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A father to his son on his wedding day: ‘You are in my heart with a big smile!’

By CHITO SOBREPEÑA Published Jun 11, 2023 5:00 am

I wanted to tell all of you that Raf planned tonight not just as a celebration of his marriage to Kay, but a celebration of people who matter in his life. He went out of his way to find out what his ninongs and his friends liked to drink and personally went to procure preferred wines and spirits for his guests. When he found out that a few of his special people had food allergies and dietary restrictions, he arranged for no less than chef Jessie Sincioco to prepare special meals for them. I also found out he made changes in the menu because he knew I would enjoy certain dishes. Raf wasn’t just planning an event to mark this milestone, he was honoring all of us for being part of his life. Our son is a thoughtful and caring person. He is particular and personal. Every name on the guest list has a connection to a time of his life.

There was a funny incident when he was going through the confirmed attendees. He read a name that he could not place and asked Kay if the guest was hers. She said no. Mindful not to embarrass the person, he prepared a respectful inquiry to find out who she was. Turns out, it was the secretary of one of the couples here tonight who confirmed for them but her name was inadvertently included.

Raf is a loving person. He accommodates all requests. My mother-in-law, Cecilia Crisostomo, whom he calls “Lala our Love,” said that she never has to ask him twice when she wants an errand done or if she has to go somewhere and needs a ride. He happily obliges, no matter what his schedule is. He always makes time for us.

Raf lives in Cebu and San Jose City in Nueva Ecija now, but when he is in Manila, he comes home to our residence and his presence brings us much joy. Like he has always done when he was living with us, he comes to our room and sits on the bed or lies down beside me. We talk about how things are going with his work, what’s happening in his life, and tells me about people he meets. He knows that communicating is my language of love and he serves it up in generous doses.

Raf takes a lot of initiative to express his love and concern. He always asks, “How are you, Dad?” He listens with interest when I tell him about my days, my reflections, my thoughts. Both my sons are fitness buffs and they encourage me to exercise. Raf made it a point to be my trainer and taught the driver the routine so that I could continue to work out even when he was not around.

Other times, my son just stretches out beside me while I read. The gift of his presence is priceless. He makes his presence count. When we traveled, he was our personal porter, photographer, guide, the arm I leaned on when I got tired walking. I remember one trip we made to Fatima. The Marian procession was scheduled at 10 p.m. It was cold and raining and we were all tired from a full day’s schedule, but Raf accompanied me throughout the procession, supported me, and let me lean on him. He never complained and was good-natured and lighthearted. It wasn’t just that one time. He indulged me every time I wanted to stop by a church and he came in and prayed with me. One trip we covered 25 churches in eight days and he laughingly declared he had served his quota.

About four years ago, Raf was still working in a multinational company and, by all indications, he was doing well. But after a promotion, a raise, and a recognition as the best performer for Southeast Asia, he resigned. He came to me and said he wanted to try something else. I was apprehensive but he came prepared. He felt that he had gained experience and skills from his corporate job, skills that he wanted to apply as an agri-entrepreneur. He was aware of the risks but said that it was something he wanted to explore while he still didn’t have a family whose future he might jeopardize if he failed. He assured me that he prayed for God’s guidance before making the break. The clincher was when he said, “Dad, I will not make the kind of money as I was getting in Shell, but I will be helping farmers and disadvantaged persons in the province.” How could I not support his goal when his heart was in the right place?

When my three children, Gabriel, Rafael, and Mica, would spend summers in my hometown in San Jose City, they were given responsibilities appropriate to their young age. Raf played with the children of our workers and gave them rides on the tricycle until my mother saw him and forbade him to drive until he had a license. Soon after, he placed a call to my wife Anna and asked her to get him a license. He was seven years old! He just wanted to treat the kids and let them have fun. Even then, he had a heart for those who had less.

There were many challenges when he began farming. He went to Israel to educate himself and applied what he learned. He was constantly learning and appreciated his ninang Leni Robredo who, early in his venture, helped him connect to farmers and successful agri-entrepreneurs. His uncle Atty Alexander Belena provided generous support and even let him stay with them and use his resources. It was difficult with unpredictable weather conditions, a volatile market, and little experience. But through it all, Raf stayed positive, hopeful, and persevering. Most significantly, he took care of his people. He not only trained his farm hands, he spent time with them beyond the work hours, ate with them, drank with them, listened to their concerns. He showed compassion and kindness, and would prepare simple gifts to reward them when they did well and talked to them when there were areas that needed improvement. He regularly went through his closet and put together his things, which he gave to them.

He ventured into other enterprises but his regard for his employees remains the same, even as his company grows. He prays for his staff as he does for his farmers, even as he looks out for them and the business. How do I know this? Because Raf always takes the time to share his journey with me.

Your spiritual grounding will always be important, son. It is foundational to who you are. It gladdens my heart when you tell me that no matter where you are, or where you go, you make time to go to Mass with Kay. Continue to spend time in daily prayer. While Anna and I are always here for you, we are limited by time and space. It is God who will always be there with you. For as long as Jesus is your center, you will both be all right.

Son, I am happy to have shared your journey through the years, the successes and achievements as well as the challenges and the lows. They are all inscribed in my heart. You are in my heart like a big smile.

Thank you for the joys of being your father. A better son I could not have wished for.