My grandpa’s birthday was yesterday. Jose Amor Baldoza would have been 93 years old. Matt, Felix, and I toasted to him last night. Felix stared at Lolo’s picture and touched the glass in front of Lolo’s photo. I’m pretty sure they were communing.
It is March 8 and I never made the connection that Lolo’s birthday is the day before International Women’s Day. Lolo surrounded himself with strong women — and raised them too. His wife Juliana was something else. Wow. Lola Nanay was headmistress of a school, mother of ten children, an academic with a master’s degree — the stories pile on about how she commanded respect. And then there was Lourdes, Lola and Lolo’s eldest. At ten, she was already bored of her hometown and made her way to the city — boarding with her aunt to get ahead in life through education. How amazing my mother is will be another story, but for now I will just say that I’ve never known anyone more badass than her. She often says Lolo had something to do with it.
You see Lolo had no issues with his wife being the breadwinner. At the time it was very uncommon, but while Lola Nanay worked, Lolo stayed home, setting up shop as a barber while taking care of the kids. My mom would always tell stories of how Lolo would raise them — like the time he took my mom to a restaurant, lifted her onto the table, and told her to sing, proud and tall. Many years later, Lolo instilled a similar feeling in me. He always made sure to remind us that no one was better than anyone else. He’d say things like “a rich man doesn’t poop gold.”
I remember coming along with Lolo to the squatter part of our neighborhood in the Philippines. He often went there to trade vegetables and fruits with the neighbors. One time he took me to a squatter’s home with a little girl about my age. I had brought my favorite doll along with me — her hand fit perfectly in my palm. We spent the afternoon outside their shanty home in their garden with Lolo and the mom swapping stories while the little girl and I played. Near the end of our visit I remember Lolo casually mentioning to no one in particular that the little girl didn’t have a doll to play with the way I had many dolls to play with at home. Lolo always had a way of saying things that I could understand. I gave the girl my doll. I remember it was hard to part but I also remember the way the girl’s face lit up when she took the doll into her arms. This was how Lolo taught us, nice and easy, with lessons that we would never forget.
As I write this, Felix sleeps peacefully in my arms. As I gaze down at my 4 month old, I only hope to raise him to be as amazing a gentleman, as compassionate and wonderful a human, as my Lolo was. I do believe it starts with being the best woman I can be. If Felix knows how to be with amazing women, and learns how to support amazing women, then I know for sure Lolo’s beautiful spirit will continue to live for generations to come. In times like these, it will make all the difference.