What is a hero?

By Tin Bartolome

Posted at Apr 10 2015 09:49 AM | Updated as of Apr 10 2015 05:49 PM

Indeed, what is a hero? Does a person have to die to be a hero? Many people tell me that my father was a hero because he fought in Bataan, survived the Death March and incarceration in Fort Santiago. His name is on a wall in the 41st Infantry Division Marker under General Vicente Lim in Tagaytay. But I have other reasons for considering him a hero.

War Stories and Piano Lessons

Like many fathers, Papa would tell me bedtime stories—but unlike the other fathers, he would tell me about war maneuvers, guerilla activities and his favorite: how he was hit by a Japanese sniper.

He was the only one among his siblings who did not play the piano—or any musical instrument, for that matter. But he could whistle waltzes, marches and sonatas. He could name pieces by Tchaikovsky, Chopin, Mozart and Beethoven in just a few notes. He always said he regretted skipping (actually escaping from) piano lessons. Which was why he made sure my brother and I took piano lessons from no less than his older sister. He would wake me up on weekends to practice while he mowed the lawn outside. Each time I made a mistake, he would look into the front window and say “Repeat till you get it right”. Even dexterity exercises had to be repeated until my fingers got them right!

Hikes and Picnics

Papa would take us “hiking” as he liked to call it from the house (which was somewhere near the border of Pasay and Makati) all the way to the breakwater along Roxas Boulevard. We would continue walking until Pedro Gil (formerly Herran) where we would stop and eat our baon: a pack of argellanas. Then, we would head back home. During those walks, he would identify plants, seashells, insects and tell stories about the war or how he spent the hours away from the house when he was supposed to have been taking piano lessons.

There were many weekends when we’d have picnics in Los Baños, Tagaytay or Cavite. Sometimes, we’d go to the beach, a lake or Antipolo. I always learned something new from each trip. Sometimes he would teach us survival skills like starting a fire without matches or cooking eggs without utensils. He would show us medicinal plants—especially those that helped him survive the war and explain how they were used. He was constantly looking for telltale signs of danger—or at least, what we should avoid so we do not get hurt. I remember having been stung by a bee when my fingers happened to rest on a hole on a bamboo pole. He said I should remember looking out for those, mud nests of wasps and ant nests.


I was never scolded by my father for getting grades others would consider low—79 and lower. He would just shake his head and say something like, “Pity the poor souls who get 78 in Social Studies! Tsk, tsk, tsk… what a shame!” My father always corrected my grammar – English and Spanish. He was disappointed over my not learning Spanish but did not take it against me. He often teased me about my luck not running out because I passed college and law school entrance exams. The only time he expressed concern over my education was when I told him I was quitting law school because he said he could not support me all my life. He said education was the only legacy he could leave us that could never be taken away from us.

He was the kind of father who had foresight. He had a house built even before I was born. Months before his stroke, he often asked me to find a lawyer to transfer his property to us. He did not use his insurance fund for himself—instead, he made sure he would leave behind something for us. All his papers were in order and with extra copies attached, so I did not have to look for them to claim whatever benefits were due Mama, his widow.

My Hero

Even before I started kindergarten, my father would cover books and notebooks for me and write my name in beautiful letters on the covers. He made me a sturdy slingshot and an equally sturdy kite (that could no longer fly because it was literally “heavy duty”). He shined my shoes every morning and made me coffee when I needed to stay up for my thesis. He gave me pocket money whenever I had shoots outside the country. He took good care of my children and set up their pool and tent on summer weekends. He preferred to plant fruit trees my children loved instead of having income-generating structures on his property.

Best of all, my father always stood by me and in his own unique way, made me understand that I always had a place in his house. He defended me in many ways and protected me whenever he could. Indeed, he was a hero because he fought for the country. For me, he was my hero because he gave me a home, became a good parenting model I could take after and left me wonderful memories to cherish.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.