From Cavite to Calgary: A Comandante Story

    by Jason Comandante

 

My name is Jason Comandante. I am 37 years old, a husband, and a father of two. I am a Vice President at a publicly traded and independent power producer, Capital Power. I hold a bachelor’s degree in commerce and master’s degree in business administration from the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary. I have been a competitive fitness athlete, I read 30 books a year, I volunteer as a financial literacy teacher to young students, and I also love watching TV series with my wife. I’m pretty lucky.

Filipino Canadian Magazine asked me to tell my story in hopes of entertaining and inspiring those with Filipino backgrounds like me. Despite the good fortune that has afforded me with a wonderful life, my story would not be complete, interesting, or motivational without starting one branch back in the family tree. I was born and raised in Calgary, Canada, but this story started in the Philippines through my father, Danilo Comandante. It was his journey and drive to provide for my family that set the stage for me.

My father’s story started in Cavite, a relatively small city south of Manila and with just over 100,000 residents. He was the oldest son among Julian and Juliana’s five children. While being the “kuya” always carries fatherly responsibilities, in 1966, when my father was just 14 years old, he was thrust into leadership. My grandfather ventured to Canada both in search of a new place to call home and an environment to provide his family with greater opportunity. This left my dad firmly as head of the household, an early training for raising a family.

From the ages of 14 to 16, my father went to school, raised a family, and prepared for a journey to a foreign land. Thinking back to when I was at that age, I can’t imagine the weight of duty my father must have felt. I think it was this experience that allowed him to deal with pressure and stressful situations throughout the rest of his life. My upbring was much different: humbled by Canadian standards but privileged in comparison to his.

I really struggled in my early years. My grades were subpar, my behavior landed me in the principle’s office all too regularly, and aside from video games, I didn’t gravitate too much towards anything. I even failed to pick up music despite years of lessons. My father used to be an accomplished musician. His parenting wasn’t quite what you’d call old-country authoritarian. He was firm but fair with me, but when I did wrong, I heard about it. My younger sister, on the other hand, excelled. While we had a happy childhood, being only two years apart, we were also competitive. I developed a jealousy that did nothing positive for me. Then something changed.

At Braeside Elementary School there was only one teacher everyone dreaded, Mrs. Schwarz. She had a reputation for being hard on students. She taught in fifth grade, and wouldn’t you know it, the kid who needed a tough teacher got one. I was really upset as I pleaded with my parents to have me transferred into a different class. I knew they considered it. Ultimately, my father decided it was time for me to learn my lesson, one of the first I’ll always remember and one of the most pivotal in my life. My father, with a heavy heart, told me there would be no changes. I would play the hand I was dealt. I would be in Mrs. Schwarz’s grade-five class.

Mrs. Schwarz was strict and she turned me right around. Everything got better fast. In seventh grade, at John Ware Junior High School, I picked up basketball, like all Filipinos do. In eighth grade, I belonged to the top of my class and joined school teams in multiple sports. By ninth grade, I was awarded both student and athlete of the year and was set up well for high school. At Henry Wisewood High School, I breezed through academics, made it to the basketball and volleyball teams, and developed relationships with friends that have lasted through to today. Life was good.

Going back to my father’s story, in 1969, he and the rest of the Comandante family landed in Calgary. While enrolled at St. Mary’s High School, he also took summer jobs at a mattress factory and at CP Rail. As a young boy, he was encouraged by his church mates to explore his natural talent for music, specifically singing and playing the guitar. In Calgary, this led him to play in a band. You may know him as a member of Cream and Sugar. During the seventies playing in a band was really cool, but getting paid in gigs was even better. My father’s knack for translating his passion into a paycheck stuck in me. For years they played as a regular house band at Barrio Fiesta. To this day I still find my father in his music room sometimes trying out new songs on his guitar whether for fun or to practice for an upcoming gig.

 

By 1970, the influences of Canada had begun to take hold on my father. He changed his name from Danilo to Danny. He grew out his hair, he perfected his English, and he had a thick jacket in the closet. Being from a westernized part of the Philippines, the transition wasn’t too tough for him aside from dealing with winter and having to do without some of his favorite Filipino dishes. All of these changes were minor in comparison to what came next.

It was love at first sight, literally. My mom, Darcy, was an artsy blue-eyed blonde from a good family who loved music. Almost immediately after meeting his now-wife of 41 years, my dad was smitten by my mom and proposed to her within days. They set out to build their life and family together. They grew very close, very fast. Both joined the family business, Copy Inn Ltd., affectionately referred to as The Shop. They spent almost every waking and sleeping hour together. This resulted in a strong bond that served them well as they embarked on the next stage of their lives together, boarding the baby train.

Life was in full swing. While my mom tended to me and my sister, my dad took to work, building both the Copy Inn Ltd. business and creating more space for our growing family. I remember very well the countless hours my father, his brothers, and my grandfather worked to build a deck, detached garage, and basement on our Braeside home. I wish I picked up more from my father in this respect as he was always willing to teach others. Whenever I am able to do something handy, I’m quick to call my dad and share my accomplishment with him.

The years enjoyably rolled by. It was busy but pretty smooth-sailing, with kids in school and sports, family dinners, summer vacations, and an extra job here and there. It was the Canadian dream. One last challenge for my father on the path to offering me and my sister all the opportunities he didn’t have still existed: university tuition. One university education is expensive, two can be financially crippling, yet both my sister and I got a shot at earning degrees from the University of Calgary, barely needing to work along the way. In hindsight, the signs were there that my parents really stretched themselves financially to make this happen, but at that time we barely noticed their struggle.

While the freeride to ensure success at school was important, I’m just as thankful for the way my parents went about providing it. Savings were cashed in, creditor calls were answered, and multiple jobs were taken. My parents made it seem effortless and they never succumbed to stress.

Both my sister and I graduated with bachelor degrees. A picture proudly displayed in the Comandante household is one with my sister in a graduation gown and mortarboard holding her degree and flanked by our beaming parents. The journey ended, and my mom and dad completed a mission they may not have even known they had taken on. It was bittersweet. My parents became empty nesters.

My sister moved to Vancouver to work for Shaw, where she met her husband. I moved out with my own blue-eyed blonde who later became my wife. In a way, Jenna is everything I’m not: a contagious extrovert with a slow-to-boil temper and wit for days. This is a story about my father and I, but Jenna’s impact on the success I’ve enjoyed, like my mother’s impact on my father, cannot be overstated.

Upon graduation, I started my career at EPCOR (which later spun out Capital Power). I’ve met great coaches and mentors along the way who’ve taught me many things such as the importance of strong communication, the benefits of working efficiently and effectively, and the value of loyalty. I’ve been with the same company for over 15 years and I hope to continue working here for the rest of my career. I’m thankful to be on the side of the minority. A quick Google search on the subject of job changes shows that Canadians have an average of 15 job changes over their work lives. Remember The Shop? My parents finally closed it earlier this year.

Mom and Dad are now all but retired. My father still runs tours and mans Gasoline Alley at Heritage Park, but his performing days are behind him, I think. These days you can find them tending to their garden, tinkering in the garage, trying out new recipes, or awaiting a visit. Growing a family is now a spectator sport my mom and dad reminisce about playing and now are proudly watching from the sidelines.

I can’t express enough my gratitude for this opportunity to submit my profile. I encourage you to do something similar. Writing it provided me with an extraordinary chance to reflect on relationships and life. It also reminded me of how lucky I have been and still am, and to thank my mother, father, wife, and family. I hope this story about how a boy from Cavite was able to build a springboard for a man in Calgary inspired you and warmed your heart as it did mine.

 


 

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