“Colleague Columnists and Other Fools”

My apology for today’s nativity scene of my father, Federico Mangahas (9/6/1904-1/19/1979), is that it was the recent anniversary of his death—the day that churches traditionally mark as the feast day of a saint, the theory goes entry into heaven.

Fred Mangahas was a prolific essayist. Maybe: By the way, the satire of Federico Mangahas, ed. Ruby K. Mangahas, UP Press, 1998 has many of his columns from 1929-1941. In “That Creature Called a Columnist” (Philippines Free Press, 5/11/1932) he wrote:

“The columnist … observes because it’s not his fault. In a group of people you will always find someone who will notice things and then make appropriate remarks about them. When healthy and admired, his remarks can be haunting and perhaps kind. If he has poor digestion, his remarks are likely to be truthful and cruel. …

“A columnist is also a person. He must live to complete his intellectual endowment. He needs to do things, have connections, expose himself to the thoughts and life around him. He must eat, be sick like other people, and find every experience as interesting as his stargazing or the folly of his next-door neighbor.

“There are some elementary requirements of personal character. He should have courage. He has the courage to look at himself. He indulges in personal illusions to a minimum; and if he has some illusions, he knows they are illusions. Therefore, he knows when he is acting stupid or ignorant on a topic and is ready to say so accordingly. He looks at the world with just as much openness and doesn’t consider himself below his senator when realizing that certain things can be absurd, including his senator.

“He’s supposed to have honesty… I’ll say this: a lot of our heartache in that direction comes from our unwilling or unable to distinguish between irony and insincerity. The columnist is sincere, even in his insincerities. …

“He can also be accused of charity, kindness or, at worst, a generous measure of good manners. He should not be unnecessarily angry when the neighbors and enemies do not behave like angels. … When you are outraged, remember that you may also need love, tenderness, and understanding. …

“It is the columnist’s unique privilege to talk about everything, including nothing. The subjects of his speeches range from villains to kings, from deities to the peculiar juices of his digestion. Nothing is too trivial and nothing is too important. … After all, what he’s talking about, he’s only exposing and revealing himself, not the universe.

“The columnist is very personal. His column, like the well-known essay, is definitely an organ of personality. The interest of the column varies with the interestingness of the person writing it. But while personal, he is not a particular dealer of personalities like the average politician.

“He makes no claim to infallibility. His judgments, even where he is most certain, are tentative, tentative. He leaves them open for revision. Anyone can suggest changes.

“He is hospitable to all faiths, while keeping or accepting his own; he is tolerant of all people, including columnists and other fools; he is free to suspect that his neighbors might be right at times; he realizes that there is no such bad thing that will have its rational and even reliable defenders, and there is no such good institution that will have its honest critics.

“Although personal from his point of view, he achieves a sublime indifference to his personal destiny. He can sign his death warrant and praise the Lord for being relieved of the responsibility to live forever. Irresponsible in many ways, he stands accountable for his irresponsibility.

“His manner must necessarily follow the personal nature of his point of view. Nowhere is the style so much the man. Now it’s intimate, now it’s distant; sometimes sober, sometimes elaborate – just as the mood takes you. Its main concern, of course, is that it is interesting, readable and clear.

“Can a columnist be a good citizen? How should I know? Maybe in a way he can be and is. Let this be our illusion. A columnist cannot be questioned very strictly about his uses. Also, ask a flower to make a proper apology for its existence.

“What is the moral if he is the warning and the example? Nothing, except that life can be a most interesting adventure even for a columnist if he doesn’t take himself too seriously. He accepts whatever kindnesses come his way, whatever dreams of beauty, whatever visions of salvation, in a world that’s not just kindness, not beauty, not salvation.” Among other things, I have to thank my father for his competence touch-typing and proofreading, diligence in watering plants, and personal history for an upcoming column on child labor.


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