Iron Women, the Series

By: Anjji Gabriel

“Women, how divine your mission here upon our natal sod;

Keep, O keep the young heart open always to the breath of God!

All true trophies of the ages are from mother love impearled;

For the hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.”

                        The Hand That Rocks the Cradle  by William Ross Wallace

Esther, painting by John Everett Millais

“Not all superheroes wear capes.  What does your superhero wear?” This was the question to me when I volunteered for the Table Topic session in our Toastmaster’s club meeting last Wednesday.  A Table Topic talk is an impromptu speech to be delivered within a very short time of 2 minutes.

Here was my response, edited a bit for this article:

“Not all superheroes wear capes.  Iron Man doesn’t wear a cape.  What does my superhero wear?   My superheroes don’t wear capes either. My mother is my superhero!

I also wonder why there was an Iron Man but there was no Iron Woman.  I think it should even be more appropriate to have Iron Women series!”

This was my opening remark for the two-minute impromptu speech.  I thought that I managed to put together a good argument in 1 minute and 55 seconds. 

I got a good evaluation for my talk.  The evaluator suggested though that I should have given an example why I mentioned my mother to be my superhero and one of the Iron Women to make it a much better speech.

I agreed with the speech evaluator.  Given a two-minute limit, I was unable to give more support to my argument. 

So I thought about writing this article instead.  No time limit this time.  Brace yourself for a long read!

If Avengers had an Iron Man in Tony Stark as one of its superheroes, why can’t there be an Iron Woman for a superhero?  I think that in fact and in truth, there should not only be an Iron Woman for a superhero, there should be a series of Iron Women superheroes.  I would like to start this Iron Women series now.

Let us visit the ancient Scriptures and consider the rags to riches story of a Jewish woman named Esther from Susa.  She was an orphan girl cared for by her uncle Mordecai who also became her stepfather. He encouraged her to join a beauty contest held by King Xerxes of Persia.  The king was in search for a replacement for his incumbent but disobedient queen Vashti. 

Esther obeyed her stepfather.  She was simply beautiful and had an obedient heart. She captured the pagan king’s heart.  She was the runaway winner and chosen to become the queen on that fateful night.  She was allowed to live in the king’s palace.

Her uncle Mordecai continued to visit Esther spending time with her at the courtyard of the palace.  In one of his visits he learned of an assassination plot against the king.  He relayed this message to Esther.  She immediately reported it to the king and credited it to Mordecai.  The king’s life was spared but forgot to reward Mordecai’s effort that saved him.

Meanwhile there was an ambitious and self-centered Haman.  The king promoted him second in command.  Haman wanted everyone to bow down to him as the king’s second in command.  Mordecai despised him so much.  He would not allow himself to bow down to this vile and egotistical person.  Haman hated Mordecai so much that he concocted an evil plot to kill all the Jews.  He managed to convince the king that the Jews are a threat to the king.  The king issued a decree to exterminate all the Jews.  Think of Haman like that of a Hitler in our current era that perpetrated the Holocaust that eliminated many million Jews.

When the king passed the law and Mordecai learned about it he grieved, mourned, wept and wailed.  Esther learned of what happened to Mordecai and she invited him to the palace.  Mordecai refused.  Esther sent an emissary to whom Mordecai told the story of the evil plot to eliminate the Jews that was instigated by Haman.  Through the emissary he sent Esther his plea for her to do something to save her people. Initially, she was afraid because the king did not know that she herself was a Jew.   Mordecai had advised her not to do so when she agreed to join the beauty contest that she eventually won.  Besides, nobody including the queen or anyone among his concubines was allowed to approach him unless she was invited.  Anyone who does this risks death if the king did not extend his scepter to her.

When Mordecai learned from the emissary Esther’s response, he sent her this urgent prayer and request:

“Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish.  And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”

And Esther’s response to Mordecai, this time operating from courage and from her fear that has turned into faith, was:

“Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me.  Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day.  I and my attendants will fast as you do.  When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”

These exchanges between Esther and Mordecai were the highlights of this great story that has been immortalized in not a few movie versions such as, “One Night with a King”, “For Such a Time”, and “Esther”.   If you have read the book of Esther or watched any of its movie versions you know the rest of the story.  It is one story of a woman of beauty and courage who should qualify as one of the Iron Women.

We will now move fast forward to the 20th and 21st centuries.  There is another woman of courage and character whom I have known for 87 years that I will never forget.  Hers is both a life of many defining moments of choice and one true “rags to riches story” too.

Nanay Elay

Sixty-five years ago she was in a lying inn maternity clinic in Sta Cruz, Manila about to give birth.  She was a dressmaker and her husband was jobless that time.  The birth certificate of the baby boy bore these pieces of information about their parents. This was not a trivial fact about her life story because after giving birth to that boy, she bore six other children from her beloved husband.  How she supported her husband in raising up all seven children, providing for them not only food on the table everyday but also a decent education so they can all get a degree, get a job, and raise a family of their own required all the dedication, courage and commitment, not unlike that of a superhero or an Iron Woman.

Let me tell you more about her.  Her name, Agripina, was adopted from its Greek origin, Agrippina, which means, “born feet first”.  The meaning of her name did not mean much but to me it meant a lot. Why?  Because it is the name of the woman who gave me birth.  She was my mother!

She demonstrated and lived out the meaning of God’s love for His children in what the prophet Isaiah poetically described in the following verses:

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!”   (Isaiah 49: 15)

My mother loved us so much that she was willing to do anything just to make sure that we have food on the table.  I remember how I would wait for her at the bus station every Saturday night when she would come back from her visit to Manila.  She sold on installment basis some leather goods like shoes and slippers made in Marikina.  She did this to earn some money and to augment the family income.  She had a sister in Manila who married a Chinese entrepreneur who employed a number of her brothers and cousins from the province as furniture makers.  They became my mother’s loyal customers and supporters too.

She ventured into the catering business too.  She operated a small but thriving eatery inside the town market.  We had a number of helpers who lived with us who served as her assistants in that eatery.  I remembered how every early afternoon she would come home with all the ingredients for the meals she would prepare and cook for the next day’s sales.   She would get up early morning and together with her able assistants they would open the eatery to start serving the market vendors and even some of their customers too.  I would sometime join her during those early morning trips.  I didn’t know until this time where she would get that kind of energy everyday.  But after some time she also gave up that catering business.  I didn’t know why and I need not know the reason why.  All I need to know is to understand why she was doing anything and everything that she was able to venture on to earn some money.  She made sure that her family has food on the table everyday and that all of her children would go to school and soon finish their studies.  Isn’t that what a mother’s love is about?  I recall how one preacher described a mother’s love as the closest demonstration of God’s love for us.  I would say amen to that! 

My beloved mother, I fondly call “Nanay”, moved to the other side of heaven on April 19, 2020 at a very ripe age of 87.  She was one inspiration for my starting this Iron Women series stories.

But I do not want to end this series yet. I am saving the best for last.

Mommy Lyn

At a very young age of 24 she wanted to honor her parents as she prepares to get wed on June 2, 1984.  She might have thought to herself, “This is it.  There is no turning back.  I will say “Yes” to a man whom I only know by name and became friend with in less than five years.  I will prepare for this and start by appreciating how our parents raised me, together with my 10 siblings, to become who I am today.”

As she was thinking about the contents of the wedding invitation, she came across this Erma Bombeck quote:

“I see children as kites, you spend a lifetime getting them off the ground.  You run until you are both breathless, they crash, they hit the rooftop, you patch and comfort, teach and adjust.  Finally they are airborne.  You watch them lifted by the wind.  The kite becomes more distant.  It needs more string and you keep letting out.  But with each twist of the ball of twine, there is sadness that goes with joy.  For you know, it won’t be long before that beautiful creature will snap the lifeline that binds you together and soar as it is meant to soar, free and alone.  Only then do you know that you did your job.”

She discussed with me her idea to put this quote on our wedding invitation.  I readily agreed with her and really thought that it was a brilliant idea. It expressed our gratitude for our parents who loved and took care of us.  It also provided for us a clear vision of our role as future parents to our children.

From 1984 to 1997 we both worked long and hard to raise our family of six.  She worked for a number of multinational companies.  She was earning more than what I was getting in a public accounting firm where I started as an associate aspiring to become a partner.

We have four children that we wanted to raise well.  We provided for them and get them a decent education so they could be prepared to become independent, just like the “kite who would one day snap the lifeline that binds us together and soar as it is meant to soar, free and alone…”

Working and mothering was not easy for her.  She really wanted to tutor and guide our children in their studies.  The more she thought about this, the more she felt guilty in not spending more time to teach and guide our children.  Then she remembered a prayer and a promise she made to God.  “Lord, if my husband would earn enough income and provide for our family, I would quit my job and stay home to take care of my husband and our children instead.” 

From an associate in 1979, the partners of the firm where I was serving for almost 15 years decided to admit me to the partnership.  That was in 1995.  Becoming one of the partners of the firm allowed me to share in the profits and gave me a much bigger income that could support my family.

My wife who was a senior manager in a multinational company then was also earning a good salary but not as much as what I was getting as a partner of the firm. 

She discussed with me her desire to become a full time homemaker and the promise she made that God reminded her.  We projected the level of household expenses we would need to bring all our children to the university to get their degrees.  It was easy for us to do this because we were both CPAs.  What was not easy was for my wife to let go of a promising career and a high paying job.  But just like Esther of Susa, she found the courage and chose to become a full time homemaker from 1997 up until now.  She might have found inspiration too from her mother, another Iron Woman in my book, who raised her to become what she is now.

This Iron Woman and superhero is Lyn, my wife and a homemaker “par excellence”.  When she chose to become a homemaker in 1997, we have four school-aged children.  Thirteen years before she quit work in a multinational company, she was working, taking charge of the household, helping the children with school work and assisting her husband build a stable family of six.  This was a tough work for a young, petite, and confident woman who was in her thirties then. Whoever introduced the cliché, “life begins at 40” does not really know what he was saying.  This woman had her work cut out for her and living a life in a real world of work.  She faced all the challenges and struggles that go with raising a family even before she reached that proverbial age of 40.

She loved cooking and it is one of her best gifts too.  If there is such thing as jazz or improvisation in music, she applied innovation and ingenuity in her art of cooking. 

They say that the best way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.  My wife did better than this popular saying.  She not only had his way to a man’s heart but to a number of women’s heart too.  A lady friend in the office tasted her home-cooked pork adobo.  She was truly delighted that during her birthdays or Christmas time she would request my wife’s home-cooked pork adobo for her present.

This lady friend would always tease me, “Sir Anjji, I think Lyn (my wife) loves me more than you do.  She is now my best friend more than you are.”  And I would respond in jest, “All because she cooks for you the best pork adobo you have ever tasted?”  This kind of conversation would always be followed by a good and hearty laugh.

Because of her excellent cooking skills, I became popular in the office too.  I remember when I treated our staff and my partners on my birthday.  She prepared for them “pasta putanesca” and they loved it!    

One of the lady partners even asked for her recipe.  She readily shared it with her.  This lady partner is retired now and operates a thriving restaurant business.  I really doubt whether she was able to prepare her “pasta putanesca” the way my wife does it.  

She loves to bake too.  She would bake cookies for our staff in the office during Christmas season.  Those who tasted her baked cookies for the first time would always ask me, “Sir Anjji where did you buy these cookies?  They are really good!”  When they learned that my wife especially baked those cookies for them they would say, “Oh that is why it is so good and yummy!” I would proudly add, “That is because, my wife baked them especially for you, with love!”

My wife’s home-cooked adobo and her “pasta putanesca” are my children’s favorites and mine too, of course. They would always tell my wife that they hesitated to order adobo and “pasta putanesca” when they dine out because the food would pale in comparison to their mother’s adobo and pasta.

Even now that all our children have grown up, completed their education and have work of their own, she continues to be a doting mother to them and a loving wife to me.   During this more than year lock down period, she saw to it that as much as possible she would cook the food for us.  This minimizes the risk of our getting the virus from the take out foods.   My wife is more than a mother who really knows best, she is the best!

Many times she would cook for me “sinigang”.  It could either be pork, fish or chicken “sinigang”.  She knows that I love it.  She also knows that I love her too, more than the “sinigang” she especially cooks for me! 

Homemaking and excellent cooking skills have become her expertise and her craft.  

Recently, she got her “second wind” in putting to good use the managerial skills she learned when she worked for a number of multinational companies before becoming a full-time homemaker.  After more than 20 years of being a full time homemaker, she now mentors a manager and a young CPA.  She has helped a number of Christian NGOs improve their financial management system and continues to do so.

She is a homemaker and a consultant now, both roles she passionately enjoys.  She has found her voice as a homemaker/consultant and is now inspiring others to find theirs too.

My wife and my mother are two of the Iron Women I know.  They are both excellent homemakers. Theirs is the ultimate career described by C. S. Lewis in the following quote:

“The homemaker is the ultimate career.  All other careers exist for one purpose only – and that is to support the ultimate career.”

C.S. Lewis scholars argued that this quote rephrased what C.S. Lewis actually wrote to a certain Mrs. Johnson as follows:

“A housewife’s work…is surely, in reality, the most important work in the world…your job is the one for which all others exist.”

The rephrased version or the actual version points to one truth that I know for a fact.  The homemaker, the work that my mother and my wife did for many years, is the ultimate career.  It is the work of an artful leader, like any CEO in an organization, requiring one to build the business and the organization and inspire love in all the people he/she serves.

If Stan Lee created an Iron Man in Tony Starks of the Marvel Comics series, I know not one but two Iron Women that I have introduced to you in this series of stories.  One is my mother and the other is my wife.  They are not only Iron Women they are also Wonder Women. 

It is right to say that not all superheroes wear capes.  My mother and my wife wore no capes.  And yet, they are Iron Women and Wonder Women in real life.  They are my superheroes!

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