Such sweet and mushy, unfortunately, Lester Burnham is dead too late thus to believe that it should have been worth saving his dysfunctional family. To this very day, family still is the basic social institution, the more founded and solid it is, the better the society where it belongs. But what really makes a family? Honestly, I believe it is not flesh and blood that makes us fathers, mothers, sons and daughters, but the heart that endures and sacrifice no matter what distance comes between us. It is the unmoved willingness to share that profound, deeply felt importance of being cared for and caring for the rest of its members.
For eleven months in a year, my family is sonless in me. My absence, though, hoping aside from hearts growing fonder, is making our house grows grander, my other siblings' education secure and all their essential needs fulfilled. No more empty fridge, no more uncelebrated birthdays, no more powerless nights, no more threat of property foreclosure. When my family comes to diner, I know one vacant seat in the dining table doesn’t make them less of a family. One less face in the family picture taken during my father's last birthday is making them realized that every bit and pieces of comfort and financial relief represent sweat and blood of hard toil of a son and brother. Good thing to know at least, my family knows how to value the sacrifices I am making and never letting my hard work comes to vain.
Sacrifices – that’s what basically defined an OFW's beginning and probably, its end. The void he's leaving in the family and the emptiness he's carrying in his heart are scarpels that stab through the soul. When I came to Dubai for the very first time in 2007, much less of a firm OFW conviction, it only took me four months to realize that I couldn’t afford to live outside of my acustomed habits. I came back to the Philippines with an empty pocket but with a gleeful heart. A couple of months later, I realized that I've acted a little selfish when I decided to quit my job in Dubai only because I was far away from the things that would make me happy. I have failed to calculate the impact of my haste and hurry, the wasted application cost, the lost opportunity when I quit my job with San Miguel and the salary I would have earned in Dubai which could very well sustain of all of my family's growing needs. I made up for my mistakes by pursuing Dubai again, this time with an objective, determination and a heart willing to sacrifice at all cost.
And my long journey to resilience begun. After finding a decent job that would be make me a millionaire in few years, the econominc crisis struck and my dreams fell into pieces like sands scattered all over. For eight months, I was desperately jobless. I could have just went back home and worked again in the Philippines but I chose Dubai, to linger, to hope, with pain, with determination, without my family's knowledge. My mother's heart was broken. My family have cried beyond my disappearance and their own helplessness. There was no remittance for a long period, no calls for the longest time, no news about what had happened to a son and brother. June 2009, I phoned my mother after five months that I've gone hiding. Still jobless, apologetic, I told her "I have nothing right now". She cried joyfully and said " You have us, your family". Her words has revived my spirit and on the same month, I finally got a job.
For the past two years that I've been working far from my family's eyes, I'd say I have felt to be loved more by my family than when they see me as often. Maybe they're blessed enough to internalize that I am doing these sacrifices more for them than for myself. The last time I went for vacation, I almost didn't recognize our house with all its bling bling and my other siblings stories that they got good grades at school, like an assurance that everything I am working hard for is being spent on something fruitful. The impact would’ve been different when I have a family of my own. Lucky me that so far that I don’t have to bear that more excruciating ordeal of having kids grow away from my sight and guidance, relying on padala for sustenance and remembering my face only through that electronic photo album. I do seldom call, text, chat or communicate with my family on a regular basis, nonetheless, it doesn’t change anything with regards to my family's orientation with me and vice versa. My absence is absolved not only by my monthly padala, or my Christmas balikbayan box, but with my sincerest commitment to stay with them as long as I need to and that’s what keep us together – love and faith.
My family is sonless in me while I am gone but there's a sun that shines every day. I am with it. Unfortunately for the rest of the OFWs,it isn't always the case. A family can miss a son but it spells a difference when it is the parent who's absent in the dining table, fastfoods substituting home cooked diner or having another person take care of the kids. A UNICEF commissioned study estimates that one out of four Filipino kids have at least one parent working abroad. While the unprecedented exodus of the Filipinos and their remittances are what keeping the local economy from collapsing, there is now a growing sentiment that trading global dollars for generation of families raised on cellphone minutes and facebook/skype/twitter is a hefty price of progress.
The notion that being able to feed your family means leaving the Philippines is a message not every one will just simply buy. But if only most people, particularly the children of OFWs can have the slightest idea of the difficult situations their parents face, they would have loved their parents more than condemned them for their parental shortcomings. Educating the children whose parent works abroad can be the first step in letting them understand that scrubbing toilets is never fun. Not everyone is faced with the heartbreaking choice to leave their family, but OFWs did so that better life, better education, beautiful house, life insurance and just about everything for fun and pleasure for their families can be covered.
Without a doubt, OFW families live a more decent life than the average Filipino families whose members stay in the same umbrella. The new generation of sonless, motherless or fatherless Filipino families, maybe be the target of some moral and social scrutiny, but who are we to judge what we think is best for someone else. But this is not to say that having an OFW in the family justifies absence as an excuse in raising a disrupted family with deliquent children. Each has a responsiblity in this never ending quest for bright future, it's not just the parents, the children, but importantly the government that profits most from the sacrifices of the OFWs. If only international calls can be made more affordable, at least children can call their parents and talk longer and discuss matters that goes beyond that Western Union Remittance Number. How about schooling, or love, or ambitions or a day in school. If only government can produce enough competetive local jobs, then parents or sons don't have to work abroad to trade their children's development for dollars.
Ending this cycle of emigration isn't likely to happen very soon. Not until local opportunities are made available, the saga of diaspora of sons, daughters, mothers and fathers will continue and so are the tales of parentless families, broken marriages, children crossing the wrong path and so on and so forth. But as they say, the family that prays together stays together. No matter what distance separates the families, as long as there is faith and love, nothing should come in between and the family will remain strongly founded as they face a new tomorrow.