LOOKING back on all that?s happened in his life, Gabby Concepcion sometimes wishes he never came back from the United States the first time he left. Then perhaps he would never have known the world of Philippine show business, and instead gotten off to an earlier start on a quiet life spent in simplicity and anonymity in the US, pursuing his studies and eventually earning a living.
?When I left in 1981 for the US I should have just stayed there. But I came back in ?84,? recalls the still handsome matinee idol, who?s been back in the Philippines for a second time, and back in show business. At the moment, he?s preparing for a shoot on ABS-CBN?s daily soap ?Dahil May Isang Ikaw.?
Muses Gabby: ?There was a time in my life that I regretted entering show biz because I was never a public person. There were three things I wanted to do in life: become a dentist, a pilot, and a real estate agent. Yun lang ang gusto kong gawin [Those were all that I wanted to do].? But he adds quickly: ?But it?s a mixed feeling because I would not have had my beautiful daughters if not for show biz.?
Two of the three career goals he set did not happen. Early show biz success when Gabby first came back from the States dashed any hopes of focusing on a dentistry course, and the dream of flying ended when the results of his eye examination showed that he was color blind.
Gabby got his third wish though, when the 1994 Manila Film Festival scandal forced his departure from show biz in 1995. Resettling in the United States proved to be a blessing in disguise: it gave him the career he wanted, as a licensed realtor in the state of California.
For Gabby, the initial years in the US were really an escape from the worries and controversies back home. ?It was cleansing ?physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually ? a way to relax, rewind, be grounded, and to reassess.?
But after years of working odd jobs and rooming in with relatives and friends in the Bay Area and New York, Gabby decided that playtime was over. He decided to go back to school, enrolling at Lincoln University, where he finished a double degree in Management Information Systems and International Business in two years since the school credited his units from Maryknoll College (now Miriam), where he obtained a degree in Advertising.
After graduation in 2000, Gabby worked with Fisher Development, a division of clothing retailer GAP, as a purchasing agent for the stores? lighting, shelves, fixtures, and logos installed in its branches all over the US. Around this time, Gabby and his wife Genevieve ?Ginbee? Yatco Gonzales, whom he married in the US in 1999, purchased a condominium. This sparked renewed interest in the opportunities in real estate, and Gabby set his sights on his original career goal. He took and passed the California state licensure examination for brokers in 2003 ? the ?greatest achievement? of his life, he says.
Gabby sold houses and lots for a company called Prudential California Realty, from single to four family units, worth $180,000 to $1.5 million. Expectedly, majority of Gabby?s clients were Filipino Americans, who always gave him a chance to make his pitch. A fluent Spanish speaker, Gabby also had clients among the Hispanics, as well as African Americans and Native Americans.
His success included being awarded as top broker in California, and it seemed that he had achieved everything he wanted and therefore had no reason to even think of going back to the Philippines, much less resurrecting his showbiz career.
But as Gabby says, his life is full of unexpected turns. He was returning to his car one day in winter 2005 when his cell phone rang. He tells it exactly as it happened:
?The phone rang, sinagot kong ganyan [I answered like this], ?Hello?? Tapos sabi niya [And then she said], ?Hi, I would like to speak to Gabby Concepcion, please?? We don?t normally talk on the phone. Hindi pa niya sinasabi sa akin kung sino siya, sabi ko [She has not yet told me who she was, so I asked], ?Is this my baby?? I knew, I knew who it was. Sabi niya [She said], ?I?d like to speak to Gabby Concepcion please?? ?Yes, this is my baby. How are you baby? I love you.? And she says, ?Pa?? ?Yeah.? ?Hi, Pa.? I knew it was her. She didn?t have to tell me. I knew it was her. Somehow, instinct just told me: this is your daughter.?
It was KC Concepcion, his daughter with ex-wife Sharon Cuneta, whom he hadn?t seen nor heard from in 10 years. (His marriage to Sharon had been declared null and void 12 years earlier.)
It was a phone conversation he vividly and poignantly remembers. ?I can?t explain that day. It was winter time and I was standing outside the car. Hindi ko naramdaman yung lamig. Hindi ko na nabuksan yung pintuan ko. Nag-usap lang kami doon [I didn?t feel the cold, I couldn?t open the car door, I was just standing there talking to her],? Gabby says.
He was oblivious to everything around him as he was listening to something he had wanted to hear for a long time. ?She asked if she could come over. She wanted to stay for 10 days. She goes: Why 10 days? Because each day will represent one of the years that I didn?t see you,? he recalls saying.
KC did come and stay with Gabby in California the following year. Aside from KC, Gabby?s other children include Gabrielle (with model Grace Ibuna); Chloe (from a previous marriage to model-actress Jenny Syquia); and Samantha Alexis (with present wife Ginbee Gonzales).
His renewed bond with KC made Gabby feel there was still something to yearn for, something to look forward to: the chance of a homecoming. A year later, for the first time since leaving show biz in 1995, he agreed to appear in a locally produced film, ?Italy.? But he backed out due to story and script issues and his role eventually went to Dennis Trillo.
?The offer for me to do a movie with Channel 7 was a movie abroad. The shooting would be abroad, it was in the contract. So it meant I wouldn?t be going home to the Philippines,? Gabby explains.
The vague idea of a homecoming suddenly became a more serious consideration when Gabby learned that his San Juan City-based father Rollie Concepcion was ill with a worsening heart ailment. Gabby?s siblings asked him to come back and he finally decided to return in March 2008. His father succumbed to his illness in September of the same year.
Despite the tragedy, Gabby says his return came at the right time as the recession in the US, sparked by a mortgage crisis, sent the real estate industry into a downward spiral. But it was initially as controversial as when he left 13 years back. He signed an exclusive movie and television contract with ABS-CBN despite an existing film production contract with rival GMA-7, the producer of ?Italy.? And after this, he got into a public spat with producer and talent manager Rose Flaminiano over a contract dispute that led to an estafa case.
GMA eventually released Gabby after it voided its contract as a result of a settlement, making him free to accept projects from other film companies, including ABS-CBN?s Star Cinema. In addition, ABS-CBN bought out Gabby?s talent management contract, settling his case with Flaminiano.
As a talent of ABS-CBN, Gabby has appeared in one episode of the network?s drama anthology ?Maala-Ala Mo Kaya? and two teleseryes, ?Iisa Pa Lamang? and the current ?Dahil May Isang Ikaw.? He also appeared in Star Cinema?s 2009 Metro Manila Film Festival entry, ?I Love You Goodbye,? his first since Regal Films? ?Ika-11 Utos: Mahalin Mo, Asawa Mo? in 1994.
His experiences, he says, has taught him a lot. ?You learn from the past. You learn from your mistakes. That?s the only way to get better. You get more experience, and you use that experience to your advantage. In showbiz, nagiging puhunan natin yung mga nakaraan. Yung mga masakit. Gusto natin kalimutan sa ordinaryong buhay dahil ayaw na natin maalaala. Pero doon tayo bumubunot ng galing [In showbiz, the past becomes your capital. We want to forget the hurt and pain in our lives but they build our character, that?s where we get the emotions we need onscreen].?
Today Gabby looks forward to a possible film with KC, which he says is in the planning stage. He hopes the film would include a scene similar to that fateful call he received in 2005. ?Maganda kung gagawa kami ng pelikula [It would be nice to do a movie], it would be nice if we?d show bits and pieces of that moment in the movie.?
Asked if he would rather remain in show biz or go back to the US to continue his real estate profession, Gabby is uncertain but upbeat.
?I don?t really know what?s ahead. My life has always been like that. It?s been mysterious. Sometimes what you plan doesn?t happen. Sometimes the things that you don?t plan are the ones that succeed, that bring you to the next level. It?s been like that with me. Even my life is an open book, but to me it?s still a mystery. Parang pelikula [Like a movie], you don?t know what?s in the next scene.? ?