Pursuing the American Dream
Whenever I think of grit, determination, and more importantly giving, I think of my father, Teofilo Macalintal.
My father grew up in the municipality of Alitagag in the province of Batangas in the Philippines. The family didn’t have much growing up and being one of 12 children, there was even less to go around. He found himself running around with gangs in his younger days and had the fading tattoos on his hands to show for it. He could have easily stayed on this path, but he wanted more; so he changed his ways, stayed away from the wrong crowds, started focusing on school and became the first of his siblings to graduate college. At this point, he had two choices: stay in the Philippines and pursue a career in a country that had always been home, or leave the country, his family and his friends, and venture into the unknown of the United States in pursuit of the “American Dream”.
He packed his things and left everything he knew to travel to the United States to try and make a better life for himself and his family. He arrived with little in his pocket, English as a second language and his heart full of hope. Finding any type of work was tough; interview after interview after interview and still no luck. He persevered though, and he use to tell a story of how he came back to his apartment one day after an interview with a smile on his face. His friends saw that smile and asked, “So, you got the job?” He responded, “No, but they told me I was overqualified!” That was better than a simple no and he went right back on the hunt. Eventually, after many more interviews, he found a job and was able to start earning some money. Some was spent on himself, some was saved, but a lot was also sent back to the Philippines to help provide for his family and help pay for his siblings’ college education. The hard work he put in was not just for himself, but to provide more for his family.
A marriage and three children later, my dad saved enough to open up a Filipino food mart and restaurant in Edison, NJ. Every day, he would wake up early and commute into Manhattan for his day job as a blood technician, then once 5 pm hit, he would commute back to the Metropark station. From there, he would go straight to the store and work there until close at 9 pm, proceed to clean up the books until 1 am after returning home, and then would sleep for a mere few hours to start the cycle all over again. Throughout all of this, he continued to send money back to the Philippines to not only help provide support to just his siblings, but also their families and extended family.
The store was a big part of our lives growing up and I was bagging groceries when I was 6, manning the cash register at 12 (I may have been the only middle school kid that knew the market rate of eggplants) and reconciling cash at 16. As I got older, I started accompanying my dad on his pick-ups of product during the weekends. We’d start at 5 am and work our way through the fish market in the Bronx, travel to Chinatown, make some stops in Manhattan and Jersey City, then find ourselves back in the store around noon. From there, we would unload the inventory and then jump right back into the rest of the store day. During this time, I had a first-hand look at how my dad carried himself and how he treated people. Even during the course of the busy day, he was always patient and made the time to listen to everyone that came through the doors, even giving advice to customers on personal issues; he was a friend to all and always tried to do the right thing when dealing with others, both personally and in business.
One of the pieces of advice that my father gave me that still resonates to this very day, is “to always help others, until the point that it does harm to yourself.” Hearing my father’s past and witnessing his actions throughout my youth, I was able to see that advice in action. My father taught me the value of hard work, resilience and doing right by people, and I hope to be able to teach my daughters the same.
Arnold Macalintal is a Partner in the Food & Beverage Industry Group at Wiss & Company with over 15 years of experience in public accounting. If you would like to speak with Arnold, you may reach him at 973.994.9400 or at email@example.com.