I was about five years old when I started waving at airplanes I would see in the sky every afternoon. I used to think that every airplane I see carries my dad until another kid laughed at me and said, “Wala naman d’yan daddy mo, nasa barko!”
I grew up in the era of voice tapes, hand-written letters, and notes scribbled at the back of photographs, which my siblings and I would often send to my father abroad. Every birthday was marked by choppy phone calls and birthday cards with a generic message: “Happy birthday, ate! I love you. Daddy.” I would read the card over and over again until I fall asleep. (Read: 5 Prayers for Safe Travel)
My dad has been a seafarer for 30 years now. With the internet, it’s fairly easy nowadays to have access to him… but when I was a child, we can only hear his voice during satellite phone calls. So, what’s it like to live with a dad who has a calling for the high seas?
Trips to the airport were an adventure.
My dad always took the red-eye flight home. So my brother and I would be dressed in cozy sweaters and jogging pants. I remember standing in front of other families waiting for their loved ones. I would scan every man wearing a jacket and blue jeans—the way I remember my dad used to dress—to see if he looks like my dad.
You are expected to (automatically) know how to swim.
My dad—and perhaps almost all the men in our clan—has a calling for the sea. So even when he’s in the Philippines, we would often go on numerous beach trips. I learned how to swim by almost drowning multiple times. My cousins used to tease me because I didn’t know how to float when swimming. They would say, “seaman pa naman tatay mo, di ka marunong lumangoy!” (Read: How to Raise a Pope: Learn about the boy who grew up to be the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic world)
I used to see my dad as a stranger.
His arrival was always a mixture of excitement and fear. I would think to myself: Is this tall man really my dad? It would take a few more weeks until we get used to him… and by then, we’re in the car to the airport again to see him off. Another birthday, another graduation, another milestone in our lives would pass without my dad… and I would re-read birthday cards again until I fall asleep.
You know a lot of stuff about engines, ships, and geography
Whenever my dad would speak, he would tell us of his stories at sea. As early as seven, I know how to identify a ship’s proa, what a boiler room in a ship does, and that a ship’s captain is for steering the ship but it is the chief engineer who is responsible for keeping the ship’s engine running. I also know where the ports in countries are because it was the topic of conversations over mealtimes.
Special occasions have always been incomplete.
I think I speak for almost all the daughters with OFW parents when I say that I grew up without a father. More than two million citizens in the Philippines work abroad, so kids like me have to get used to our parents missing the biggest moments in our lives.
My father wasn’t there during all my graduation ceremonies, I could only count on one hand the important school events that he was able to witness. He didn’t see us on our first day of school, or when I first learned how to ride a bike, numerous dinners were eaten without him, and he never got to read us a bedtime story.
All those cliche moments were lost on me and my little brothers. But whenever he’s with us, my dad would always make it a point to show up whenever he can—even during the most mundane things such as waiting for us to get home from work or cooking dinner for the whole family. (Read: 4 Prayers of Love for Estranged Parents)