I envy Bobby Tirol, and I wish I were in his place. Would you like to know why?
Part 1: At Green Meadows
I insisted on saying this Mass — I really insisted on saying this Mass for BOBBY, because 1) It is my OBLIGATION — as a relative; 2) I need to ask the FORGIVENESS of Bobby; 3) I want the privilege of sharing in the LOVE and the grace and the glory of ROBERTO L. TIROL, JR.
It is my obligation as a relative. We, Bobby Tirol and I, grew up together in Tanza, a tiny place in Iloilo. A tiny spot beyond Oton and Molo, right before you reach the city. We lived on Ledesma Street across from each other. He studied in the American School with the other Tirols. I studied in Lincoln School with Fr. Willy Jesena and Fr. Archie Intengan, and Miriam Defensor Santiago and Ruth Tirol-Cocjin.
And every Sunday, because I served Mass in our Tanza Parish Church every Sunday, I’d see the Buick of the Tirol family, and I’d see the Tirol children all dutifully trooping to attend Fr. Verheyen’s or Fr. de Wit’s Mass. Yes, I’d see them all every Sunday — Manang Glory, my aunt, and Manong Nono, and Ruth and Nony, and Marilou and Bob, and Certing and later on, Anne.
And I looked up to them and admired them, the Tirol Family, the ideal family.
* Bobby Tirol died a very strange and very sudden death on Easter Sunday, April 16, 1995, after a very painful and very strange 49 years of life. The following two tributes were preached by his cousin, Fr. Juni. The first, in Christ the King Mortuary Chapel in Green Meadows, Quezon City, the day Bobby Tirol died. The second, in the Immaculate Conception Church, Tanza Parish, Iloilo, on April 22, 1995, immediately before the funeral.
Today there is another Tirol Family here. But it is a family that is broken. Broken by death. By pain. By a thousand questions. And a million tears.
The family of Bobby Tirol is right here in front of us: Maricel, Martin, Zharina and Daniel. Francis is in the United States, studying pre-medicine at Georgetown University, and CANNOT be here because it is his Examination Week.
I would like to address the children of Bobby Tirol. Martin, Zharina, Dan-Dan — please hold my hand, hold my hand and allow me to tell you about my father. And your father.
My father was a cousin and friend of your Lolo, Mr. Roberto H. Tirol, Sr. They were classmates at the Ateneo de Manila and they remained devoted friends all their lives. But my Tatay was very different from your Lolo. Your Lolo is a winner. My father was a loser.
About ten years ago, I was living in New York. Very, very early one morning, my phone rang and my niece, Suzanne Jesena Santibañez, calling from West Virginia, said: “Uncle Jun, I have bad news. Grandpa died a few hours ago. Mommy tried to revive him by CPR. She tried for 45 minutes, but Grandpa didn’t make it.”
“Tell your Mom I’m coming,” I said, “I’m leaving right away.” When I got to Grafton, West Virginia, at 11 a.m., I was not allowed to see my father. The funeral home did not allow any viewing until 2 p.m.
When I finally saw my Tatay lying dead in his coffin, I realized I had never really talked to my father. Not once. No deep conversation. No real dialogue. Not even once.
I drew near the coffin, and I looked at my father’s face. And it seemed to me my Tatay wanted very much to say something to me. There were important things he really wanted to tell me. Things that he never could, and never did say while he was alive.
MARTIN — the first thing he wanted to tell me, Martin, was this: “I’m sorry. I’m very sorry that I was not the IDEAL FATHER you wanted me to be. I always, always fell short of what you were taught in church and in the Ateneo about what a father should be. I was never a ‘Man for Others’ as your Jesuit teachers taught you we should all be. I was not virtuous enough. Not prayerful enough. I was not generous enough, not responsible enough, not honest enough, not noble enough. Very, very often I disappointed you. I embarrassed you. You could never introduce me with pride to your friends. My son, I am very sorry I was not an IDEAL FATHER to you.”
DAN-DAN — the second thing my dead Tatay was telling me, Dan, was this: “I was not an ideal father, because I was not capable of it. You, Juni, maybe you are capable of 90%, even 98% goodness, but I — I could not even reach 75%. I could only reach about 40%. I was always confused. I was wounded. I was emotionally crippled. I was weak. I was not ideal, because I could not be ideal.
“We do not demand an Olympic gold medal in the 100-meter dash from a cripple, a polio victim — because he is a cripple. And I, your father, was a cripple, compared to other men, compared to you.
“And so I performed, and I could only give, with the little that I was capable of. I was never heroic, never great, never outstanding, never. I was always inadequate. Never, never good enough for you.
“In your eyes I, your father, was less than mediocre. But I had the virtue, the goodness, and the strength only to be that: less than mediocre. I am very sorry I was not more.”
And ZHARINA — the final message of my Tatay from the other side, from beyond, was this — “Although I was a failure and a disappointment to you, I really love you. I really love you.”
Yes, with his weird, incomplete, broken, wounded, defeated heart, — my Tatay truly loved me.
Zharina, Dan, Martin, with profound hesitation and pain and with deep, personal embarrassment, tonight I have openly told you about my own father, because — because my Tatay was like your Daddy.
And from the other side, from the beyond, I think maybe my cousin Bobby Tirol now wishes me to voice out to you, his children, a somewhat similar message.
And so, Martin, Zharina and Dan-Dan — from your Daddy. From the beyond. Three simple messages.
MESSAGE 1: I am sorry.
“I am sorry I was a disappointment to you. I am sorry. I was not the IDEAL FATHER you craved and deserved. I was not virtuous. I was not faithful. I was NOT successful, not responsible. I was not someone you could be proud of, someone you could boast about. I was not someone you could introduce with pride to your friends. I am very sorry I was a source of embarrassment for you.
“And you were not alone. I was a source of shame and embarrassment to many others. In parties and public gatherings, I would join a crowd of friends and relatives and even family members — and I knew — I did not belong. I did not belong. I would be tolerated by some. Avoided — by most. I could see them trying their best. But they could not come up with that almost infinite patience and understanding and acceptance a person needed in order to be at ease with Bobby Tirol.
I am very sorry you had a flawed, weird, imperfect, inadequate father.
I was not much.
I — am — sorry.
MESSAGE 2: The fact is, I was capable of only that much.
“I am so, so different from you. You, my children, are so good. So successful. Everybody is so proud of you.
“I was not like you. Because I could not be like you.
“Do you really think, do you really think I wanted, I deliberately chose, to be weird and weak and irresponsible and immature and dependent and impractical and irrelevant and useless and a laughing stock to everyone?
“Ah, but when it all began, when I first got married, I dreamed of giving you — and your dear mother, my beloved Maricel — I wanted, I wanted to give you, my dear family, the very best of everything! The best home, the best education — everything, everything you would need… and want. But I did not, because I could not.”
“I, your Father, I was flawed.”
MESSAGE 3: I love you.
“And yet this flawed, imperfect father, with his limited, imperfect goodness and virtue and strength — he truly loved you!
“Ah, I remember the time when you were young and we were all together — at the Penthouse. How happy we were. How happy I was. How much simplicity, how much love there was!
“Today, my children — you are all so good, and I know I’m not worthy to be your father — and so today as I leave you forever, my children, and Maricel, my wife — please receive my love.”
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Maricel, Mart, Zharina, Dan-Dan: I speak to you as your relative and your Priest. Your Daddy was not always an IDEAL FATHER. Because he was not capable of always being an ideal father.
Nature and upbringing, and the cruel battlefields of life, and wrong choices, and painful, painful wounds that never healed — crippled your Dad. He was handicapped in very many ways. He really wanted to measure up to the high, high expectations of his parents, his family, his friends and of society. But he could not always meet those high expectations.
With his self-confidence ruined, with his self-image devastated, and victimized by a daily bombardment of ruinous inadequacy, Bobby Tirol, your father and my cousin, was a broken man.
And with each desperate and futile effort to rise from the ruins of defeat, his self-confidence became more and more shattered until that self-image, once so brilliant and so promising and so strong, became completely limp, crumpled, useless and impotent.
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I came here tonight to say this Mass because Bobby Tirol is my cousin. And publicly I apologize in your presence. I apologize in front of Bobby lying dead in his coffin and I apologize before Almighty God, present here in our midst — I apologize for not understanding and respecting, not loving, not serving Bob Tirol enough when he needed my understanding and my respect and my service and my love.
But today, Easter Sunday, the Feast of our Lord’s glorious Resurrection, I bask in the light of Bobby Tirol’s victory — the victory of God’s child, forgiven and purified and healed, accompanied and welcomed home by God, the God of Mercy, and Forgiveness, and Healing, and Love.
Ladies and gentlemen, my friends — in a few minutes, we will all go home — and maybe enjoy a good night’s sleep. But between the time you leave Bobby Tirol’s coffin here and before you reach the comfort of your bed, please consider:
1. Must Bobby Tirol die first before we can understand and forgive him?
2. Must Bobby Tirol die first before we can love him, before we can love one another?
3. How does God, our Loving Father, look at Bobby Tirol?
4. How does God, our Loving Father, look at you?
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In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
PART II: At Tanza Parish Church
Bobby Tirol in his short and tragic existence knocked on three doors of Life. Three main doors of human Life: the door of STUDIES, the door of SUCCESS, the door of LOVE. He knocked with hope, and he knocked with craving, and he knocked with tears.
It seemed, to most people, that for Bobby Tirol those three doors were shut and locked and never opened. And it seemed that Bobby Tirol died as he had lived — alone, devastated, in agony.
The first door that Bobby Tirol knocked on was the door of STUDIES. He was top man in The American School and in St. Clement’s, in Iloilo. But in Manila and in the Ateneo de Manila University, where his father Roberto H. Tirol, Sr. and many, many uncles had graduated, Bob Tirol did not graduate. Bob was asked to leave by the Ateneo and he had to transfer to another school.
His leaving the Ateneo, and the circumstances that surrounded it, was a terrible, terrible trauma for Bob Tirol. A trauma which cut him deeply, and from which he never totally recovered. Thirty years later, that pain of rejection from the Ateneo still caused him much agony and still crushed his self-confidence and devastated his self-image, affecting his entire being and his entire life.
After college, Bob went to the United States, where he studied business in New York University. After one short year, he quit. He could not, he explained, stand the loneliness away from home.
No, Bobby Tirol was not a success in Studies. He knocked on the door of academic excellence and academic achievement and he failed. In the big league of studies, in Manila and in New York, Bobby aimed for Number One.
He did not make it. He did not even pass. The door of Studies remained closed and locked.
Failing in Studies, Mr. Bobby Tirol staggered to Door #2 of Life: The door of Success in Business. And Bobby Tirol knocked on this door. He knocked and knocked. But the door to Success in Business never opened for him. Even after a quarter–century of trying, when his classmates and those who had been inferior to him at St. Clement’s had already achieved outstanding business success or at least respectable stability, in the honor roll of Success, Bobby Tirol was nowhere to be found.
Where was Bobby Tirol? Where were his conglomerates, his corporations, his track record of expected business successes? The second door, the door of SUCCESS in Business slammed shut and remained shut for Bobby. He knocked and knocked and knocked. But the door of Business Success never opened for Bobby Tirol.
The expected brilliance and business acumen and creativity and daring and golden touch and success were simply, strangely not there. No, not even the minimal consistency or the common sense or even the mediocrity of the ordinary man was there. Bobby Tirol somehow could not cope. He just could not cope. Real Life weighed him, and found him wanting. TINIMBANG KA. NGUNI’T KULANG. Tinimbang ka. Nguni’t kulang.
What then was left in Life for Bobby? The last door was the door of LOVE. The last door but the most important door.
Yes — the only door that really mattered was the last door: the door of LOVE. The door of Studies may have been shut, the door of Business Success may have been locked, but if the third door, the last door, the door of Love, had been open, then nothing would have been in vain: Bobby would still have made it in life.
And so, my friends, I ask you this most important of all questions: Did Bobby Tirol have love? Was he loved? Did he enjoy love? Answer me.
You answer me. And yet shall you and I, shall we ever, ever know the answer to that question?
And before God, before God, I now ask myself that question. I ask it today, and I will ask it again in the future.
And in the future, I will look back. And I will remember that Easter Sunday noon, April 16, 1995, when I was summoned to St. Luke’s Hospital because Bobby Tirol had just died. He had just walked from the family car to the hospital room at nine o’clock that morning with a splitting headache. By noon he was dead. When I got to the hospital, Bobby Tirol had not yet been moved. He was still in his hospital bed. His body was still warm.
And the big question was, WHY this sudden death? Why? Why? How?
Bobby’s wife and children, his father and his sisters had to plow through all the confusion and all the questions.
The wake was in the parish of his wife, Maricel — in Green Meadows. After several days there, Bob was brought home to his boyhood parish — Tanza, in Iloilo City.
In the final Mass for Bobby in Tanza, Iloilo, there were three of us Priests who concelebrated. I was placed directly in front of Bob’s only daughter, Ms. Zharina Geronimo Tirol. And because she was way up front — in the very front pew — everybody else could see only her back. But all the concelebrating Priests were face to face with Zharina. And I, especially I, was directly in front of her.
Do you know how you looked, Zharina? Your eyes were full of tears. Your face was twisted in agony. You were crying all through the Mass, from beginning to end. And why, my dear, why?
Maybe, a sense of pity — for your father was dead. And his life had been senselessness and agony, and failure, and loneliness, and waste. You cried. A sense of pity. For him,. His death. His life.
Maybe, also a sense of guilt — because you and I -- we had been so correct, so proper, so judgmental, so condemnatory, so unforgiving.
But what your Daddy had needed was not justice, not propriety, not correctness, but compassion, and understanding and acceptance and forgiveness and healing and love. Bobby Tirol… needed our understanding. Our forgiveness. Our love.
You were weeping, my dear. Weep on, my dear Zharina, for you and I and all of us need to feel guilty, guilty, because we had been slaves of Justice and not of Compassion.
But through it all, through it all, Zharina, your tears were tender, caring, feeling. They were tears of love. Gentle, childlike, genuine, affectionate, tears of forgiving love.
Yes, there was great love there, rising to the surface, conquering everything. Love that remembered and love that forgave.
Love: beautiful, tearful, genuine love, that went beyond and transcended sin and prejudice and pride and painful death itself. Love — a love that was late but a love that was true — a love that reached out from your tears and from your heart and from your soul, and taught all of us who do not yet know how to love — taught us from your daughter’s heart how to understand and accept and forgive and love our father.
The third door, the final door, the most important door, the only door that really matters — the doorway to Love… was open although late, although late, was open to Bobby Tirol because you, Zharina, his daughter, were there, with your love.
And Zharina — you were not alone there.
When Bob Tirol knocked at the doorway of LOVE, he found his Mama there. Mrs. Gloria Jesena Lorca Tirol.
And his Papa was there, too, Mr. Roberto Hontiveros Tirol.
And his Sisters: Ruth and Cecilia, and Marilou and Anne.
And his brother Certing was there, too.
And in the doorway of LOVE he found his wife, Maricel, there and his children Martin and Francis, and Dan-Dan, and Zharina. And Maricel’s family, the Geronimos, were there, too. And your Daddy’s lifelong buddies — Alex Ledesma, Joe Mari Chan, and Bebot Sarabia.
And there were many, many other relatives and friends, who came to pay their respects and to be with Bobby Tirol again, if only for a brief moment. Yes, if only for a brief moment to be with Bobby Tirol again in friendship, in forgiveness, in healing and in love.
My brothers, my sisters, my friends -- regarding Bob Tirol and us, most of us were late in our conversion. We accepted him but only after his Passion, his Calvary and his Death. We were late, yet were there on time. We were lucky we just got there on time. Right after his Cross and Death. Right before his burial.
And as I end this remembering of Bobby Tirol, I stand here before you, my Brothers and Sisters, and I say — I envy Bobby Tirol.
I envy Bobby Tirol, and I wish I were in his place.
For in spite of, and maybe because of, his extreme agony and trials and purification and crucifixion and death, he was and has been embraced by the beauty, and the forgiveness and the healing of your love.
Yes, Bobby Tirol has been, at the very, very end, embraced by the beauty and the forgiveness, and the healing of love. God’s love. And your love.
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juni jesena, s.j.