Monday, July 17, 2006


Last time, I rejoiced over my daughter’s recovery from her bout with flu. But it was to be short lived. Barely two days passed before it returned with a vengeance. This time, I succumbed to panic because her fever still came despite the antibiotics she was taking at that time. I rushed Abby to SUMC.

But before leaving our home, I hurriedly keyed in the words “taking abby hospital admit said nuico” into the computer and sent the message via email to my husband’s ship.

I mentioned having sent that message because it sets the tone of my topic today: of me being an “OFW Wife” - a figurative single parent. My husband is a seafarer, and he is away from us ten months out of each year. Although he frequently calls us, and we keep in touch almost daily by email and SMS, his participation as father virtually boils down to one thing most of the time: getting informed of what has happened, what is happening, or what is about to happen.

Therefore, as both papa and mama to Abby, I am practically alone as I celebrate the joys of watching her grow and develop. Similarly, I am equally alone in my daily struggles of raising her, with all its accompanying pains, worries and difficulties. I am both mother and father in one package! The single parent.

At the hospital, while I waited for the doctors to attend to my sick child, a feeling of déjà vu came over me. Me, sick Abby, yaya …… Why! We’ve been in this exact same situation countless times before!! Just the three of us and always late at night.

I remembered those times when I used to watch with envy as other sick children came in lovingly attended to by both mother and father …

In moments such as those an intense yearning would come over me, a longing so fierce it would actually manifest itself as a physical pain on my chest, and I would find myself thinking, “how I wish Nonoy was here.”

If only I could find the words to convey my sense of utter helplessness and exhaustion then, when I longed for my husband’s presence, to have his shoulder to lean on … just to be able to worry only of what mamas usually worry about when their babies become sick … when I could just be the mama and not mama and papa rolled into one … when I could stop being the boss, manager, planner, organizer, CEO – and just let go of the rein and have my husband take control……

In the difficult days that followed, I mulled over my life as an “OFW wife”. I must admit that it has its benefits. My husband being a dollar earner, we are blessed in the sense that we do not have to worry over our daily financial needs. It has its rewards as well. I used to travel with Nonoy before our daughter came. Then, at the age of two, Abby became a seasoned world traveler and “seagirl”. There were summers when we joined her father on his ship and sailed with him for months, visiting various countries and having adventures that would not have been available to us, had our lives been different.

We do not have money in abundance, but we have enough to give us a very comfortable life. With the money that my husband is sending home, I can send my daughter to any school I deem best for her or allow her to travel around Dumaguete in ease and comfort, spared from the sun’s heat or the rain’s chill. With his earning capacity, we now have a home we can proudly call our own and within its walls, we enjoy all the physical comforts that his income brings.

Personally, I am enjoying all the benefits as well. For instance, I can have as many household helps as I want. I do not have to lift a finger when it comes to doing the daily chores. I can watch TV until dawn if I want to! That’s because I do not have to worry about getting up early for work! I love to bake and experiment with cooking. Thankfully, I have the means to pursue this hobby.

Basically, part of the benefits of the “OFW Wife” is to HAVE CHOICES. For instance, my being a HOUSEWIFE is a choice. My husband’s income being sufficient for our needs, I have the option whether to work or not. I can choose to pursue a career in law and live a life outside my home or just be a simple housewife and devote my time and attention to caring for my child. I can choose to be my child’s primary caregiver or entrust her to the care of some other woman. I can choose to have her driven around by other men whose physical, mental and psychological condition may be questionable, or drive her myself and thus maximize her safety. I can choose to have her eating cold lunch at school, or bring hot meals to her every time.

I am always thankful to God for giving me the luxury of choice. No day ever passes when I do not appreciate the life that has been given to me by the Lord Almighty. But the life of the “OFW wife” is not rosy at all. It has its downside, and the depth and magnitude of the emotional, psychological, mental and physical difficulties brought about by this “other side” far outweighs all the benefits, which at best, are merely material in character.

There is a flip side to every coin. In the same manner, the benefits that I am enjoying come with its particular brand of “curse”, if I may call it one. The fact that I am able to enjoy all these means that I have to enjoy them alone. Yes, I am literally alone as I live my life day after day.

There is this emptiness in our family that no amount of material benefits could ever fill in. Only women who are similarly situated as I am can empathize when I write about this enveloping sense of loneliness that follows me everywhere, perpetually present behind my smiles and laughter as I go about living my life. Way beyond the physical aspect of a married couple’s life, this aloneness manifests itself in ways as simple as not having Nonoy to talk with about everyday trivial matters, or share jokes and laugh with, or even quarrel with, or not having this loving father to share my amazement with, when our child would do an “Ahhh” moment.

There are so many things that married couples take for granted in each other, and more often than not, they get to realize this and appreciate its significance in their lives, only when one is absent. The fact alone that one has somebody to share life’s daily burdens with is a blessing that should be acknowledged by every husband and wife in each other.

But one learns to cope, as I learned to cope with my life as a “husbandless wife and mother”. I tried to be strong in my chosen role as “ma-pa”, and most times, I do rather well. But there would come times when my heart would crave for my husband’s strong and cheerful presence, when what I wanted more than anything else was to depend on someone else for a change, where I do not have to be the boss anymore.

This desire becomes more evident during difficult times, like when our daughter would become ill, when I have to be strong despite my inner turmoil, when I have nobody to share my fears and anxieties with, when I become exhausted and I do not even have a shoulder to lean my weary head on.

When people talk of one’s spouse being a partner, I would agree wholeheartedly. A husband is truly a partner in every sense of the word, to share everything with, in good times and in bad ……

One can’t help but ask: is all that money worth this lonely struggle? For myself, it is not. I know how to enjoy the benefits that money brings. I will not deny that. But honestly, I can do away with that and will happily choose to enter another struggle arena, but with my husband by my side.

But then, I would look at Abby and ask what about her? We owe her the best life possible. We owe her all the opportunities that we could make available to her. After all, she did not come to us by accident. We asked God for her and we solicited the aid of modern science to be able to have her. Without the dollars her father is earning, she will not be able to enjoy the same privileged life she is having now.

So this takes us back to where we started. About making choices. This time, Nonoy and I choose to go on with our lives as it is now, because we deal with the hard realities of life today, and we have Abby’s best interests in our hearts. In the meantime, we make sacrifices and try to be strong during difficult times.

And this is something that we share in common with all other OFW families – deal with the hard fact that a better life can be had only if one parent will leave for abroad, and for all the rest to make sacrifices, and accept that separation and loneliness are the price that have to be paid for the chance to have a better life and a better future.

We also share common goals, hopes and aspirations – finish constructing our homes, buy a car, save up enough to send the children to college, save up enough to start a business that can hopefully sustain us in the future, and then look forward to that time when Papa, or Mama for that matter, will not have to leave, and the family will be whole again.

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