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Bayoc family thankful as '365 Days with Dad' winds down

Birago, 7, Ajani, 9, and Jumi,12, sit on the couch with parent Cbabi and Reine Bayoc behind them.
Nancy Fowler | file photo

This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Beacon - Every day, St. Louis artist Cbabi Bayoc spends eight hours painting fathers and 24 hours being one.

He and his wife Reine Bayoc have three children: Jurni, 12, Ajani, 9, and Birago, 7. As Thanksgiving draws near, the family is thankful for each other and for many aspects of the “365 Days with Dad” project.

Bayoc announced last December his intention to paint one father image every day in 2012 to sell at greatly reduced prices. At the time, sales were slow and he thought “365 Days” would make it possible to earn a living making art while promoting positive views of African-American fathers.

“If I'm willing to give eight to nine hours a day to a job, I can give eight to nine hours to an image that will do a lot more good than clocking in and out on a time clock will,” Bayoc told the Beacon at the project’s onset.

Though he’s running behind -- he’s only on Day 229 -- there’s at least some steady money coming in. Plus, he gets to work at home a lot.

Painting gets wrapped around his regular duties of child care, grocery shopping for Reine’s SweetArt bakery and delivering freshly iced cupcakes to wedding receptions. From the children’s perspective, this year hasn’t been that different from any other.

“I thought he was going to be busier and he wasn’t,” Jurni said. “He still has time for us to do fun things.”

Pepper, puppets and pizza

A cat named Pepper exemplified the warmth of the Bayoc household. Seconds after I sat on the comfy living room couch, Pepper snuggled up close, purring quietly all during  the conversation.

Willowy Jurni exhibited typical “tween”-age contradictions: shy yet talkative, composed but with an occasional bout of squirminess, as she kept an eye on her brothers, a tangle of shared grins, sharp elbows and khaki pants on a single chair.

“Me and Birago are puppeteers,” Ajani sat up and announced before running upstairs and back down clutching some of their "Star Wars" characters.

“This one’s an origami Darth Vader, this is an origami Obi Wan Kenobi, this one’s Yoda,” Ajani said.

Did he make them? “Yes -- out of the simple instructions,” Ajani deadpanned.

Other projects require a parent’s help. Even when Bayoc’s painting, he’s often available for cooking and playing.

“We bake stuff, like pizza,” Birago said.

“My mom makes the dough for it. My dad helps us with the sauce and the pepperoni and the cheese,” Ajani added. “And he helps me with my homework.”

“He plays Legos with the boys sometimes,” Jurni said. “And we go to the library and the park.”

Holding hands in the park

Bayoc’s family knows things about him that others might not. No skeletons here, just the stuff you understand from living with someone every day.

Birago went first: “People don’t know that he looked just like me when he was a kid,” he said.

“That he watches a lot of documentaries, like the one about the guy who made Elmo,” Ajani chimed in.

Being dad has been key to Cbabi Bayoc as he has worked through his 365 Days with Dad project.

“That he hates small talk,” Reine Bayoc said. “Going to a party and having to make small talk is about the worst thing in the world.”

But talking about “365 Days” is something he never tires of, she said. The year-long project is a triumph in ways that transcend financial success, according to Reine Bayoc.

“I think he’s so incredible for picking something that’s important to him and making it something that provides for his family,” Reine Bayoc said. “You’re at your best when you doing exactly what you want to do.”

Like her daughter, Reine Bayoc is thankful that the project leaves him time to be an involved parent. And a devoted husband.

“What I like to do with Cbabi is walk through the park when the children are at school,” Reine Bayoc said. “It’s quiet and we can hold hands and act like we’re child-free and work-free for the moment.”

As our visit neared its end, Reine Bayoc called her husband, by his full name, into the living room for pictures: “Cbabi Bayoc, can you come here please?”

And from the kitchen, in an amused tone tinged with love, Bayoc obliged: “Yes, ma’am, I’ll be right there.”

Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.