Family is forever
“Good morning, Lolo, this is Carmela. We just arrived a few minutes ago, Lolo.” Carmela, now seven years old, is our youngest grandchild among 17 grandchildren.
“How are you and your family, Carmela?”
“I am okay, Lolo, but Ate Andrea cried as we took off,” she replied. Carmela said her Ate was saddened upon leaving the Philippines. They were here for the family celebration of Lolo and Lola’s 60th wedding anniversary last July 26 (“Back to the altar,” Opinion, 5/28/14).
Before they left, I heard Andrea, now nearing 12 years old and a third-time visitor to the Philippines, ask her father Marlo at the airport: “Dad, why do we live in the United States?”
The father replied matter-of-factly, “Anak, your mommy and I are US citizens working (there)… that’s why we have to live there.”
“Why do we leave so soon?” The sadness in Andrea’s voice was unmistakable.
It was not the first time I witnessed young children who have been raised in America having a hard time leaving the Philippines after visiting their relatives, some of whom they’ve seen for the first time. When my elder brother Job, a practicing neurologist in New York, brought his family here, his children struck it very well with my children like long-lost siblings. I wrote an article on the closeness of these cousins. It was published in the Jan. 2, 1980, issue of Woman’s Home Companion, titled “A Tale of Two Boys 10,000 Miles Apart.”
Andrea was certainly “bitten” by the Filipino family’s close kinship, just like my niece and nephew from New York.
Indeed, it is hard to leave one’s family. My wife Zeny and I felt the same way in 1988 when we left for the United States as immigrants. Marlo, the youngest of our eight children, was able to join us because he was the only one below 21 years old at the time. The other seven were past the qualifying age. Besides, Victor, Gaspar and Toti were already married; Marissa, Jojo and Val were already employed and our youngest daughter, Peachy, was still studying in the University of the Philippines. Even then, the parents in us were worried about their future without us being near. For us, leaving them was a bold move.
In the runup to the day of departure, the family held a series of farewell gatherings as if in anticipation of the physical distance that was soon to separate us. The most difficult was at the airport. After the hugs, kisses and final words and expressions of endearment, I immediately turned away and hurried toward the plane to keep myself from seeing the teary eyes of the people I loved most. As the plane’s door closed, I felt like being cut off from my family and cast into an uncharted world where we had to build new relationships.
When we said our goodbyes, the children handed us envelopes which they said we should open only when we were already up in the air. As Zeny and I read the letters of love and concern, I felt like tearing up the plane’s door to go back to them. I had heard similar stories from other expats and from overseas Filipino workers before. I continue to hear such stories to this day.
That is why I understand the feeling of Andrea and her American cousins when they are about to leave after a vacation here. Until today, even Marlo feels homesick whenever he talks to us and his siblings from the United States, via Skype or Facetime, during our family gatherings held every fortnight.
It was during these conversations that Andrea and Carmela would tell us they were coming to spend Christmas 2014 with us, though we tried to convince them that we would be happier if they could come for our 60th wedding anniversary in July. So imagine how delighted and surprised we were when they walked into our suite at St. Benilde College’s Hotel on the eve of our anniversary. Marlo decided to come for the celebration with his family, as it was most appropriate for a grand family reunion. My other expat son Jojo also came home from China where he has been working for almost 10 years now.
My wife and I, together with the other family members, decided to observe the anniversary, as we considered it a rare gift from God. So the theme for the occasion was one of thanksgiving: for a long life for Zeny and me, for the eight children we raised according to God’s teachings, for the 17 grandchildren and one great-grandchild, for being able to send our children through college, for the privilege of traveling to the United States and some countries in Asia and Europe, for the work experience that enriched me, and for the continuous employment with which God sustained me.
My work stint in the House of Representatives lasted 24 years, and from the experience I came up with the book “How Bills Become Philippine Laws.”
Looking back, I realize that one’s family is the most important support base for anyone, be he a professional or an ordinary employee, or whatever. But the most important, singular factor is the guiding hand of God. I thank God for having helped me become a scholar when I could not afford to pay my tuition, having been orphaned early; for having helped me finish law in San Beda College in four years even if I was a working student; for giving me a wife who raised our family of eight children into a solid, loving family, helping one another; and for having blessed our marriage for the last 60 years.
Looking back further, I must say that next to life, the best gift that God has given the human person is his family. Indeed, family is forever.
Mafeo R. Vibal is now a consultant on legislative matters and legal counsel of the Philippine Hospital Association. He is now finishing his second book—which he says would be “on politics ad nauseam.”