Saturday, June 16, 2007

Mr. Mom

“Mr. Mom”
Sun.Star Davao, June 16, 2007

Mario Edcel “Bong” Lafuente will never forget the tragedy that struck his family last March 4, 2003.

“On that day, I lost my best friend, wife and mother of my children”, narrates Bong.

Bong was arriving at the Davao International Airport from a business trip in Manila. As usual, his wife Daruisa “Weng” Jimlani-Lafuente fetched him at the airport.  Normally, their two daughters Aiesha or “Aia” (then 8 years old) and Ameena or “Yna” (then 4 years old) would also accompany Weng.  However, that fateful day, they didn’t join their mother due to a petty fight between the two sisters.

“When I was descending the stairs, I saw Weng from the glass window at the arrival area and even waved at her.  I brought her favorite Brazo de Mercedes as a pasalubong (gift)”, he recounts.

Worst nightmare

While waiting for his luggage at the baggage retrieval area at 4:30 p.m., Bong (through a small opening) suddenly noticed the sky turn dark yellow then grayish. Afterwards, he heard a loud explosion.  He instantly thought of Weng sitting at the waiting shed.

“My first instinct was to run outside but I was prevented by a porter.  If I went out immediately, I could have been badly hurt. Just seconds after the explosion, the arrival area’s huge window on the second floor shattered into pieces and fell to the ground”, the 43 year-old dad recalls.

When he was given the clearance to leave the terminal building, Bong swiftly ran towards his wife’s direction. He was earnestly hoping that Weng was not one of the victims of the deadly bomb explosion.

Bong was devastated at the gruesome scene that awaited him. He saw his wife slumped lifelessly on the shed’s bench. Her face was disfigured beyond any recognition, arms completely burned and blackened with gunpowder. 

A powerful bomb was hidden in a knapsack at the waiting shed. Weng was among the 23 people killed. Close to 200 were wounded.   Some were in critical condition.

Bong and the other Dabawenyos could not believe the monstrous act that had just happened. Davao City was one of the most peaceful and livable cities not only in the country but in Asia.

“God, bakit si Weng pa?!  Kadami-daming ungas, bakit siya? (God, why did you take Weng away? There are more deserving scumbags than her, why Weng?)”, Bong repeatedly asked in total anger.

Instinctively, Bong took off his shirt and gently covered his wife’s bloodied face.

Weakest link

On the way to the Davao Medical Center (DMC), he was having many thoughts.

Bong and Weng, both licensed medical technologists, were college sweethearts for almost 9 years before settling down. He even converted to Weng’s religion of Islam before marrying her in 1993.

In their marital relationship, he likened his role to the popular TV game show’s “Weakest Link”. He acknowledges that between the two of them, Weng was the stronger one.

Bong describes Weng as a “super wife”. She took excellent care of their children and Bong. The 37-year old mom was a full-time housewife and part-time businesswoman.

“Babe, ang bait mo kasi.  Tingnan mo ako.  Ang sama-sama ko, buhay pa rin ako (Babe, how could this happen to you when I could have been the one who should have been in your place…and yet I’m still alive)”, Bong laments in deep sorrow.

At DMC, Bong allowed himself to cry, the first time he openly grieved since the whole ordeal began.

Bong called his sister on the phone, “Please don’t tell the kids yet what happened to Weng. Tell them we are coming home”.

Source of strength

Bong arrived home at around 9:00 p.m. The children were already asleep.

He then decided to pray a Muslim prayer that would normally take only 5-8 minutes but was extended to 10-15 minutes because he would sometimes break down and cry.

“For the first time, I did not close my bedroom door while praying.  My relatives wanted to check on me in case, I fainted”, he reveals.

He prayed like he never prayed before.  “Babe, give me strength. God, give me the right mind, strong heart to face the challenge and handle my kids”.

After the prayer, he went to his sleeping daughters and softly sang “Someone’s Waiting for You” (from the animated movie “The Rescuers”):

Don't cry, little one. There'll be a smile where a frown used to be. You'll be part of the love that you see, someone's waiting for you…Always keep a little prayer in your pocket and you're sure to see the light. Soon there'll be joy and happiness and your little world will be bright “.
Bong woke up her eldest daughter Aia and whispered “Ate, Papa is here”.

She inquired, “Where is Mama?”.  He replied, “Remember what Mama and I have been telling you before…that life is short; that things happen in an instant and God can take away life for a reason?  ‘Te, Mama is not coming back.  She is dead”.

“Ha?! Wala na si Mama? (Mama is not around anymore?)”, Aia asked while quietly sobbing.  On the other hand, Yna was too tired and sleepy to realize the serious impact of the dreadful news.

As it was customary in the Muslim faith, Weng was buried within 24 hours.

While Weng was being prepared for the burial rites, Aia did not look and go near her body. Only Yna watched and kissed her mom.

Mr. Mom

A week after Weng’s death, Bong and his family had a simple celebration at home during Yna’s 5th birthday. While they were gathered at the table, Yna blurted out, “Kung nandito si Mama, hindi lang ganyan ang handa ko (If Mama were still around, this will not only be my party food)”.

Bong excused himself from the table and pretended to get softdrinks. He was trying to hold back his tears.

During the family’s grieving period which fell on a summer break, Bong painstakingly trained himself to do the household chores, going to the market and grocery, cooking and even fixing her daughters’ long black hair.  They didn’t have any housemaid.

That summer was a revelation time for Bong.  “I was coming out of my shell”, he states.

“Cooking came naturally for me because when Weng was still alive, I would cook for the family on Saturdays and Sundays. It was her much-deserved break from chores”, Bong reminisces.

”Sometimes, I would set up our table outside our house and have an instant picnic. I would use a big plate and line it with a banana leaf.  I would put the viand in the middle and fill the sides with rice.  We would use our bare hands. Drinks would either be buko juice or black sago”, he fondly remembers. “The kids still miss those times”.

Bong and her family loved to go nature-tripping. They liked the beach as well as places teeming with trees. So, it was quite difficult spending summer time without Weng.

“That summer, I brought my daughters to Campo Agua. While the kids were enjoying themselves at the pool, I was thinking, “I should have someone with me now. I wish Weng was with me”, he divulges.

Compared to his children, it was Bong who was the most affected with Weng’s loss. He experienced denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance—the stages a relative or close friend undergoes when they lose a loved one.

Here comes the sun

Even when Weng was still alive, Bong and his wife taught the kids to adapt to any situation and be independent.  Aia and Yna knew how to take the public jeepney and tricycle if the car was not available.

“When we went to a fast food restaurant, I would ask my daughters to pay by themselves so they can apply their math skills in an actual setting”, Bong adds.

By the start of the new school year, Bong felt more confident with his home management skills.

 “I woke up at 4:00 a.m. to cook breakfast; help the kids take their bath and change to their uniforms; and fix their hair. After bringing them to school, I went to the market to buy fresh fish or chicken.  The only break I had was between 8:30 and 9:00 am to smoke and relax.  It was likewise my crying time”, he reveals. “Honestly, the only time I stopped crying was two years ago”. 

Bong wrote the menu for the whole month on a big board including other things to do and bills he had to pay. He brought warm food to school every lunch time. The single dad was very particular with his plates, utensils and food presentation.

After school, Bong would personally tutor the kids. He strived to let his daughters maintain their high grades.
“During the last week of March 2003, I got Aia’s report card at Stella Maris Academy of Davao (SMAD). She was number one in her class. I wanted to cry. Weng would have been so happy and proud”, he says.

By June 2003, Bong could afford to smile again. One parent even remarked, “Bong, I admire your positive disposition! How did you manage?”

According to Bong, “Other parents may not know it but they helped me in my grieving period. I got myself out of the house because it reminded me too much of so many memories with Weng. I played badminton with other SMAD parents.  There were 25 moms and I was the only dad. They nicknamed me as “Bong Bayot (Gay)”, he chuckles.

            At a Parents-Teachers Association (PTA) activity, a group of parents surprised Bong by giving him a t-shirt with the word “Ina’tay” or “Mom-Dad” printed on it.

Kikay dad

“I could braid my daughters’ hair; do different styles like square type and twisted faith pony tail. I familiarized myself with kikay (girly) stuff like hair clips, headbands, underwear, dress, shoes… everything”, the 5’11”-tall and 235-pound Bong recites.

For school presentations when art works, costumes and props were needed, Bong ensured it would be as perfect as Weng would have made it.

“In fact, there was this one time when my daughter had to have a cat’s eye mask for a program.  I devoted so much effort making it so special and detailed that it was fit for a masquerade ball”, Bong shares.   

When Bong arrived in school, he was dismayed to see that the other kids were only wearing plain eye masks made from black and white cartolinas. “I think I got carried away and over prepared”, he grins.

During the school’s annual field demonstration, Bong would do her children’s make-up.

“I was familiar with make-up because I was involved in theater during my college days. Also, Weng would always consult me if her make-up was okay”.  Bong knew how to apply foundation, powder, blush on, lip gloss, mascara, eyeliner, eye shadow--the works!

”Would you believe I have my own make-up set complete with various brushes?”, he laughs. Some parents even requested Bong, burly as he is, to do their kids’ make-up during programs.

Rite of passage

Always the Boy Scout, Bong prepared in advance for his eldest daughter’s menarche (first menstruation).

When that momentous day finally came, Bong who is also a trained caregiver, had numerous sanitary napkins on hand.

“Ate, there are various kinds of sanitary napkins. There are regular napkins for light days; maxi and overnight napkins for heavy flow; wings and no wings.   Don’t use cotton panty when you have your period but instead don polyester or nylon panty so that you won’t have a hard time washing the blood stain away.  Moreover, don’t believe that you can’t take a bath during your period”, he advises Aia like a pro.

Bong has a very open relationship with his kids. They could even talk about their crushes with him.

Coping mechanism

Four years after Weng’s passing away, Bong continues to have creative outlets to cope with his grief. He writes TV scripts, fixes and creates things in his backyard as well as experiments with designs for his furniture projects. In addition, he busies himself with his aircon and refrigerator-cleaning maintenance business and acts as the marketing officer of High End GrapicX, a comprehensive desktop publishing business.

“We keep Weng’s memory alive by visiting her at the cemetery during her birthday, death anniversary, Mother’s Day and other important occasions. My daughters and I bring her any kind of flower as long as it is white, which is her favorite”, Bong explains.

Aia, now 12, is protective of her younger sister Yna , 9.  

Aia is the quiet type and a deep thinker.  She excels in academics and is a talented writer. Once, she even wrote about her mother’s death in “Ang Marisian Graders” school paper with the title, “Kapayapaan sa tulong ng mga kabataang manunulat (Peace with the help of young writers)”. 

In contrast, Yna is the “kalog and madaldal” (zany and talkative) in the family. She is into sports, dancing and fashion. Yna doesn’t remember much of her mother anymore.

The daughters constantly urge their selfless father to think of himself for a change. “Papa, you know, you should have a wife.  When we are in high school and college, you will be alone”.

Fatherly advice

“My advice to other fathers is that to be more involved with the family.  At home, usually we are physically present but mentally absent.  Whenever we are at home, we are busy taking care of our fighting cocks, watching sports TV shows or tinkering with the car”, he observes.

Bong believes that fathers should not only provide for their family materially. They must also be hands-on and help in the chores so that they will know what is really happening in the house.

He adds, “Fathers should also take part in disciplining their children. Don’t always give the responsibility to your wife”.

Bong encourages dads to spend more quality time with their family.
”I don’t mind spending P200-P300 sometimes for a meal when we go out because that’s part of our bonding.  Bonding is not only being together but becoming one as a family”.

“Husbands, always treasure and love your wife. Take the time to be with your partner.  You really don’t know what will happen in the future so cherish every moment”, he stresses.

Bong reflects, “I have come to realize that the reason why I did not die during the airport bombing is because I have to fulfill a mission for my children.  If I did not have any purpose in this life, God could have let my children join my wife that day at the airport.”


Happy Father’s Day to my husband Gary, dad Joe, father-in-law Joseph, eldest brother Jason and to all the awe-inspiring fathers out there! My hats off to you, Bong!

(For your comments and suggestions, you may e-mail me at  

No comments: