My source of inspiration
At the end of September last month, my parents celebrated their 27th wedding anniversary along with my Mom’s birthday. With that, I wanted to pay tribute to them by telling you part of their story in as many words as a blog post allows, although an entire book would be needed to fully tell their story and truly capture how much I have grown to love, admire and respect my parents in the years gone by.
Now that I am older and have a lot more perspective on the world around me, I hope to provide a glimpse of just how much my parents have sacrificed in their lives in order to give my sisters and I the opportunities that they themselves would never have dreamed of when they were growing up in the Philippines.
To make a long story short and to skip over the extended family drama on both sides, my parents grew up without a lot of money and yet, through sheer determination and hard work, they managed to put themselves through high school and then onwards to university on scholarships. They both attended one of the oldest universities in the Philippines and one of the top schools outside of Manila, the University of San Carlos (USC) in Cebu founded by Spanish Jesuit priests in 1595, where they graduated magna cum laude.
My Dad being a little bit older than my mom, had already graduated from USC when they met and was holding down two full-time jobs in order to pay the bills and put his siblings through school: working at the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) during the day, and then teaching accounting and business to undergraduate students at USC by night, while pursuing his CPA designation. My Mom on the other hand, was a graduating senior at the time, had been actively involved with student government throughout university and to the best of my knowledge, held leadership positions with a number of campus organizations. Perhaps the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree after all.
My Dad often likes to recall stories of how he was an extremely popular lecturer at USC, mentioning that when it came to marking exams, he was always strict but fair. With regular night classes being very unpopular on campus, he would often mention that his classes were the exact opposite—always packed, with the majority of students being female students of course. Somehow, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch of the imagination to believe this to be true. To my Mom’s credit however, she claims that she had actually never heard of my Dad being ‘kind of a big deal on campus‘ until the day they first met back in early 1984.
So they met, fell in love, got married and with me soon on the way less than a year after their wedding, they realized that things needed to change as my Dad working two full-time jobs in Cebu earning a salary in Philippine pesos did not seem to cut it at all. My parents set out to create a better life for themselves and for the beginnings of their young family.
Somehow, whether it was lady luck shining down on them or perhaps the result of being at the right place at the right time, the green pastures of the Middle Eastern desert beckoned them. First Saudi Arabia and then the United Arab Emirates where our family roots were firmly planted for close to 20 years before my parents finally decided to move to Canada several years ago.
However, all of this was easier said than done. Keep in mind that when my parents got married in 1984, Ferdinand Marcos and his regime had a vice-like grip on Philippine politics and business. The early to mid-1980s saw countries like the Philippines, South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia experience financial and economic turmoil. Within this context, its not hard to understand why under the Marcos regime, the ‘export’ of the overseas Filipino worker (OFW) to countries in the Middle East, Europe, North America and wherever work was available, soon became the norm for many Filipino families for years to come. Today, the estimated 11 million Filipinos worldwide outside of the Philippines that make up the Filipino diaspora, send remittances back home to the tune of US $16.4 billion or 13% of GDP, as reported in the balance of payments accounts in 2008.
In an era well before email, instant and text messaging, and Skype, the decision for my Dad to go to Saudi Arabia on his own to work as a Senior Accountant for one of the government hospitals, was incredibly hard. And yet, both my Mom and Dad made the most of the situation for 5 years, that is, until opportunity arose and my Dad was offered a teaching position at the Higher Colleges of Technology in the UAE in 1990. Although there was a lot of uncertainty in the air, somehow they knew that moving to the UAE would lead to bigger and better things. After being separated for so long early in their marriage, my parents decided that it was best we move as a family to this foreign city in the middle of the desert called Al Ain. Our family hasn’t looked back ever since.
Throughout the time my Dad was in Saudi Arabia, I recall my parents writing letters to each other constantly and at some point, Im fairly certain they sent recorded ‘voice tapes’, essentially blank cassette tapes with our voice recordings on them, in order to make communication easier—voicemail well before modern telephone voicemail was even available! I have also never told my parents this but one of my earliest memories as a child revolve around my Dad coming home from Saudi Arabia when I was three or so and bringing toys with him for me to play with. One of these toys was a grey plastic sword that my Dad had bought for me and from then on, Im fairly certain I imagined myself to be a hero, with sword in hand, running around chasing imaginary bad guys and trying my best to save the world. Yes, even at 3 years old I was causing trouble and rocking the boat.
I also vividly recall this one time where we dropped my Dad off at the airport in Cebu and my Mom telling me to wave to the airplane as the Philippines Airlines flight took off, with Riyadh as the final destination. I didn’t fully understand why my Mom was sad seeing a piece of metal go up in the air and fly off in the distant horizon, but I do now. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why I always get a mixed set of emotions, from a sense of wonder and excitement to nervousness and a longing for ‘home’, every single time I find myself at an airport.
As the years go by and the fact that I am slowly inching closer towards 30 with 20 being a distant memory away, I have come to realize that my parents truly are my source of inspiration and my steadfast rock of support. No matter how crazy some of my ideas have been in the past or how big my ambitions are for the future, I know that my parents will always be there for me just as they have always been. Not only for me, but for my sisters Loubelle, Lorel and even Loren when she was still with us. When Loren passed away back in early 2002 to what I thought at the time was a cruel sense of fate, Im fairly certain that it was my parent’s faith in God that helped them overcome it, holding our family together in the process. When all is said and done, I hope that I can live up to my parents’ dreams and expectations and make them proud. They are certainly the best parents a son could ever ask for. I love you both.
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