Rich kid in poor family, thanks to ‘Dada’

August 12, 2008 11:03:00 Jo Javan Calinao-Cerda Philippine Daily Inquirer SEVEN YEARS AGO, I HAD a Nokia 3330, still considered top-of-the line cellular phone at the time. When I lost it after four years, a 6680 replaced it. Now in college, I’m among the few fortunate ones to have an ATM account, a notebook computer and a digital SLR camera. But whenever my friends call me a “rich kid,” I laugh and usually answer back, “Rich kid, poor family.” Ironic as it may seem, there’s actually a grain of truth to it. Being a son of an overseas Filipino worker, a bunso at that, I’m usually spoiled by my father. Miles away in a Saudi Arabian construction company, he does all he can to provide our family things we need to sustain our living. In my case, I get to have more than what I actually need. A huge chunk of my 52-year-old father’s monthly income goes to my bank account; the rest is for my entire family to spend. Whenever my father tells me about how much he deposited in my ATM account, he would jokingly say that he wasn’t able to leave even a penny for himself. I tend to half-believe him, as I know him as the kind of person who would give up anything and everything for his family. A lot of people may automatically consider a family with an OFW father as one that can have all it wants and are happy about it. But like any other normal family, there’s great value in being together and spending quality time with all the members complete. My family in Barangay Macamot, Binangonan, Rizal has to have my father away from us if we want to survive, and that’s the kind of tradeoff we all have to accept. Beyond the benefits of material prosperity, the physical lack of a father figure is something I and my family have to get used to.

The last Christmas My father, or Dada as I call him (my first utterance when I was a baby), had to leave for abroad when my two siblings were still learning to read and write. When I was a baby, he also had to leave for a contract he needed to finish. When he came back years after, he was welcomed by a clueless child who did not have the slightest idea who was hugging him. The last Christmas I spent with my father was when I was in third grade. Now I’m in third year college at the University of the Philippines, taking up journalism. I’ve always looked forward to waking up at midnight to see our family all present at the dinner table for noche Buena, but the last time that happened was 10 years ago. Maybe that’s the reason we don’t get up anymore at Christmas Eve—no point celebrating when we’re incomplete. I graduated from both grade school and high school with just my mother beside me; my father did not have the luxury of a vacation to attend either event, having a strict employer who only allows them to leave when the contract has ended or in emergencies.

When I had my first girlfriend, I had to keep it secret. I was afraid my mother and sister wouldn’t be able to relate with me and I thought my brother would tease me. I would love to tell my father about it, but we’re not able to talk about things best discussed intimately. When my sister got married, my uncle had to take my father’s place in escorting her down the aisle. My father was not given the permission to leave. Frustrating as it may seem, it’s an everyday fact that families like us have to live with. The poor economic condition in the country allows very limited access to jobs that can provide us the basic standard of living, so my father has had to sacrifice being away just to have us get by. Whenever he comes home to us every two years or so, along with the happy thought of spending time with him is the idea of losing him again after a few weeks. I usually have times of crying alone, missing him. My mother would cope with the first few weeks by hugging Dada’s clothes to sleep.

Always sacrificing Besides being the type who would always sacrifice, I have always seen him as determined and steadfast, doing what he needs to do until he achieves what he wants, not only for himself but for his family. Being the sixth child in a rural family with 10 siblings, the little Noel had to work hard at an early age to help his parents and his brothers and sisters. He used to wake up as early as three in themorning to lead the family carabao to the rice field. When the day was almost done, he would join his brothers and sisters to fish in the nearby lake. Whenever he had the time, he would also join singing competitions in their barangay; being the talented singer he was, he would usually go home with a sack of rice for his family. Because of the poverty they had to cope with, he had to stop schooling to make way for his other siblings. But when the opportunity came, he went back to school until he finished high school, even if he was considerably older than most of his batch mates. He never saw it as a big issue, though; what mattered to him was the need to finish at least his secondary education.

Never went to college Like his other siblings, Dada never had the privilege of setting foot in a college or university. He had to content himself with vocational courses and an apprenticeship from his best friend who had the fortune of having a bachelor degree. He was determined to learn new skills and to get a decent job abroad, so he studied basic construction, including electric wiring installations, repair and maintenance. When he decided to marry my mother, one of the major concerns of her parents was my father’s capability— or lack of it —to give her a decent life. At that time, my father was not yet employed in a job; the only income he had was the small profit he earned from selling sacks of charcoal in the market and from other sidelines. But my father knew he needed to go the extra mile, and so he did, quite literally, when he finally decided to apply for an electrician’s post overseas.

Sent siblings to school By the time my brother and sister had to go to school, Dada already had the money to send them to a private Catholic institution. My maternal grandparents, of course, were pleasantly shocked. Being the workhorse that he is, he never stopped until he found the best company which would offer him a higher salary. From a small-time electrician, he was promoted to higher positions, joining the ranks of people who finished college degrees. Sometimes he would even recount instances where the contractor would ask for his second opinion on construction procedures even if a licensed engineer had already given his estimations. But my father also had his share of issues. When he learned that his employer wanted him for the position of supervisor, he cried. He was afraid he could not be at par with other people equally qualified but who had the privilege of tertiary education. He said that if he only had the luck to have gone to college, he would not be that insecure about himself. When I learned about this, I thought seriously about my father’s dream for my siblings and myself. Whenever we talk on the phone about my goals in college and life in general, he would always emphasize the fact that I need to study hard and finish college, not only for him, but for my mother and siblings as well. Whenever I start a new semester or join a major competition in school, my father would always remind me to do my best not only for myself but for our family. I even have the slogan “Para sa Dada,” an understanding that I need to give everything my best shot in appreciation for what he does for me.

Inquirer scholar As a token for all my father’s efforts, I make it a point to excel in my classes and give him the inspiration he needs to keep going, even if we are miles away from each other. Just three weeks ago, when I told him that I passed the Philippine Daily Inquirer scholarship, he immediately called to congratulate and thank me. When I got home from the boarding house that weekend, I learned that he also called my mother. My mother said he cried in happiness. Beyond providing me with the latest cellular phones, my own ATM account and other gadgets, my father is instilling in me the value of sacrifice that has kept our family surviving to this point. Like other millions of Filipinos who endure both physical and emotional pain just to keep their families alive, my father is inspiring me to give my all in the name of love for our family. He never lets us down, and as homage to all his sacrifices, I too will give my best for him.

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