Editors Note: The story is from the book “Migrants’ Stories, Migrants’ Voices 4" published by the Philippine Migrants Rights Watch (PMRW) with the support from CEI (Conferenza Episcopale Italiana) or the Italian Bishops' Conference. The book contains a collection of 10 stories of the realities of migration as faced by Filipinos abroad and their family members in the Philippines. abs-cbnNEWS.com obtained permission from PMRW to publish the stories online.
The dawn is breaking and the roosters began crowing, one after the other. It is as if they are in harmony creating a piece of melody that signals the beginning of another day.
It was early morning way back in 2008, in a small village, in a rural town. The morning was different from the past mornings the family have had. The whole family was roused from the fitful sleep they had. They had to face a reality that was out of their control; their father was leaving. Their father was about to depart for Abu Dhabi. He was going to a foreign land, a land where one hopes to find refuge, hope and job in order to escape from the excruciating pangs of poverty, unemployment and inequalities of the society.
It was clear to everyone why he had to leave. It was for the betterment of the family, to secure a brighter future for the children, to give them a better life, better than what he had as a child.
It was nearly four in the morning when the father came out from the room dressed for his impending journey. The moment his children saw him, they all began to cry. The wife just sat in the corner watching her husband say goodbye to his children.
One by one, he hugged and kissed his children on the forehead and bid them goodbye. Each time he approached one of them, they cried. They cried because they were feeling how painful it was when a dear one is leaving.
However, there was one young man who fought his tears as his father was leaving. He did not cry because he wanted to show his father that he was brave and capable of taking the role of the next man in the house. He wanted to show his father that he could take care of the family while he was away. When it was time for the father to leave, the weeping grew louder. Everyone was holding their father, trying to stop him from leaving. But alas! He left. He left for Abu Dhabi.
The family that lived in that small village was my family, the father leaving was my father, the mother was my mother and the children weeping were my siblings. And the young man was me. It was me, who, on that very day, encountered first-hand what they call migration.
Yes, my father is an OFW. He left to work abroad for our future – an act every father would probably do for his family.
I have always looked up to my father and thought he was a great man, even greater than Zeus, Robin Hood and Ironman although he is not as famous as they are. My father may not be the best father in the world, the best husband ever there is, nor the best man who ever set foot on earth, but he is the only man my mother, my siblings and I are aware of, the man who is in our hearts to whom we will forever be grateful. He is none other than our beloved Papa Bonging.
When I was still living with my family in our simple yet secure domicile, our living condition was indeed difficult. The income from our farm and other profits that my father gained from his various jobs were not enough to meet our needs. Thus, my mother decided to look for paid work, to help my father. She found a job as a bookkeeper. As a result of mother’s paid work, we were better off.
In fact, my parents were able to send me to a private school for my secondary education, while my siblings were still in primary school. We had better food security compared to our previous situation. In other words, mother brought additional income to the family.
Fighting and crying were common to the family at that stage of my life. I could not count the times I witnessed fighting and heard crying. My parents would argue because of money matters, because of the rising demand to meet our needs, which father could not deliver.
My father was earning less than what my mother earned and this has always been a cause of insecurity on father’s part. He felt he should be the one providing for the family’s needs and yet it is mother who contributes more.
In addition, he is the one left at home being “Ina-Tay” (mother and father) and it in a way challenged his machismo. There were also times when I would hear my mother sob in their room. She would cry because she did not know what to do with the problems of the family, most of which were economic in nature.
Because of all these, my father decided to go abroad. He saw the opportunity to work abroad as the solution to the family’s problems. It was a choice that affected all of us. It was also a choice that brought hope, and yet frightened the whole family because of its uncertainty.
It was also during this time that I similarly made a decision that will affect me and my family - I entered the seminary. It was a choice I made just like my father made his own choice. Life in the seminary was different. The use of cellular phones was only permitted once a month; the rest of the days, the phone was being kept away from us. However, we were allowed to use the internet for communication and for educational purposes.
Such a situation made it difficult for me to know what is happening out there with my family, even with my father abroad. Thus, I looked forward to holidays when I am able to relish and fill in the time that I was absent from the family.
The adjustment period for my mother took quite a while. I had often seen my mother cry alone. Sometimes she would cry to me and to my siblings. She did not have anybody to cry on.
Sometimes she did not know what to do, for there were moments when she had to make decisions for the family. To cope with father’s absence, she would call him almost every day, just to hear his voice even for a few minutes.
One time, the bonds of my parents’ marriage was tested. A common friend of my parents started courting my mother. My father learned about it and he became insecure. It also made my mother feel insecure. To add to this, she would often hear about the lifestyles of some OFWs abroad who, because of distance from their families look for other loves. But my parents assured each other of their love for one another.
My siblings meanwhile were getting used to having either my mother or father absent. They got accustomed to the situation faster than I did. Of course, there were instances when they wished my father was home.
When I first went home for my first Christmas holiday after the seminary, the first Christmas our family will celebrate without our father, I observed many changes in my siblings. They were healthier; they became more self-reliant, and more participative in school activities. I also observed that the family became dependent on the remittances that my father would send.
The family did not work on the farm to get additional income. My mother also changed. She easily gets irritated with my siblings especially when my brothers would not listen to her. It also irritated her that my sister confided to my father that she already had her menstruation, and not to her.
And I could not do anything because I was staying most of the time at the seminary. Sometimes I ask myself if the situation in the family would have been different had I not entered the seminary.
My father’s migration was a choice he made to secure financial stability for the family. My father left us because he wanted to give us better life, not entirely knowing its consequences.
My father lost his family in a physical sense. He lost the security that the country was supposed to provide him, and along the way he also lost his religion.
Yes, my father abandoned the religion he was born in. After finishing his contract and earning enough to sustain us in our studies and basic needs, my father came home for good. But he came home a different person. He came home with pride and dignity for what he had done for the family. He came home and brought with him the new religion that he had acquired.
It may not be an important thing for some people, but it matters to me. Having a father whose religious convictions and beliefs have changed has made me anxious. It gave me uncertainty and insecurity. I began to wonder if he will still support me and remain a father to me amidst our differences.
From that time on it has not been the same. He would go to worship in his newly adopted religion while the rest of the family would go to Mass in the Catholic Church.
I was angry, anxious and felt abandoned by my father when he decided to convert into another religion. It reached to the point that I wanted to get out of the seminary. This resulted in several months of “cold-war” between us. Much as I wanted to stay home, I did not want to stay whenever he is at home. I refused to talk to him.
Reflecting on this, I realized that this happened because I became self-centered and I became possessive of him as my father, not bearing in mind that at some point in his life he must have searched for a deeper meaning of life.
Perhaps he has found God in another way. It is like looking at a picture from another point of view. We do not really need new things in this life to see what is new; we just need to have new way of looking at life to discover the newness it has. I do not support my father’s decision to change his religion but I respect it and am trying to understand it. It is like setting him free.
I realized that after all, even if he changed his religion, a course he took while he was overseas, he is still my father. He is my loving father, who took the risk and sacrificed for us, his family.
It is not religion that bonds me with my father. He will forever be my father and I, his son.
My father’s migration was a choice he made to secure financial stability for the family. We make choices in life because we have goals we want to achieve. No one is to blame for my father’s decision to migrate. God did not choose for my father to go abroad, or for me to enter the seminary. He gave us freewill and we are free to choose.
This is my story, my experience. It is but a chapter in my life’s journey. For all those who are planning to work abroad and are already working overseas, the choice to migrate is yours. There are many factors that may influence your migration like poverty and unemployment. But the choice to leave and work overseas is yours alone. Thus, you are responsible as well for the consequences of migration in your life. It may be good, it may be bad.