When your father is a stranger

I grew up in a typical Filipino family where parents try their best to give their children a good life. Even if the cost if leaving their family behind.

My father left us when my youngest sister was born. He was given the opportunity to work as a seaman. He had been waiting for this job because it brought a promise of a secured future for his children. He boarded the ship when I was almost three years of age. I had no memories of his departure. At that time, my mother was also working and we were left in the care of my father’s sister. From an early age, I knew I had a father; but I also knew that he won’t be there to see us grow up.

He was in the ship for nine straight months, and come home for three months when we’d have a physically present father. I remember there was a time when his ship docked in Manila; we hurried to the port and I saw the cabin my father calls home for nine months. Looking back now, his room symbolized solitude. He spent days with a complete stranger while I huddled together with siblings.

Material things, appliances, toys, and imported goods came as replacement to my father’s absence. One day, a package was delivered to our house. We had this big stereo and speaker set, but no voice of a father to listen to.

Back then, the high exchange rate assured us of three meals a day. We had enough money for our needs, and still had some left for our wants.

On months when my father was home, there was this overwhelming sense of awkwardness. I did not know how to approach him. Though there were lots of stories to be told, I did not bother. I thought my stories would not interest him. The great physical evolved into a much greater emotional detachment. There even came a time when I was not looking forward to his arrival. While some might say this is downright disrespectful and selfish, at that time I thought I did not want to live with someone I did not have a connection with.

We were strangers.

I did not resent my father for being away. I just did not know how to reconnect with him.

Fortunately, for us, my father made the first move. He told us stories of his voyages. He filled the gap between us with entertaining stories. He also approached us with gifts to ease the awkwardness. He made time to catch up.

He’s been a temporary presence in the past two decades. There are still times when I’d feel awkward when my father comes home. but it has been minimized.

Now, I look forward to going to the airport to see him after months of separation. This time though, there is not a single Barbie doll handed to me. But still I am eager to share my college experience with him, and listen to his own stories.

We are not strangers anymore; we are now family. (Vhernadette A. Oracion)

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