12. “We were never really poor.”

    Amen to that. Similar experiences to the ones you detailed, but working for the very poor made me realize I shouldn’t be complaining and that I had actually a lot to share.

    Congratulations on the new car! (Sana ako rin makarating sa point sa buhay ko na kaya ko ibili ng big ticket item ang pamilya ko. 😀 )

  13. “People are poor and stay poor only when they choose to be.” – That’s what I always believed in, Sir.

    I never expected you have that kind of background, Sir. Mukha kang mayaman eh! Haha! Yung tipong laki sa mansyon at hatid-sundo ng magagarang sasakyan. 🙂

    Congrats on the new family car!

  14. “My father would then ask for bale from his bosses and my mother would ask me to accompany her as she borrowed money from relatives and friends, knowing that these people did not always have the kindest words to say to both of them.”

    Sir! Sobrang nakaka-relate ako sa part na ‘to. Gawain rin kasi ng parents ko ‘to nung grade school days ko. Ngayon, pinapaalala na sa akin ng parents ko na pasalamatan lahat ng mga kamag-anak naming nagpabale sa kanila pag nakuha ko na lisensya ko.

  15. Hi Ronnie! As always, very inspiring. In some ways, I can relate to your story. It wasn’t easy for my family as well. But, looks like things are looking up for you and I hope it just gets better. Don’t worry, residency will just fly by and before you know it, you’re already the top-notch neurosurgeon you were always meant to be.

  16. Wow, nakakaiyak (na nakakatuwa) how much you and your siblings appreciate how your parents brought you up. I wish I can also be a good daughter to my parents just like how you have been. Nagi-guilty tuloy ako..hehe..

  17. If I’m your mother, I would be filling a pail of tears. Kudos to your parents who raise up such wise, thankful, self-less, contented children. They did very well. Material things fade but what’s inside your brain and heart will keep on shining outward. Reading your blog makes me want to rush to airport, go home and thank my parents. We never have enough but we never lack love and care 🙂

    By the way, I remember, your mom is my tukayo 🙂 cheers ronibats! Keep blogging and inspiring!

    • Hi Rose!

      We never have enough but we never lack love and care

      I couldn’t agree more. Thanks for reading and see you soon! 🙂

  18. Enrico Paolo Banzuela

    Great article bai! Puwede ko bang ilagay to sa dulo ng handouts ng mga students? Inspiring! God bless you always

  19. “People are poor and stay poor only when they choose to be.”

    very well said. naalala ko yung student namin sa school. dati ako nag trabaho as a teacher sa isang sped school. Yung student namin na yun, ay scholar sa school namin kasi ndi kaya ng magulang niya na ipasok siya sa SPED school (case niya ADHD).

    Pinasulat sila ng teacher nila kung ano ang pangarap nila sa paglaki nila. Yung mga classmates niya sinulat “I want to be a teacher, doctor, nurse etc”, yung pangkaraniwang sagot pag tinanong mo ang isang bata.

    Pero yung sa kanya, agaw atensyon, ang sinulat niya “magaaral po ako ng mabuti para makatapos po ako ng pagaaral. Pag natapos po ako ng pagaaral, ndi po muna ako magaasawa, tutulungan ko po sila mama at papa na mapagtapos po ang mga kapatid ko. Pag ok na po sila, saka po ako magaasawa, pero dalawa lang po na anak po ang gusto ko para maibibigay ko po ang kailangan nila”

    Namangha talaga kami sa sinulat niya, kasi sa edad niyang 11, naisip na niya kung ano ang gusto niyang gawin sa buhay at aware siya sa sitwasyon nila (5 silang magkakapatid, siya yung kuya, nakatira sila sa gilid ng creek). Nung time na pumapasok siya sa school namin (4th quarter na nung inadmit siya sa school namin), ayaw siya ipadrop ng public school. So pumapasok siya sa amin ng umaga, at papasok pa rin sa public school ng hapon. Ndi siya nagrereklamo o umaabsent. Nakita namin sa kanya yung will na gusto niya magtapos ng pagaaral at yung pangarap niya para sa pamilya nila, ni hindi niya inuna kung ano gusto niya kung hindi para sa pamilya niya.

    Naisip namin na sana lahat ng bata ganun kasipag sa pagaaral, na sana ganoon din na supportive ang magulang, na may paraan naman kung gugustuhin umasenso sa buhay.

  20. What a very nice and touching post!

    Somehow I think this is a representative story of a lot of UP Students which makes me feel proud. I hope that a lot would also choose to serve; our way of giving back not only to the community but also to our parents who never doubted us.

    Again, I love this post very much. Salamat sa mga duktor na gaya mo. 🙂 God bless!

  21. I can sooo relate in more ways than one!

    My parents would also tell me and my siblings not to fight kasi kami kami din lang magtutulungan (yes, those same words!)
    They remind us to study well from time to time, but they have never pressured us to excel. (my laid-back right brain especially appreciates this part)
    They would rarely buy us more than what is basically needed and what is practical. And I can’t help but smile as I remember those special occasions after mass at Jollibee.

    My family’s condition was not as rough as was yours, but all due to my parents’ hard work, diligence and plain practicality. My dad would always tell us ayaw nyang maranasan namin ung hirap na naranasan nya… He’s the 3rd on a brood of 8. He got himself through college by being a student assistant. He wore borrowed pants and shoes on his graduation day. He would bring saging at gulay to my mom when he was courting. 🙂

    These are my talisman against all the toxicities of medskul. A LOT can get a medstudent down. But more than personal fulfillment, what really keeps me going and what fuels me to strive to be my best is because I wanted this achievement for them. My parents’ life struggles was short of a rags-to-riches course (no we’re not that rich; but we do not otherwise struggle) and I wanted to honor them for all their sacrifice by becoming a GOOD doctor they can be proud of. (neurosurgeon din sana if God would permit. hehe)

    Thanks for the story, i’m continuously inspired. 🙂

  22. “People are poor and stay poor only when they choose to be.”

    Ganda ng story mo Sir. Eventhough we’re just only 2 siblings in the family I can relate to this since we have a similar background. Being the eldest son there are so many things na nakaasa sa iyo. Hindi man ako naging Doktor nabigyan naman ako ng pagkakataon na maging isang Nars. (Pero yun talaga gusto ko, maging isang MD).

    At this point of my life, age 23, nakikita ko na ang simula ng pagunlad ng aking Pamilya, sa mga oras at araw na ilalagi ko dito sa Gitnang Silangan upang magtrabaho bilang isang Nars. Ang pagsasakripisyo na aking ginagawa ay para sa aking mga magulang at kapatid. Salamat sa iyo Sir, nakakainspire ka! 🙂

    Mabrook! Mabrook!

  23. Doc, I’ve been very blessed to read your posts from time to time. I just want to write you to make you know that you’re truly inspiring and your family is beautiful. I pray that you remain in love with what you do, that you let yourself by tickled silly by life’s little surprises, and that you know that there are people like me whose life you move with your words and wisdom.

    God be with you, Doc! 🙂

  24. This is heartwarming. I also come from a big family with very dedicated parents. Your story inspires us to achieve so much more. Thank you for sharing.

  25. Sobrang nakakarelate ako dito doc, being the 3rd of 8 kinds in the family. Tiyak kong marami pang ibang nakakarelate din… Ngayon ay kakaunti na ang malaking pamilya,isa hanggang dalawa na lamang ang anak. At di na nararanasan ng kakaunting anak ng mga magulang na ngayon ay “umunlad at may kaya na” ang mga pinagdaanan ng kanilang mga magulang. Pero ang mga “challenging” experience ng mga magulang ang nagpatibay sa kanila at nagtulak para umunlad.

    Nakakalungkot na baka di na maging kasintibay ng kanilang mga magulang ang mga batang di nakaranas ng mga pagsubsok.. di na sila napapanday…

    Sana magsilbi kayong inspirasyon maging sa mga batang di dumaan sa mga pagsubok at hamon.

  26. Hi Doc Ronnie,

    I read the blog entry about your family purchasing your first car. Incidentally, we are also buying our first car but a delivery van. Through your journal, I was inspired to share my family’s sari-sari story and why we decided to buy a delivery van. It was published in Inquirer’s Youngblood last May 11, 2017.

    I am an avid reader, your stories inspire me kahit hindi ako in Medical field.

    Maraming salamat!

    • Thank you for reading Ivy! It’s always wonderful to read about young people inspired by my essays and stories 🙂 Good luck on the sarisari store and delivery van!!

  27. Very inspiring story. Wish you and your family more blessings!

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Names, dates, and events may have been changed to protect the identity of patients. The stories are not meant to provide medical advice for specific illnesses. The author neither accepts online consults nor gives medical advice online. Please consult your trusted physician.