“I think my guide was being 180 degrees away from how I was raised," says Ocampo about being a dad. Photograph by Cyrus Panganiban
Culture Spotlight

No matter the odds, Ricco Ocampo's kids will always have his back

To his kids, he is master of taste, a shrewd businessman, the man who raised them to be independent thinkers. He also taught them not to care too much about what others say—a lesson that served them well during last year’s controversy, which Ricco and his children address for the first time here.
Ces-Oreña Drilon | Jun 15 2019

His approach to fatherhood is as unconventional and unorthodox as his design and business philosophy.

Maverick entrepreneur and fashion retailer Ricco Ocampo is father to three girls: Betina, Selina, and Julianna. And then there’s an unico hijo, Emilio, the youngest of the brood. The girls now have their own careers: Betina is into design, with her own successful womenswear and footwear line, Selina is into food, while Julianna is into marketing—each one pursuing a facet of their multitalented father. 

Interestingly enough, Betina, like her dad, launched her women’s wear with a line of t-shirts. Ricco began his enterprise with a capital of P3000 at the age of 21. His handpainted tees gave birth to the iconic fashion retail store of the ‘80s and ‘90s, Sari-Sari, a partnership with his cousins. 

 

More on fathers:

 

For his part, Ricco’s youngest, 20-year old Emilio, is now pursuing a business course in New York. But he did one better than his father, opening a sneaker store at the age of 16. The store, Born on Mott, had to close after three years, however. Emilio went to pursue his studies abroad and no one could really attend to the store. “We decided to close it because I was in college. This was during the time when my dad was starting Manila House, so he was very busy,” the boy explains.

 

The opposite of dad

At a young age, Ricco very consciously told himself he would be the complete opposite of his dad: he would give his children what he felt he was deprived of growing up. “I think my guide is being 180 degrees away from how I was raised because I grew up in the province; there was no such thing as bonding time during our time,” recalls the now fiftysomething father. “They give your allowance and then as long as your grades are high, you're okay. Maybe the things I would have liked for myself, I dreamed for myself, I would truly give to my children: education, travel. You know, things that will enhance their creativity, their intelligence. I try to give as much as I can.“ 

Ocampo at home. "I don't think I was the favorite of my dad. As a young kid, you sulk on it but when you're in your 30s you just forget it and just move on."

We are in the Ocampo home in Forbes Park and Ricco is wearing a casual grey shirt, dark denims and slippers. The floor of the receiving area is covered in Persian rugs of different sizes, a Ricco signature if you're familiar with the spaces he creates. A lot of the chairs inside the house, we would learn, are of his design. Through the glass doors, one could see a lush garden that the lady of the house, Ricco’s wife Tina Maristela, the former model, his business and creative partner, lovingly tends to. Today, however, Tina is in New York, and the kids are all abroad except for the youngest, Emilio, who just got in from the Big Apple and is struggling with jet lag. He cracks a joke about his dad then proceeds to his room. 

Unlike his children, Ricco grew up in a very traditional household. “I think parents had favorites," he says, recalling his younger years. "I don't think I was the favorite of my dad. As a young kid, you sulk on it but when you're in your 30s you just forget it and just move on. I mean, I'm not like most people who would bring it to their death bed, their angst against their family.”

Ricco describes his fathering style as democratic. “First, you don’t think of yourself as a father, you think of yourself as really friends with them. That’s how I raised them,” he says. He and wife Tina give the children as much freedom as they can. “We allowed them to do whatever they want to do in their lives—responsibly. I think it comes with the territory of trust as well. They’ve grown very free. They’re very free. It’s not about a strict-parent-and-children relationship. I think our family has a very bohemian lifestyle.” 

He is very close to his children, and doesn’t play favorites—although he confesses to a special connection with Emilio. “He’s not a favorite. It’s just that you normally get along with your son right away and share the same things, you talk deeply about things. Of course, I'm very close to my daughters. I wouldn't say I have favorites. It just so happens I just have one son.” 

The Ocampos. "No one can break the spirit of our family," says Julianna.

In contrast to the man who raised him, Ricco has a very deep relationship with his children and claims to know “maybe 95 percent” of what goes on in their lives “You really talk to your children, you try to discover who they are; their fears, their wants, their happiness in life. I think we’re more intensely concerned, and into their lives,” he says of his and Tina’s presence in their kids’ worlds. “I know what’s happening with them, you know. Like my son has tried marijuana. That isn’t normal for a son to tell his parents, right? So, it’s in that way that I believe I raised them to be more independent and more free.”

“My father isn’t like any other dad,” Emilio volunteers, replying weeks later from Spain to our messages. “He talks to his children everyday and supports them at whatever cost. He is more a friend and an ally than a dictator. He fights for us and gives everything he has to us. My father didn’t inherit a bunch of money or was given a big business to run at a young age. He is a self-made man and for that he will forever be my inspiration and muse. He may not be the most traditional father but he is in a league of his own.”

 

Boyfriend issues

Between Ricco and Tina, it’s Ricco who is the more liberal parent. “I need to explain things to Tina because she's more conservative than I am. I work my way in trying to explain to her the predicament of one of our daughter's issues. For instance, we were in Tokyo and they’re sharing rooms [with their boyfriends] but for Tina, ‘Hey, they're not married.’ I understand it, that's from her point of view. But my kids, they’re living together in the US. So what's the difference? But understand where she's coming from so I try to balance it for everybody. Tina’s very conservative while I’m very liberal and permissive.”

Being a father is a lifetime task, he says. “It's difficult to be a parent. Your children have different personalities; they have different moods. With a son you have to try to find him. You have to try to guide him without being too strict. It’s a day to day thing. It's not as if, ‘Oh, when they finish college you’re done.’ Being a parent is never ending.”

Flanked by Betina and Selina.

Of his brood, it is Emilio who takes after his mother in temperament. “Emilio is an introvert by nature. He’s almost like Tina. So they make very few friends. They're happy being alone or being by themselves at home.” For Ricco, the extrovert, this was very puzzling. “They’re completely at peace with themselves when it comes to being alone. Maybe 10 years ago, I used to fear that if I die early kawawa naman si Tina, wala namang kaibigan. But after a while I realized it is not so. It’s a personality trait.” 

While Emilio is the complete opposite of his father, it is the youngest daughter Julianna who takes after Ricco. “We have exactly the same character,” Ricco says of his daughter who now works for Paper, the famed New York City indie magazine. 

“People say I am the mini version of my father and I am so proud to get the nickname amongst my siblings," says Julianna. "Nothing gives me more confidence and validation than when my father calls me for my opinion, advice or help.”

 

The other way around 

Asked what is the best advice he has given his children, Ricco is stumped. “They give me good advice “ he says. Proof indeed that democracy reigns in the Ocampo household, where dad rarely has the last word. 

Ricco is especially proud that Emilio counsels his sisters. “He’s the youngest but he also acts like an eldest. It makes me proud that my children are all very close to each other. I think that's the most important thing. He gives his opinion about their careers, about their boyfriends, about their lives. He's very opinionated only to his siblings.”

"My father is a shrewd operator with a killer mentality when it comes to his passions and ideas in business," says son Emilio of Ricco.

The key to his close relationship with his children, Ricco says, is a listening ear. “I try not to make them feel that they're going to be judged. Whatever decisions they make; I'll just be there to listen. Especially now at their age— Emilio is 20, so my eldest is turning 29. That's the age where you are just an ally to them or a supporter. You don't push your way for them to decide this way or that way. I think I'm in that way very understanding to them.” 

He traces his liberal approach to growing old and feeling the wonders of being free. “There’s always a fear of: Is this right? Is this wrong? Or, What will people say? I think I raised my children not to be very conscious about such issues. Manila is such a small town, you fall on a road, everybody will know. You separate,  everybody knows you separated. So I think I’ve geared them to be very conscious more about their happiness, about more of their choices, rather than what society dictates they should be doing.”

 

The salmon incident 

Nothing could have illustrated this more painfully to Ricco and his children than the Manila House incident the gossip mill feasted on late last year. Now known as Salmon-gate, it occurred at the exclusive members-only club in BGC of which Ricco is a founding member and member of the board. A video uploaded to social media showed Ricco berating a client who refused to pay her bill. The lady was supposedly claiming the salmon served at their company function was not the same size as the one presented during the food tasting prior to their event. Ricco issued a public apology as condemnation of his behavior swirled in Viber, Facebook and What’s App threads.

He addresses the issue for the first time, after Manila House issued a public apology on his behalf in September. “The first instance of recovery is to sincerely apologize for being disrespectful despite her two hours of bullying the staff and refusing to pay. The lesson is, despite all, we need to keep our temper intact.”

His daughter Julianna puts it more succinctly. Replying to our questions via Viber, she writes, “To my father, to live is to be your most creative self and to never let anyone stop you from pursuing your vision. However, life is all about balance and from the moment I was born my father never stopped working and I could see that age was catching up with the spirit of a young man. When someone is overworked and has lived most of their life pushing themselves to create the next beautiful thing, your patience runs thin.

"Everyone who truly knows my father said to me that the video was not the full story, and that it was out of character for him to react in such a manner. People make mistakes and I believe this mistake was a moment to finally let my father take a pause. Pause and look at all the amazing things he has accomplished and how one mistake can get close to taking it all away from you. We live in a generation where seconds of a clip can sometimes define the perception of who someone is, when you barely know them.”

Photographed in the garden, his wife Tina's domain. "Just by observing him I learned that life is better when you're different from the rest," says daughter Julianna.

Ricco says he didn’t have to explain the incident to his children as they totally understood his then predicament.

"A few seconds of video doesn’t define the real narrative. I didn't mind people overreacting about the video honestly,” Emilio says. “There were a lot of factors that led to that reaction from my dad and there were a lot of premature responses to the video without knowing the full context of the situation.”

Julianna says she never watched the video. “And I never asked my dad what really happened that night,” she continues. “All I know is that he made a mistake that will change him for the better because at the end of the day he will always do what he does best: get right back up, pick up another phone call, and live the best life he can possibly live.”

Being her father’s daughter, Julianna can now make light of the incident where Ricco was judged by the harsh, freewheeling online community. “The lesson I learned here was to fight hate with love. So, to all the anonymous accounts that harassed my Instagram asking me about the salmon video, I replied to them to follow my @salmonsexual account! My finsta I created two years ago of all the delicious salmon meals I've had,” Julianna reveals to us. “My father is a fantastic marketer and I have a theory this viral video was made to increase my salmon Instagram following.”

Julianna will always be proud of her father, she says. “And I will keep learning from his achievements and mistakes. No one can break the spirit of our family.” Then as if sending a message to Ricco, she adds to her Viber message: “I love you, dad.”

But the salmon story isn’t over yet. Ricco is suing the person who uploaded the video. “We need to realize how the new laws on cyberbullying should be taken seriously. It’s so relevant in our present lives,” says Ricco. 

 

When the magic happens 

It is Ricco’s creative streak and passion for life that his children admire most about him and hope to emulate. “It is common knowledge my father is a creative man. Someone who can create something out of nothing. His best advice is to always think outside of the box and do things that make you uncomfortable. When we play around with the unconventional and we open ourselves to it’s endless possibilities, that’s when the magic happens,” says Selina.

For Julianna, her father is a supreme man of taste. “No one is even close to Ricco Ocampo's taste and just by observing him I learned that life is better when you're different from the rest. Since my earliest memories, I have watched my father passionately work not only for his family but because everything he made came from his heart. I would see a spark in his eye whenever he was at his most creative, and that was when he was working. I used to be upset as a child because it was hard to get my father's attention away from his phone calls. Only till I started working at my dream job that I realized he wasn't working, he was living.”

Click on the arrows for slideshow

With young Emilio.

The Ocampos on holiday. 

Julianna then and now. 

Selina and Julianna. 

Julianna with mom Tina.

Ricco with Betina. 

Betina and Julianna.

Emilio.

Tina with Selina. 

The kids many years back.

Julianna and Betina with their parents. 

Ricco with Julianna. 

Julianna, Betina and Selina.

 

“My father's lessons show through his actions,” Emilio says. “He leads by example. Everything I’ve learned and known I acquired by observing him and his mentality in business, my father is a shrewd operator with a killer mentality when it comes to his passions and ideas in business. He will stop at nothing to get things done; he is a true man of action. He is a man who turns anything he conceptualizes into fruition.”

For Ricco, the nonconformist, the rewards of fatherhood are the same as any other. “That you are loved by your children unconditionally and when you feel that emotion, it makes you feel complete. It erases all the doubts in your mind about what it takes to be happy. That's the only thing, our children. And that's for me the best. Nothing else can come close. Nothing else. Not even material. Nothing else. Sila lang naman eh, di ba?”

 

Portraits by Cyrus Panganiban