By Dr. Pol Tiongson
Editor’s Note: For the second time, Dr. Pol Tiongson has given his permission to have OSM! reprint this article, a tribute
to his late father, a rural doctor in Bukidnon. I found his memoirs for his tatay (father) on Facebook, with more than 100
likes and accolades from friends.
The writer, a private practitioner in dermatology and aesthetics medicine, lives in Newport Beach, California. He is the
same brilliant and prolific writer that I knew since college, back in the days when our characters were tested by the
social upheavals against the dictatorship of Pres. Marcos.
Dr. Cenon Tiongson could have established himself as a doctor in the US, instead of living the tough life serving the sick
in the rural villages. But jealousy has a unique way of keeping a family intact. Read on. The younger Tiongson will make you smile.
My father would have been also a medical doctor here in the States had he known that he got accepted to a US hospital internship/residency training back in the late 1950s. How he ended up in Dangcagan, Bukidnon, Philippines is a long, complicated story but I’ll make it short and simple for Facebook.
I wanted to post something about my father in September to honor him on his 34th death anniversary. But writer friend Mario Cuezon prodded me to write about him after he read my recent memorial write-up for my mom. So here I am again touch typing my recollection of my father as well as my reflection on his 58 years of a life well lived.
Cenon Nunez Tiongson, M.D. earned his doctor of medicine in the mid-1950s from the University of Santo Tomas, the first and oldest medical school in the Philippines. He was born and raised in Laur, Nueva Ecija. While in Manila, with two more years to go before finishing medical school, he married my mother, a beauty from Pangasinan, who was then in her junior year of dentistry. After he had got his medical license, he served for eight years as municipal health officer (MHO)– the official designation for local state physician–of Catarman, Camiguin.
Here his family grew from two kids to seven then dwindled back to six when two-year-old daughter Judith (youngest baby in the picture) died from trauma. She got pressed between the garage wall and my dad’s parked car that backed up when a household help carelessly toyed with the transmission stick. Her last words were: “tubig uhaw” as she fast was losing blood internally.
This tragic accident could probably be the reason they packed their bags and left the island.
From 1963 until his death in 1981, he worked as MHO doctor of Dangcagan, Bukidnon where I and my youngest sister were born. Even if the town got electrified only in 1980, we had it so good in Dangcagan or so I thought.
We got our protein and endless eggs from our animal farm that was at our disposal 365 days a year. My father tended a vegetable garden that produced more than we could consume that I had to sell some produce myself around town. Entertainment was mainly non-English weeklies (comic and non-comic) and occasional English periodicals that can be rented from stores on per day basis.
When I started my hospital residency training in New York City, that’s when I realized that, oh boy, Dangcagan is light years culturally behind Manhattan where I lived for five years. It’s not so much about the high-rises, cars, foods and other material things. Rather it’s access to good literature, stunning visual arts, and spectacular live stage shows that I missed while growing up.
How I wish Tatay knew he got accepted to a medical residency here in the States, which believe me, was not and is still not easy to come by. He would have taken the job offer in a heartbeat. He would not have to endure the hardships of being a rural doctor where he sometimes had to ride a horse to get to a sick patient. He read and did minor surgery under a flickering gas lamp. He was on call 24/7 almost all year round. Even in the dead of night, he and us the kids would be woken by patients coming to our house for treatment.
Let’s cut to the chase, one day during my first year of residency training, Nanay (my mom) confessed, “you know what, you wouldn’t have been born if I did not burn your Tatay’s acceptance letter.”
The letter was a job offer for an internship/residency position in a US hospital that my dad never got to read. When that letter was received by my mom, they only had four children, and she said if they moved to the States having nine children would be next to impossible. I’m their eighth child. My mom was the jealous type. She was also scared to death that if my dad came to the States as a doctor a year or two ahead of her and the kids, he would get snatched from her by some blonde bombshell. I could see where she was coming from, and I am not even half as good looking as my Dad.