I'm a statistic.
I am one of the millions of Filipino students with absentee fathers.
I grew up with an OFW (Overseas Filipino Worker) father who was practically missing in the most important parts of my life.
My dad was not present at my birth, my first day at school, graduations, awarding ceremonies, birthdays, Christmases, and New Years; all this, for the whole 23 years of my life.
The physical presence of my dad can be summed up to approximately a whooping one fourth of my life, since his contracts abroad lasts sometimes from 9 to 18 months at a time, and vacation was only 3-6 months at most.
My parents came from impoverished families, and my earliest memories were of poverty. My dad was a low-ranking deck officer by then. I remember having sardines for my birthday, since it falls in the dreaded 28th of the month which, in OFW-speak, means that money is scarce.
We were always waiting for our "allotment", as my mom calls it, which unfortunately falls on the first week of every month. My birthday was the drought before the rain?.
When my dad went up the career ladder, I had all the toys I could want, the latest models of dolls, remote-controlled airplanes, electronic dogs and all the stuffed toys I could ever want, from life-sized monkeys to fist-sized teddy bears. I remember wishing how I'd trade all of them for my dad?s presence during one of my birthdays.
I was always daddy's girl. Ironic, considering that mom was the constant presence in my life and dad was the absent one. I remember writing all those letters to dad, promising to study very hard, and collecting post cards and postage stamps from every port where he docked.
I remember the very scarce phone calls where we desperately crammed a whole month's worth of news in a few minutes, where the reception was not always too good, and we barely understood each other. I remember crying my heart out whenever dad has to go away again, when we were just adjusting to his presence at home.
I remember the feeling when we just sent dad off for another year at sea, and the porter who carried his bags went up to my mom and me, carrying a note from dad saying I love you and I'll miss you.
I remember waiting for that plane to land, not for the duty-free chocolates that dad always brings home, but for that hug that we share the moment he steps home, the hug that sums up everything we can't say, and I wonder how we can cram up all that love for that very brief moment.
I even wonder why I did not end up in the other end of that research
topic; the effect of absentee parenting on teenage pregnancy, drug abuse or academic performance. I have always been a diligent student, garnering academic awards despite my dad's absence.
I guess it has something to do with my mom hammering to us early on that dad is out there, not because he wanted to, but because he needed to.
He sent us to the best private schools even when money was scarce, and he always assured that we never wanted for anything. My dad was out there, away from his family, so that he could provide a future for us.
I had to remember this, every time I missed him so much that it hurt, or whenever I asked myself why he's not here again.
I'm glad I turned up well despite being raised almost singlehandedly by mom.
I'm now a registered nurse after graduating from one of the top nursing schools in the country. I wanted my dad to be proud of me, and I know that nothing could make him more proud than seeing me achieve what I've always dreamed of; to be a doctor.
I'm currently taking up Medicine in one of the top medical schools of the country.
Two years ago, my dad almost died after contracting Malaria from one of his trips. He almost bled to death due to his nonexistent platelet count. The hardest part of this was that he was away from home. After hearing the bad news, I skipped class and spent my time bawling my eyes out at the comfort room.
All I could think of was "please God" not now, not yet! Not while we have so much missing time...not while I haven't even hugged him yet?
Not now when I haven't even told him how much I love him.
That time was one of the most terrible moments of my life. My dad was severely ill. My perfectly stable grades plummeted. Thankfully, dad was able to come home. He survived that illness, and after a few months, spent recuperating at home, he was able to go back to work.
One day, I found dad's diary when he was still a young man, fresh out of school, hating to leave his pregnant wife alone for a job abroad. I'm not ashamed to say that I read it.
I guess it finally dawned on me why dad has to be away all the time. On cold lonely nights, while standing on deck and staring at the stars, my dad wrote..."my love for my family is like the huge propellers that drive this ship to the four corners of the earth."
And I saw a young man, doing everything he could to provide for his family, even if it means being away from them. Because of my dad's propellers.*