ONE thing that I promised myself a long time ago was that I would never be like my mother.
Our "Nanay" [Mother], whom my siblings and I love so much, is a perfect mother and a perfect wife. Through the years she has nurtured us as best as she could because "Tatay" [Father] is away most of the time. I’ve seen her cry countless times because she misses my father or she feels overwhelmed by the responsibilities of raising five kids practically all by herself.
I grew up seeing my parents suffer from not being together like a wife and husband should be. My father is home for only two to three months every year and then he is off again for another 10 months of work abroad. It makes me sad to see my mother patiently waiting for his calls or his letters. I worry when she worries. I cry when she cries. I know it is difficult to be a mother and a father at the same time. I can see how hard it can be not to have your better half beside you when things seem to be falling apart, to hold your hands and tell you everything will be fine. So I told myself that if I have my own family someday, I would never let myself be caught in the same situation and experience the same feelings my mother have.
Our family is like many other Filipino families nowadays, with at least one parent is working overseas. My father works in a luxury ship that travels around the world. Some people think that if your father or mother works abroad, you are lucky because then you can buy so many things. But material things cannot fill one’s longing for a dear father.
Our life is typical of a Filipino family with relatives abroad. We exchange letters, send greeting cards, receive regularly "balikbayan" boxes containing imported goods like chocolates, perfumes, shirts, sneakers, and sometimes even shampoos and lotions.
That is what my father is: responsible and sensitive to our needs. He provides us with everything, down to the smallest item. Even though he’s not around on some special occasions, his children know that he is trying his best to give us the good life he never had.
Father never fails to give us advice, either through letters or -- my favorite -- greeting cards. Despite the Internet, we still prefer the old methods of communication: snail mail and long-distance calls.
I was in Grade 6 when father started working abroad. And that was when the letters and cards, containing important pieces of advice, started coming. Father constantly reminded me that being the eldest of five children, I should take care of Nanay and my two brothers and two sisters; that I should study hard because education is the only thing we could call our own; that I should not enter into a romantic relationship until I finished college.
Through his letters, father was able to guide me despite his absence. He told me it’s nobody’s fault that we were poor. He emphasized to us that our own destiny was in our hands and that we shouldn’t wait for miracles or good fortune to happen.
For years, his cards and letters arrived, the same pieces of advice repeated over and over again.
In return I tried hard not to disappoint them. I finished my studies and found a stable job and it was a joy to see that I made Nanay and Tatay proud of me. That’s my way of letting them know how much I appreciated their sacrifices. It’s my way of showing how much grateful I was for being able to study in the university of my choice, something that we couldn’t afford if father didn’t work abroad.
Nowadays no one is surprised to know that somebody else is abroad and earning high pay. But I, for one, never considered it a normal situation to have members of the same family living apart. But working abroad has become a necessity for many.
It is very hard to be in a long-distance relationship, to be separated from someone dear to you. Endless questions bother you: What if he gets sick, who will take care of him? When he feels homesick, who will be there to comfort him? One cannot help but worry.
But hard as it is for us who are left here waiting, I believe it is even harder for those who are away because they often feel lonely and alone even when they are in the company of other Filipinos.
But fate has this nasty habit of playing with our lives. And for me, the day that I never thought would happen has come. I am waiting for someone who is away, working in a distant land. He is the special someone who told me that I needed a lot of patience to survive feelings of loneliness and emptiness.
Every day before I report for work, I patiently wait for him in the chat room to check if he had come home from work. Every day I wake up excited to read his e-mail. Thanks to modern technology, I no longer have to wait for two weeks for the postman before I could get some news about him.
Now I am walking on the same path my parents took. Heck, even my sister and her fiancé are in the same situation, being apart temporarily for the same financial reason. But who are not?
I was wrong to say I would never let myself be caught in the situation my mother was. I have realized that love is such a strong force that moves people to do things they thought they would never do.
At home these days, one often hears some very familiar words. But while one used to hear a younger sibling shout, “'Nay, telephone call, si Tatay po,” now it is, “Ate, telephone call, si Kuya Marc.”
I count the days when I will see him again. In the meantime, just like my mother and my sister, I am waiting.
Aisa M. De la Torre, 24, has a master’s degree in library and information science from the University of the Philippines.
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