My Father: My Hero and Role Model

As we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family on 31 December, let us turn our focus to an important but often neglected person in the family – the father. Djamila Burgos shares her memories of her late father and how he tried his best to nurture her despite his challenges.

Djamila and Tatay on holiday.

A few hours before he passed on, Father whispered to me “Child, bless me. I will sleep soon.” My heart skipped a beat.
Blinking away the tears that were threatening to come, I asked, “Did you mean to pray for you, Father?” “Yes,” he replied. “I’m sleepy already.”

That was how my father passed away in 2015 at the age of 82 – full of peace, grace and strength in spite of the tough life he had had.

In my heart, Tatay (“father” in Tagalog) will always be my role model of faith and first love. He was the one who taught me to trust in God despite the circumstances and showed me what it means to be singlehearted in love.

While he only had Grade Three qualifications (the equivalent of Primary 3), he struggled to provide materially for the family. And though he suffered from ill health, Tatay made sure that we were never poor in love and hope.

The Practical Teacher

When Nanay (“mother” in Tagalog) died unexpectedly at 41 years, my two younger brothers and I were often taunted by others and called orphans. We were dirt poor with no food, no money, no mother and a sick father who could not work.

But despite the poverty, we never felt hopeless. Tatay often taught us through his words and actions that God has a great plan for us. Because of the hope he placed in our hearts, we could always find ways to make ends meet.

Every December, we would make and sell “parols” (Christmas lanterns) since all students must bring one to school and the start-up capital was only a few pesos. “Use the perimeter of the roof to display the ready-made lanterns and attract customers,” Tatay would tell us.

Left: Djamila and her two brothers on her silver wedding anniversary. Right: Djamila and Tatay at her University Convocation.

When the straps of my rubber slippers broke, Tatay showed me how to mend them by melting the broken ends in fire and pressing them together tightly. And when neighbours tried to claim my slippers as their own, Tatay taught me how to press heated copper wires into my slippers so as to mark them with my initials.

Reflecting on these experiences, I realise that sometimes the best lessons in life are those taught in the classroom of life under the loving gaze of a parent. Through these little moments accumulated over time, my brothers and I learnt the value of hope, perseverance and hard work in difficult times.

The Faithful Lover

Tatay was only 48 years old when Nanay died. I will always remember the way he would look at Nanay’s photo whenever he missed her or felt lonely. He would tell us that Nanay was still single when she took that photo, which means he had been keeping it for at least the past five decades!

Even when his wallet became old and tattered, Nanay’s photo would still be pristine and perfect in that special spot in his wallet. That was how much Tatay loved and treasured Nanay.

Despite the many ladies surrounding him and the periods of loneliness, Tatay never had eyes for anyone else and remained a widower for 34 years till his death. The way he loved Nanay and his dedication to his marriage became my model for my own marriage.

The Attentive Father

Looking back, though Tatay struggled with his health, he was always sensitive to our developmental and emotional needs and seemed to know whenever his children were troubled or struggling.

Tatay would quietly ask our friends and neighbours whenever he sensed something was amiss. Yet, he would not intervene directly in our troubles but simply assure us that everything will be okay.

In this way, he gave us the confidence to handle our own worries and empowered us to stand on our own.

As I was a girl growing up amongst boys, Tatay noticed that I was becoming too boyish. So when I turned 13, he took me to my first ball to remind me that I was a girl and would eventually be courted by boys!

Even though Tatay was not my first dance partner, he made sure that I was well prepared for it and even secretly peeped at the first boy that I danced with. Such was the care, protection and security that Tatay provided us as we grew up.

The Innovative Educator

Despite his lack of formal education, Tatay was very intelligent and inspired in us the love for learning through his own example.

Tatay loved to read and always kept himself abreast of the local and international current affairs. Contrary to the local practice of renting comics, Tatay would borrow books on various topics from friends. He would also re-read his treasured copies of Readers’ Digest and World Almanac, periodicals he bought while he was still working.

The photo of Nanay that Tatay kept in his wallet.

Whenever we had time together, Tatay would then share with us his thoughts and what he learnt from the books he read.

To make learning fun, Tatay would play Scrabble with us and ensure that he was always one step ahead so that we could never be complacent. He would also make us read the dictionary and do the crossword puzzles in the newspapers. That was how he tried to help us excel in our studies.

Thank You Tatay

Because of Tatay, my brothers and I were indeed redeemed from poverty. When life got too tough and we could not go on, Tatay would remind us that God is merciful and has a great plan for us.

Growing up in this close-knit family, we found it very challenging to live apart when all three of us had to move to different cities to pursue our university education. During the big earthquake of 1990, we lost contact with one another and scrambled to find news of each other. It was three days later before we managed to re-establish contact and meet up.

Though we were materially poor, we were blessed because of Tatay’s strong faith. Days before he passed away, Tatay confided that he was leaving in peace because he was assured of our steadfast love and care for each other.

Thank you Tatay for devoting your entire life to us and giving us ours. We can never repay you for this debt of love.

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Studies have shown that the absence of a father figure in a child’s growing up years negatively affects his/her social-emotional development. These effects may be more pronounced if the absence occurs during early childhood and are more obvious in boys than girls.

With longer working hours and increasing work travel, how can fathers continue to play an active role in nurturing and bringing up their children? Here are seven secrets Ken Canfield, author of The Seven Secrets of Effective Fathers, found when he surveyed over 10,000 fathers in America.

1. Commit Your Role as a Father to God

“Commit your destiny to Yahweh, be confident in him, and he will act,” (Ps 37:5).

Fatherhood is an amazing but challenging journey and fathers will need all the help they can get. Thankfully, God our Father has promised help when we commit and surrender all aspects of our lives to Him. So make it a habit to ask God to help you to be a better and more effective father every time you pray.

2. Get to Know Your Child

“Parents, do not irritate your children or they will lose heart.” (Col 3:21)

Effective fathers make it their priority to get to know their children. Through open dialogue and attentive observations, effective fathers know their children’s capabilities, concerns and questions. From there, they learn to provide the encouragement and nurture that are needed to help their children to grow physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Effective fathers are also open to learning from others such as teachers, catechists and their wives about their children.

3. Be Consistent in Faith, Morals and Ethics

“You, though, have followed my teaching, my way of life, my aims,
my faith, my patience and my love, my perseverance and the persecutions and sufferings that came to me…”
(2 Tim 3:10)

In 2 Tim 3:10, St Paul presents himself as a model for Timothy by reminding Timothy of his own consistent conduct in matters regarding life and faith. Similarly, our children need role models who are consistent in thoughts, words and actions, especially in the area of faith, morality and ethics.

Should mistakes occur, effective fathers take the time to explain and apologise to their children their inconsistencies.

Being honest with our children about our inadequacies give them courage to face their own.

4. Love their Mother

“Husbands should love their wives, just as Christ loved the Church and sacrificed himself for her…” (Eph 5:25)

One of the best things a father can do for his children is to love their mother. As Pope Francis said, children first learn about love, trust, sincerity, fidelity and other virtues from the relationship between their father and mother. If your children see you loving your spouse, chances are, they will model that same standard in their own marriages.

5. Protect and Provide for the Family

“Anyone who does not look after his own relations, especially if they are living with him, has rejected the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Tim 5:8)

Effective fathers do everything within their power to be the protector and provider of the home. They provide a sense of security in their spouse and children by looking out for their emotional, spiritual and material needs. It may not be possible for fathers to keep up with the Jones, but that is not important. What is more essential are fathers that children feel they can turn to in times of crisis and need.

6. Practise Active Listening

“Let anyone who can hear, listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.” (Revelation 2:29)

The Bible implores us in several places to listen. What does it mean to listen to our children? It means getting down to their level and giving them the freedom to be honest and speak without fear of incurring a lecture. This doesn’t mean that we cannot speak truth or correct our children. Rather, do so only after we have taken time to hear them out.

7. Equip Your Children Spiritually

“Remain in me, as I in you. As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself, unless it remains part of the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me.” (Jn 15:4)

The family is the domestic church and therefore the primary place for spiritual formation. Both fathers and mothers play important and complementary roles in teaching and modelling Christian values and lifestyle to their children.

Being a role model doesn’t mean being perfect. Rather, it means being strong enough to admit our imperfections before our children and saying “please”, “thank you” and “sorry” when necessary.

Let your children know about your dependency on God and His primacy in your life.


If you are thinking, “Wow, I still have a long way to go!” do not be disheartened. Remember that we are all imperfect and that there is only one who is perfect (cf Lk 18:19). By endeavouring to be better fathers, we are already teaching our children to be effective parents as well.

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