My Dad Leaving for Vietnam
Most fathers have the luxury of spending a lot of time with their wife and kids. Some fathers don’t always have that luxury, but wish they had. I think my father was more of the latter.
Does this mean that he wasn’t a good father? On the contrary. He is probably the best father in my view. Of course I have a biased view, but let me elaborate.
My father grew up in a farm area in the Sorsogon Province in Luzon, the main island of the Philippines. His teen years came to him during the latter part of World War II, just as the Imperial Army of Japan was being beaten back by the US Military.
At the age of 15, my father lived off the land as his father tasked him to plant corn and other crops over a period of several months, with his father coming in periodically to check on him. During this period, he lived under a hut with no walls, just a roof of straws. For sustenance, he caught small game and ate fruits and vegetables he gathered from the land.
When he graduated from high school, a friend of his mother suggested taking him to Manila. His mother was excited and even gave the friend some chickens to make sure my father was able to go. Turns out the friend was all talk, and left for Manila without my father. With everyone expecting him to go to Manila, my father set off to go to Manila on his own.
Upon arriving in Manila, he lived with his cousins. For two months he had he could not find a job, and eventually decided to find his mother’s friend. He found him, but unfortunately, he was a mere driver and had no power to get him a job. His tough luck eventually turned around when he began doing building renovation jobs which led him to a other manual labor jobs.
He got married in 1955. When his first child was born, he realized that the work he was doing wasn’t going to cut it as his children (current child and future kids) would have no future. That is when he focused his efforts towards a bachelors of science degree in Radio Engineering through FEATI University.
When he got his degree, his boss promoted him to Assistant Telephone Outside Plant Engineering in Charge. His responsibilities expanded and even involved contracts with extended tours in Vietnam. I think he was there for about a year. Imagine having to be separated from your family for many months! I for one really missed him.
In 1969, my father had the foresight to know that our lives would be better in the United States of America. That is when he went to the US Embassy in Manila to apply for immigration. In 1972, martial law as proclaimed by the dictator Ferdinand Marcos. My own child experience there told me that brutality by police and military men were rampant then. Fortunately, in 1973, his exit visa was approved, and he was able to leave the Philippines with just $300 in his pocket. He wanted to take more, but strict martial law rules kept him from withdrawing more.
When he went to California, USA, the only contact he had was a letter he sent to a friend to ask him to pick him up a the airport. He was going there blind. Fortunately his friend got the message and picked him up at the airport. Finding a job was his next challenge. Fortunately, he had great help from his friends and other Filipinos in the US. For a man who had a BS degree in Radio Engineering, he was willing to work odd jobs to help him sustain him while finding the right job.
Eventually he was able to find a position as a janitor in a company called Fairchild through a friend who helped him petition the rest of his family to the US. All this time, he never forgot to send money to the Philippines to help his family. He successfully petitioned all of us in 1974. His friend who was also a janitor allowed us to rent a room in his house.
He later became a draftsman at Fairchild but was later laid off. He eventually got an interview and a job at Bechtel Corporation as a cable engineer. Soon he found himself being sent to Atlanta, GA, to support construction there related to the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Agency (MARTA).
He is again separated from his family, living in a one room apartment in Atlanta, Georgia. He was ready to go back to California and told his boss. His boss didn’t want him to leave and was able to finance our move to Atlanta. By this time, my brother has joined the US Air Force to help lessen the burden. We all lived in a small apartment–living, eating, and watching in one small room.
Living in one room, we all realized how strong of a smoker my Dad was. All of us convinced him to stop smoking because we all knew it was bad for him. He stopped “cold turkey” and began chewing gum instead. We also let him know how much we hate Atlanta and how much we wanted to go back to California.
As soon as he found an opportunity, he applied and was able to get us back to California. In 1977, Bechtel tried to send him to Washington DC. Having just bought a house for the family, with his wife holding a steady job at AMD, and the kids all studying, he refused. This same year, he found another job as an Outside Plant Engineer at International Services Communications under contract with Pacific Bell.
For several more years, he worked with various companies as an Outside Plant Engineer, and even tried to see if North Carolina would help our situation. He worked there for only two months. Fortunately we convinced him at that time to stay in California. He finally retired in 1991.
Because he wanted his kids to have a future, he made many sacrifices including getting separated from his family for very extended lengths of time. That separation is painful yet he did it to ensure his kids had a future.
Here’s the funny thing. Not once did I think during my childhood that we were having financial issues. We always had food to eat, clothes to wear, and were able to do things we never thought we would do when we were in the Philippines.
Today, with the exception of his eldest who passed away from a medical accident, all his kids are successful in their own right. His children now have their own kids, and even a grandchild. Because of the ground work he has laid for us, not once did his kids experience the struggles he faced growing up.
My Dad passed away on 19 Sep 2013, at 4:31 am. Before and at the time of his passing, he was constantly surrounded by the very family he loved and supported, as well as the extended family resulting from the fruits of the future he wished for his children.
Rest in peace Pops!