[NB: the following is an original article written by a classmate in medical school. We would like to thank the author for giving us permission to post the article in this blog. ]
I am writing this on board a plane. I have just visited my uncle and his family in Seattle, Washington, for a week, and I am on my way back to my father’s place in New York City.
My dad graduated from the University of the Philippines, Los Baños many years back. He immediately took a job in a big agricultural company selling fertilizers and at the same time educating farmers in the province of Pampanga. He was a good lecturer and educator, being pro-farmer. In Pampanga, he met my mother, the daughter of a small-time fertilizer dealer. They had me a year after they were married in 1978.
My mom worked for an airline company. Even if they were both working their bottoms off and thought they only had me at the time, they felt that they still didn’t have enough. We didn’t have our own house and the budget was always tight.
My dad decided to work in Saudi Arabia (yes, I am an overseas Filipino worker’s child). When he was working in the Middle East, we were able to build a house and buy some properties, and later we, the children, were sent to exclusive private schools.
My father was not around when my brother was born. I had such a skewed idea of family that when my brother was born in 1983, I blurted out: “Ma, lalaki ang anak natin!” [“Ma, our child is a boy!”]
My dad tried to find work again in our country, but because of his age, and maybe partly because of politics, he failed to land a job. Thus, after his stint in Saudi Arabia and multiple failures in business and employment, he decided to try his luck in the land of the free and the home of the brave.
He went to the United States on a tourist visa. He had no permit to work and he carried the burden of making our lives comfortable.
Raising us was no picnic for mom. She was single-handedly taking care of two boys, and taking all the physical, emotional and psychological blows they entailed.
My dad, for all his expertise, educational background and vast experience, landed a job as a housekeeping staff in a nursing home. Later, he worked as a nurse’s aide. After that, he worked as a carpool driver on the streets of New York. All the time he saved as much as he could so he could send money home to mom. And this was a man who had graduated from San Beda College and University of the Philippines and who had managed people in a large agricultural company.
At the age of 40, he decided that it was time to move up. He studied nursing. And when he completed his studies, he worked as a nurse — a job that he holds up to the present.
He could not go back to the Philippines because his immigration papers were not in order. So we visited him instead.
As the years passed, we started to drift apart, until we became almost like strangers. My mom loves my father, but she does not really know him well because during their 30 years of marriage, they were only together for a total of 10 years. All their married life was focused on providing a good life for us, even if it meant giving up the romance, the long walks, the “growing old together” that most couples enjoy.
I sometimes wonder why my parents gave up being together and how they were able to go through it day after day. I can imagine them just newly married and making plans to grow old together, to raise two boys together and then retire together—to start and to end together, as husband and wife.
This did not become a reality. It did not come true because of the great American dream.
The American dream is defined differently by different people. This I have learned from long conversations with my relatives. To some, it means living in the USA, building a family there, having a good career, and buying a house in a good neighborhood. To others, like my father, the American dream means working in the US, no matter what the price, to make their loved ones in the Philippines live comfortable lives.
My father is 54 now, but he looks much older than his age. Years of hard work as a nurse have taken its toll on his body. Diabetes has destroyed his joints and impaired his eyesight. He has spent several days in the intensive care unit alone. Despite all this, he continues to serve American patients and doctors.
Maybe a part of the American dream is the feeling of self-worth. When he was in his 40s, many companies in the Philippines turned his job application down because of his age. In America, his patients and co-workers love him and his age and his race hardly matter. Because he pays his taxes on time, he enjoys great benefits in terms of health care. His insurance paid for his ICU confinement as well as his laser surgeries for glaucoma. He has worked hard and Uncle Sam now takes care of him.
Ah, the American Dream: My father is weak but he is happy. His American dream came true in his accomplishments, in the properties he owns in the Philippines and in his sons, one a doctor, the other a lawyer. After more than 20 years of being apart, I think he’s trying to make up for lost time.
I am a new doctor in the Philippines. I am my father’s son, and I, too, am searching for my American dream.
About the author:
Carlo N. Lazaro, M.D. is a graduate of the UERMMMC College of Medicine Class 2005 and is currently taking up post graduate fellowship training in gastroenterology.