Before last year I never had a personal connection to Remembrance Day because I wasn’t born in Canada and I didn’t have anyone in my family that was affected by war.
Or so I thought.
For a journalism assignment for my program we had to write a Remembrance Day story. I decided to talk to my Lolo (Lolo means Grandpa in Tagalog, my native language) about his perspective of the war. Little did I know that if the war hadn’t happened, he might not have become a doctor. Shortly after I did that assignment my Lolo passed away.
Remembrance Day was kind of hard this year because it made me think of him, but it also reminded me of how amazing of a person he was. My Lolo was a very humble man and never spoke about how generous he was. This included paying for my hospital bills when I had my burn injury. So during Remembrance Day, I remembered my Lolo who helped saved my life.
A photo of me and my Grandpa when I was four
If you’re interested here’s the article I wrote, which I also read out during my eulogy for him:
How my Grandpa Accidentally Became a Doctor
For my grandpa, Dominador Navarro, he said becoming a doctor was “accidental.” Instead, all he could think about growing up was surviving.
“If you’re lucky and you survive, you can go to school – if you’re not a casualty of war,” he said.
My grandpa, who I call “Lolo Doming,” was too young to fight in the Second World War. Lolo Doming was 14-years-old when the Japanese invaded and occupied the Philippines in 1941.
As I sit and listen to my Lolo’s words, I hear the history of conflict of the Philippines. As he speaks Tagalog, the Filipino language, and rolls his “r’s,” I think of the influence of the Spanish who conquered the Philippines for over 300 years. And when he switches to almost-perfect English, it reminds me of the legacy of the Americans who freed the Philippines from the Japanese occupation.
Before the war, my Lolo’s sister, who was a nurse, joked he should be a doctor so they could be coworkers. Instead, my Lolo had dreams of becoming an engineer.
“There weren’t very many of them at the time and I thought the construction of buildings was interesting,” he said.
But the war shut down that dream along with everything else.
“Everything stopped functioning . . . factories . . . schools,” said my Lolo, “There wasn’t even any of that,” as he points at the paper I’m writing on.
Because there weren’t any schools, many teachers went looking for other jobs. For the last three years of the war my Lolo couldn’t continue his studies. With nothing to do, at 16-years-old he worked as a conductor taking tickets for the Japanese-operated buses.
“It was the only open job – all I could think of was to just get a job. I just wanted to pass by the time,” he said.
For two years my Lolo worked there until the Americans gave the Philippines independence in 1946. With the Japanese-operated buses shut down and everything being rebuilt, my Lolo was able to return to his studies. But even with peacetime, there were very few schools open.
“They had to repair the buildings, the tables, the chairs . . . everything,” he said.
Remembering his sister’s suggestion, he applied for medical school because it was one of the few colleges open.
“I thought I’d just give it a try and see if I’d make it.”
My Lolo’s career included working as a municipal physician and then having his own private practice. In the 1980s he worked for the Family Planning Organization of the Philippines and became a pioneer in reproductive rights in a highly conservative Catholic country.
Even though becoming a doctor was not my Lolo’s original plan, he’s happy with his decision. This influenced six of his nine children and my brother to become nurses. After 40 years as a doctor he retired in 1992 in Winnipeg, where most of his children were able to easily immigrate to because of the high demand for nurses.
“If you’re interested in the job, you’re happy. It [being a doctor] was interesting and adventurous. I went to different areas and you get to meet all kinds of people and encounter many sides of life: rich and poor,” he said.
“You have to work in order to live.”