I originally planned to write a book about great marriages entitled Silver On To Forever and give it as a gift to my husband Marvin on our silver wedding anniversary. Unfortunately, I also suffered from that Behavioral Economics principle called Action-Goals Gap! I didn’t finish the book, but it’s still there in my bucket of book projects. (Sigh!) So many books to write so little time. By the way, that title ended up as our event hashtag.
Today I wish to share with you the love story of one of the great marriages to be featured in that book. I had the privilege to interview one of the greatest (if not the greatest) speakers in our country, Francis Kong and his wife Lilia, whom he calls the Ilocana.
Francis and Lilia Kong with the author.
The Bulakbol Beginnings
Scene: UNO High School School Year 1970-1971
At the start of the school year, Francis joins a second year high school class… for the second time around as he already did this last year. His batchmates are now in their junior year but that’s okay for this school year was going to be the year he will meet his forever.
Lilia is in this sophomore class, an Ilocana Chinita who catches the fancy of Francis.
Let’s hear how Francis narrates the story, “At first I was looking at her test paper, then I was looking at her. Wow this girl has a beautiful set of unusual blue eyes! Then I discovered it was her eyeglasses! Naisahan ako ah. I courted her maybe in third year high school. It was a blessing because her house was just a few blocks away.”
When I asked Lilia if she was turned off because Francis was a repeater, she said, “Not really turned off. I was only 14 years old then. I really didn’t have any intention of having a relationship with him.”
It was in third year high school when they started their relationship, but was kept a secret from Lilia’s parents.
Guess what made Lilia fall in love with Francis? Let’s hear it from her, “His love letters, love poems. He was very good at this. That’s when I saw the genius in him.”
In fact, so good that Francis became known for this skill that his friends sought his help to write to their respective love interests. He would assess the status of the boy and came up with “love prescriptions” like a Doctor Love. His “payment” from his “patients” came in the form of favors such as completing homework, research papers and other school assignments.
In 1973 Lilia graduated from high school but Francis “loved” school so much he stayed another year finishing only in 1974.
Transforming in College
Their relationship was kept a secret because it was not easy to defend your repeater-boyfriend to your parents and other relatives all the time. While Lilia’s relatives would ask her why, Francis’ parents would warn her that she might leave him for another more responsible man.
While Lilia studied Accountancy at the University of Santo Tomas, Francis went to San Sebastian College to take up Commerce major in Management.
This is where the transformation happened to Francis. From the bulakbol finishing high school in six long years, he decided to work hard in college. He said, “Looking back I realize I had ADHD. I’m just so glad that they had not yet labelled that yet during my time; otherwise I would have been drugged like what most of the kids are subjected to today. Being forced to to sit down listening to a boring teacher with monotone voice was torture to me. So I would do things to amuse myself then I would get caught and asked to stay in the corner. This happened all the time that they decided to name the corner after me, hahaha! ‘Stay in the Francis corner!’”
He went on with his story, “I realized that I think best on my feet! I also found that unlike in high school where I was micromanaged, I was given autonomy in college to do the things I wanted to to. The right-brain me was delighted to exercise my creativity.”
Francis did so well in college that he graduated not just on top of his class but the entire school. He was the valedictorian and Director’s Awardee. Unfortunately, no valedictory speech was given, “Those were the ’70s, binobomba ang mga eskwelahan noon, and I was the managing editor of our school paper, maybe the school authorities were concerned if I would say something naughty.”
Diving into Marriage
Nine years as a couple with both of them already working – Francis at a garments store and Lilia at a canning corporation – it was the father of Lilia who popped the question. He put his arm on Francis’ shoulders and said, “Ano bang balak mo sa anak ko?”
It was like the most natural thing to do and they later realized another lesson.
And so on September 14, 1980 Francis and Lilia tied the knot.
The Early Challenges of Marriage
As a condition, the newly weds lived in an apartment close to Francis’ parents, but this proved to be costly to them as a big part of their salaries were going to rent. When first born Bryan was born, he instantly became the favorite of Lola (Francis’ mom) who would “kidnap” him during the day while the parents were both out working. Typical of mother-daughter-in-law relationships, especially those who constantly see each other, there were some tensions with regard to raising the child, and this is the lesson Francis warns couples out there.
The yaya started telling stories of how weak Lilia was as a mother that caused tension among them but Francis followed up Lesson 3 with another one.
To resolve the above problem plus help the young couple save on some household expenses, they moved in with the parents of Lilia. Francis said, “I had to swallow my pride, kahit nakakahiya, we had to be practical and stayed with them until we were able to comfortably afford rent. But we were okay here, no tension.”
I always notice that it’s easier for a husband to live with his in-laws than the other way around. It’s primarily because running a home is the turf of the wife and I believe that there can only be one queen, a tricky situation when you have the wife and the mother-in-law living under one roof!
On having your own home
Francis and Lilia never really thought of buying their own house because they found renting more practical. During Francis stint at Company B, a firm he co-owned, his partner constructed a building for their company and the penthouse was offered to them for their living quarters – an 800 square meter property (300 square meters house and 500 square meters terrace) for only a monthly rent of…P9,000! And he just went down to go to work. So what incentive could they have to buy their own and tie their money to a house?
They never built their own house but would purchase real estate properties for investment.
But when Francis left Company B, the family had to leave the penthouse, and they went back to the house of Lilia’s parents. At that time, Lilia’s parents were already residing in the US but her brother and his family were staying there so the house was shared by two families.
Even if Francis and Lilia were okay “not having” their own house, they found out that their children were not okay with it. One day their kids Bryan, Hannah and Rachel asked, “When are we going to have our own house?”
Francis had to process it and realized this next lesson.
When Lilia’s parents learned that they were planning to have their own house and because the house would be left unoccupied if they leave (her brother and family had already left by then), they gave the Kongs an offer, “Why don’t you just buy the house?”
The Kongs did. And the kids were so excited, actively participating in the remodeling of their very own house!
All three children are also characterized by their parents as creative. When asked about the greatest challenge in parenting them, Francis answered, “It’s the fact that they belong to another generation and we think differently, and I’m already teaching generational differences, okay? The biggest challenge is that they find my jokes corny!”
In observing his own kids and those of others, here’s his next lesson.
And because of this, he has learned to communicate with his children the way their generation does. Years ago, I’ve picked this up from a Francis Kong talk at Xavier School. Kids don’t like long explanations and reminders, so it’s best to come up with what I call “Twitter Verses for our Kids.” (maybe one of these days I’ll compile all these. For the meantime, let me share two funny but compelling ones I gathered from Francis.
The Kong couple believes in the efficiency of pooling their assets. Theirs is a simple money arrangement. Francis makes it, Lilia manages it! He said, “I’m so thankful to have Lilia. I can be gastador sometimes because I also like the finer things in life. And she’s my control. I tell you, you will never go wrong with an Ilocana!” To that I think my husband will say, “Amen.”
Francis believes in continuously honing his craft and is always on the lookout on how to further improve his skills, as if his over 300 talks a year are not yet enough. He always goes out on training and searches for new opportunities that are aligned with his core competencies. This is what he calls asset-building.
When I asked them how they see themselves x number of years from now, they had interesting answers. Lilia simply said, “Cruising!” while Francis had a poetic answer, “Pagdating ng araw, maputi na ang mga buhok namin, magkasama pa rin kami, magkahawak-kamay sa isang sulok na madilim, nakatingin sa isa’t-isa at parehong nagtataka, ‘Sino kaya itong taong ito?’”
But kidding aside, they look forward to more happy years to add to their almost 37 years of marriage. One daughter is getting married soon and they’re excited about it. Their marriage has run smoothly because they have put God at the center of their relationship. Each one has played one’s role in the family guided by this principle.
They have used God as their anchor in their relationship and they want everybody to know that with Him, marriage works! Francis said, “In times of crises, just use God as your “filter.” When you are faced with temptations, turn to Him and imagine what He would tell you right at that moment. Even in the way you would scold your children when they disappoint you, use God as your “filter” and most of the time you’ll realize that your anger is not so much for your child’s sake but because of your ego. What will other people say?”
I echo their belief that a good marriage is the foundation of a good family, and a good society, and consequently, a great country. So here’s the last lesson from Francis.
He just had to add that in the Francis Kong fashion – always spicing up lessons with humor.
And because we started discussing matters about the church, we also discussed the RH Bill, homosexuality and other interesting topics, but I guess these belong to another article.
I hope you learned a thing or two while being entertained by the love story of Francis and Lilia Kong. Cheers to #MayForever!
- Join us tomorrow on FQ-wentuhan with Francis Kong at noon. This will not be the same as our above It will be my short ambush interview with him last week when we were both speakers at the Puregold Convention at the World Trade Center.
2. Want to know your FQ Score. Take it today. Click link to take the test.
Rose Fres Fausto is a speaker and author of bestselling books Raising Pinoy Boys and The Retelling of The Richest Man in Babylon (English and Filipino versions). Click this link to read samples – Books of FQ Mom Rose Fres Fausto. She is a Behavioral Economist, Certified Gallup Strengths Coach and the grand prize winner of the first Sinag Financial Literacy Digital Journalism Awards. Follow her on Facebook and You Tube as FQ Mom, and Twitter & Instagram as theFQMom.
ATTRIBUTIONS: Images from Clipartbest, clker, Francis Kong FB Page, http-//7-themes.com, My Cute Graphics, Pinterest, Pixabay, Story Time-blogger, Stupigity, ToonHood, TRC Tooniv…evianArt, Wallpaper Cave and Wikipedia put together to help deliver the message.
Stories gathered during the interview with Francis and Lilia Kong at the Rockwell Club in December 2011.