Rommel Juan with his instrument-toting daughters (from left): Maxine, Carrine, and Francine.
Culture Music

Back in the habit: Binalot's CEO dusted off his old guitar and now jams with the family after dinner

Business occupied Rommel Juan's days until quarantine gave him that elusive time to return to a frustration in his youth, and discover a new bonding activity with his children. By FRANCES SALES
ANCX | May 27 2020

With more time spent indoors, men are given a chance to go back to long forgotten hobbies and crafts. In this series called "Back in the Habit," ANCX will share these passion projects, bonding activities, and little pockets of joy that these have rediscovered within the comforts of their home.

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Rommel T. Juan was running a brisk fast food business when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and quarantine was imposed. What did the president and CEO of Binalot Fiesta Foods do? He picked up a guitar, dusted it off, and learned to play.

It wasn’t like Juan was all work and no play. Yes, he had been spending his days managing the successful restaurant chain that serves all its dishes wrapped up in banana leaves. He also had other businesses—Centro Manufacturing Corporation, Philippine Utility Vehicle Inc. and MD Juan—to attend to. The rest of his time was devoted to being a family man. His days were full and he was happy. Juan didn’t feel the need to do anything else until lockdown happened and he suddenly had more time than he was used to. 

“Since I’m working from home, I have been able to pick up my childhood interest of playing the guitar,” Juan says. “I didn’t have enough time before. Now I have time and it’s more fun to play music with family.”

Family for Juan is his wife Christine Gonzales Juan, preschool director of Sacred Heart School Sun Valley, and their three daughters. “My daughters and my wife are musical. My wife likes to watch theater. My eldest is really a theater singer. My second daughter has sung the most with me while playing the guitar. My youngest plays the piano. All of them can sing and play the ukelele,” Juan says with pride.

“After dinner, my daughters and I jam. My kids choose the songs they like and just tell me they want to sing it while I play," Juan says.

While he may be surrounded by musicians now, Juan didn’t grow up in a musical family. His parents raised him and his three siblings to be entrepreneurs. Even though he liked to sing in school, he can’t say he was particularly inclined to music. His interest in the guitar was only because “it always looked cool when you watch bands,” he confesses. The interest was strong enough to make him dream bigger dreams. “I wanted to join a band in high school.” So he took the next step: “I took guitar lessons... but never really learned. I didn’t have the patience for it.”

Juan says he couldn’t even continue learning the instrument to impress the girls. “Wooing girls? Not really. I was never good enough to make harana before. I did try it once with my wife when she was still my girlfriend but it wasn’t impressive,” he admits with an embarrassed smile.

Well, he may be impressive now. In the weeks since quarantine was imposed, Juan’s gotten good at playing the guitar and all he needed was Google and YouTube. “I only had one song I can play before and I kept forgetting the chords. It was ‘Is It Okay if I Call You Mine’ by Paul McCrane. Now I can pretty much play anything that interests us as long as the chords are simple enough. If there are a lot of bar chords and needs plucking, I have to practice it more.”

Juan seems surprised at how quickly he took to learning the guitar in his middle age. “It's like riding a bike," he muses. "Although it’s a lot easier now for me because I have the time and now that I get more practice.” Then he adds thoughtfully, “And now that I can do it with my kids.”

Playing music with his daughters every day is the real reward of taking up the guitar. “When I started playing the guitar, they were psyched. They would ask me to jam with them after dinner,” he said. “I loved the bonding and connection. We try to video the performance and put it in a dump Instagram account for posterity. It can only be viewed by family.”

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For friends, he says he floods his Facebook Stories with his guitar playing. “My siblings are aliw. Not particularly ‘Oh wow!’ about it,” he share. “My friends react more when I post it on my Stories. I still want them just to see it for a while and then it disappears. Para may mysterious effect pa rin!”  

Every night, Juan unwinds with his kids, who are his new taskmasters. “After dinner, my daughters and I jam. My kids choose the songs they like and just tell me they want to sing it while I play. I got an app on my iPad that can get all of the lyrics and chords. The jamming sessions are really enjoyable. They sing and I play. It’s fun and worthwhile. It's good bonding for us. Even if sometimes I get tired because we try to do it over and over until we get it right, I don’t mind.”

Even long after quarantine is lifted and Juan will have to go back to the office, running Binalot and his other businesses, Juan says he wants to continue his newfound hobby. “I will make this a regular thing as it enriches our family relationship and it really relaxes me and takes away stress.”

Juan also said that when social distancing is no longer needed, he wants to jam with his friends. Maybe he can finally try out that old wish to put up a band. “My Dad and my siblings now make fun of me by saying my dream of joining a band may finally come true,” he laughs. “My Dad always says that when he sees guitar players who serenade you in restaurants, he remembers me and what I could have become!”