The Teachers Who Shaped His Life
Foreword by Kim Jacinto-Henares, Governor, Board of Investment
If Larry Henares is a master of the English language, of mathematics, of history, of culture and literature – a veritable Renaissance Man – it is because of his college years in the Ateneo de Manila College of Liberal Arts (1940-41) and the University of the Philippines College of Engineering (1944-45), where he came under the influence of great teachers who were to shape his life and destiny forever.
One of them was Father Guzman Rivas, his math professor, who taught him the mystery and wonder of mathematical logic, order and symmetry: “The derivative of y with respect to x, is the increment of y divided by the increment of x, as the increment of x approaches zero.” Larry was to see him again in the United States after the war on a visit to Boston from the Jesuit’s Maryland seminary, already a full fledged priest who took his confession on a Sunday morning after a hot Saturday date… “And then? And then what happened?” Father Guzman Rivas would breathlessly say after every salacious tidbit, and Larry knew that his favorite math professor was destined to jump over the wall. And he did, with an American nurse.
Another of his wonderful professors was Father Horatio de la Costa, his history professor. “Now I will tell you the chismis of the nation,” he would say, and then history became a grand adventure into the past and into the hearts of the people, of the nation and the world, a sweeping grandeur that encompassed what was and what might have been and what was to be. Father de la Costa was one great Atenean who could discourse in Latin, a summa cum laude with grades superior to that of Jose Rizal, but less impressive than that of Don Claro M. Recto who had perfect grades in every subject and was awarded a “maxima cum laude,” not only the highest, but the highest possible. Father de la Costa wrote his greatest masterpiece, a history of the Jesuits called “The Light Cavalry,” full of paradoxes in the style of Gilbert K. Chesterton. UP historians laughed at the intrusion of a capricious, whimsical and alien style into the august halls of history, and so he re-wrote it, too bad, taking the “master” out of the “piece.” Father de la Costa went on after the war to be honored as an eminent historian, the head of Jesuit order in the Philippines, and a street in the heart of Makati.
Then there was Father James Reuter on his first assignment as a scholastic, teaching English to a bunch of Ateneans destined to shape the nation. He is Larry Henares’ favorite professor, the one who introduced him to the English language that is full of truth, goodness and infinite beauty, including the writings of Arch Oboler and Norman Corwin of radio fame. A living legend even today, Father Reuter coached the Ateneo basketball team to the NCAA Championship and the Ateneo Glee Club to prominence, pioneered as a director in stage, radio and television dramas, and is today the spokesman of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference.
It was from him that Larry became enamored of William Shakespeare. In his class, as he read the immortal lines, fencing with imaginary swordsmen and embracing imaginary women, Shakespeare came alive for Larry and his classmates. Hamlet, Romeo & Juliet, Julius Caesar, Macbeth became instruments that searched men’s hearts and souls, baring the splendor and the meanness of the human spirit, the soaring heights it can ascend and the miry depths to which it can sink. Larry was to write of his debt to Father Reuter in his essay, “Oh to be a Child of God and of Father Reuter!”
Then there was the legendary Father Joseph Mulry, a great man of letters who would speak of literature as the common heritage of mankind, the epitome of his ability to communicate from the past to the future, as the only animal who can. In his hands, John Keats, Percy B. Shelley, William Wordsworth and other poets became alive, in mighty majestic cadences and lofty heights of fancy and imagination. Larry Henares could still recite from memory, Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind, his own ode to the spirit of Nationalism:
“Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;/ Destroyer and preserver, hear, Oh hear!/…. If I were a dead leaf thou mightest bear;/ If I were a swift cloud to fly with thee;/ A wave to pant beneath thy power, and share/ The impulse of thy strength, only less free/ Than thou, Oh uncontrollable!…/ Oh lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud, a cloud!/ I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!/… Be thou, spirit fierce,/ My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!/ Be through my lips to unawakened earth/ The trumpet of a prophesy! Oh wind,/ If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”
Father Mulry in a flight of fancy would tell the class his version of the rebellion of Lucifer against God and his angels, a battle of good and evil where there were a lot of neutral fence-sitters – who deserved neither the horrors of hell or the pleasures of heaven, and therefore were condemned for all time to wander the earth as fairies, leprechauns, goblins and other restless spirits.
It was in Mulry’s class when Larry almost got himself expelled. :Larry earned pin money by writing love letters and poetry to specifications for his classmates. His classmate JV Cruz hired him to write a poem for his girlfriend, Alma Fernandez. While he was doing it, another classmate, Juan C. Tan pointed him out to Father Mulry who sneaked up, grabbed his paper from behind, saying “Aha, another masterpiece from our poet laureate!” And read Larry’s poem thus:
Birds do it and sigh,
Cats do it and cry,
Dogs do it, and stick to it,
So why not you and I?
By God, thought Larry, I am going to get expelled from school for writing obscenity! Whereupon, Father Mulry grabbed him by the nape of the neck, and hissed, “Henares, you knucklehead! Birds do not sigh, they twit!” And Larry whimpered, “But Father, it does not rhyme with Cry!”
But what Henares remembered and appreciated most about Father Mulry was an insult hurled at him when he submitted an essay written with the aid of Roget’s Thesaurus, full of ten dollar words: “Henares!” thundered Father Mulry, “In promulgating your esoteric cogitations, or articulating your superficial sentimentalities, beware of platitudinous ponderosity. Eschew all conglomerations of flatulent garrulity, jejune babblement and asinine affectations. Avoid all polysyllabic profundity, setaceous vacuity and grandiloquent vapidity. In other words, avoid using big words.” The Father Mulry added gently, “For big words do not necessarily reflect grand thoughts. And it should the presumptuous ambition of all of us, to be said of us and it was once said of Winston Churchill: ‘By saying simply and plainly what we feel, he has enabled us to feel it still more strongly. And by the power of his words, he has driven us to the limits of our potentialities, and has given us a vision of our own best possibilities.’” No greater accolade was ever spoken of Winston Churchill who in England’s darkest and finest hour, under the glare of Hitler’s bombs, told his countrymen: “I have nothing to offer you but blood, sweat and tears… Let us to the task, to the toil, to the battle, each to his part, each to his station, let us go forward together in all parts of the land. There is not a week, nor a day, nor a moment to be lost. Come, let us begin!”
The war interrupted Larry’s studies in the Ateneo which was closed down by the Japanese military. Larry then enrolled to take up engineering along with another Ateneo classmate Jose “Neno” Abreu Jr., in the University of the Philippines, then confined to the Institute of Hygiene on Taft Avenue. That was the time of great rivalry between Ateneo and UP, and no Atenean, except GG Gonzalez who was the son of the UP President, could escape the wrath and contempt of the UP professors. Ateneo stalwarts like Raul Manglapus and Emmanuel Pelaez had to go elsewhere to take up Law. Henares on his first day in the class of Professor Hilario, brought his scrapbook of magazine articles to show the Professor, who remarked patronizingly, “You write well, Henares, for an Atenean.” And Larry answered, “May I see YOUR scrapbook, Professor?” Prof Hilario glared at him and said, “I see I will have trouble with you for the rest of the term, with your split infinitives, dangling participles and stream of consciousness. I propose you do not come to class anymore. But I will give you a passing grade.” Passing grade of 3? I deserve a perfect grade 1, said Larry and he got a 1.5 for absenting himself from class.
He tried to do the same for his mathematics class. There are trick problems in math, hard to solve because in the ordinary course of calculations, one comes up to a blank wall all the time; then an inspiration comes in the dead of night, and the solution becomes clear. Such a problem is hard to solve, but very easy to contrive. And this is what Larry Henares did. He asked the instructor Angel Baking, a handsome ladies’ man considered a math genius, to solve a trick problem, and watched him struggle with solution after solution, erasing the blackboard several times, till Larry Henares elbowed him out, saying: “I think this is the way to solve the problem, sir,” and proceeded to do so as the girls in the class gave him a standing ovation. Angel Baking got the finger, and he knew it. “After class, Henares,” he said curtly and afterwards, “Putang ina mo, sinadya mo yan, ha!” Henares apologized: “I am sorry sir, but I just wanted to make a point. I solved every problem in your textbook during the summer, try me. I propose you give me the privilege of not attending your class, and give me a perfect grade at the end of the term.” Angel Baking said, “Ten days absence and you flunk, no matter how good you are. Those are the rules. But considering your capacity for mischief, perhaps it is the better part of valor to let you off. Tell you what, show up for midterm and final exams, I will base your grades on the exam results, okay?” At the end of the semester Larry got a perfect grade 1.
But Larry would later admit that Instructor Angel Baking who taught Solid Geometry and Professor Ghokali, of Indian ancestry, who taught Chemistry were wonderful teachers in quite another way. Both of them told their class that no one among them is worth teaching except Neno Abreu and Larry Henares, so let everyone pay the tuition to pay their salaries, so they can teach those two Ateneans. Both teachers were two of the original founders of the Communist Party of the Philippines, and they spent hours indoctrinating Neno and Larry in the Dialectic Materialism of the Communist Ideology – a spiral of causation involving thesis, antithesis and synthesis. For a time they made Larry Henares a traitor to his class, his father being an exploiter of the masses as an industrialist manufacturing charcoal gas generators that allowed cars and truck to utilize charcoal as fuel instead of gasoline or alcohol.
In the United States after the war, at MIT, Larry Henares came in contact with the great minds of the technological world. Professor Norbert Wiener, whose daughter he dated, the pioneer in Cybernetics that laid the foundations of Computer Technology. Professor Harold Edgerton who developed the stroboscopic flash that gives off a brief and intense light at variable intervals — he demonstrated how he could make a rapidly revolving fan stand still, and how he could take a picture of a bullet puncturing a balloon – but he made millions with the use of his strobe light as a photo flash. Edwin Land who developed the Polaroid lens and “picture in a minute” camera — he hired Larry and his classmates to tidy up his factory building and offered to pay them in Polaroid stock, which Larry refused to accept — if he did, his $1,000 would have ballooned to P250,000. Natalie Kalmus, widow of the man who invented Technicolor, making color movies with three separate black and white films, each to be dyed with complementary colors. Eastman Kodak showing how they made color movies with one film with three layers separated by filters, they called a Monopack. Peter Black, the president of Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) who invented the Long Playing record. Lucky Larry.