“Behind every young child who believes in himself is a parent who believed first”
– Matthew Jacobson
I wish there were enough expressions of gratitude that could explain how deeply thankful I am for my parents. Their unconditional and unwavering love has definitely shaped me into the person I am today. My parents have always been my number one fans and I feel so fortunate that they have raised me to be an independent, creative thinker. They’ve allowed me to fail and make my own mistakes but nonetheless, they have always supported me, even if that support was accompanied by disagreement with some of my decisions.
My parents will always be my personal heroes; their stories of sacrifice and success will always be one of my favorite anecdotes. Starting with almost nothing during their childhood, my parents have managed to move from the Philippines to the Middle East as expatriates, followed by a more permanent move to Canada as immigrants in 2008, then becoming Canadian citizens in 2014.
My mom, the youngest of three children, was born in Cebu City in the Visayas region of the Philippines. She moved to the rural areas, namely a small town called Bogo, shortly thereafter where she lived with her siblings and my great-grandparents in a small “house” made of nothing but “kawayan” (tropical bamboo sticks). This so-called house was in fact just one room with wooden dividers to separate the different “bedrooms”. There also wasn’t an in-house bathroom, and so “your business” was done outside at any given time of day. My mom, a victim to childhood asthma, could also not afford maintenance medications and was only brought to the doctor in absolutely life-threatening, severe cases. She also describes her favorite meals as a simple bowl of rice with soy sauce or oil leftovers from fried pork. Walking 3-4km to school was also a daily occurrence for my mom, and unable to purchase new slippers when the thongs would break, she would use safety pins as a solution instead.
And so, with a childhood as such, my mom was determined to succeed and make a name for her. She earned a scholarship at the end of middle school that gave her the opportunity to attend a private high school in Bogo. Following this, my mother won another full-time scholarship that covered tuition, books, and a monthly allowance to attend a private university in Cebu City, University of San Carlos, where she graduated as magna cum laude and one of the ten most outstanding graduates of the university.
My father, on the other hand, was born in Quezon City but moved to the Visayas Region at the age of five, after being separated from his parents. He spent the majority of his childhood living with his grandparents in Buenavista, Bohol. Starting at fourteen years old, my dad already had strong work ethic. At that time, he was helping out at a peanut factory for the extended-family business. Similar to my mom, my dad was always determined to succeed and he viewed working as a means to success. Luckily, my dad was sponsored by his uncle to attend a private high school and moved to Cebu City; following this, my dad took some time off and saved money for university tuition by digging canals at a sugar mill. My father, majoring in accounting and attending the same university as my mother, worked from 1st year university to 3rd year university to pay for school, until finally, earning a full-time scholarship in his 4th year which covered his tuition and his books. My father then went on to graduate as magna cum laude.
Following graduation, my dad worked four jobs – one full time job and three part time jobs. His full time job, Monday – Friday, was working as a bookkeeper for the Bank of the Philippines during the day followed by a teaching job in the evenings at his alma mater, the University of San Carlos. On weekends, he was doing bookkeeping work for two smaller companies.
The “post-graduation” chapter of my parents’ lives was only the beginning of what was going to be a journey of sacrifice and challenges, but most importantly, a journey of opportunity for a better life.
My parents met in 1984 and got married that same year. My parents always tell me that they had nothing but 5 pesos in their pocket right after their wedding day. It was around this time that my father was given the opportunity to move to Saudi Arabia for a job. He moved away less than a month after their wedding day, and unfortunately missed the birth of my older brother a few months later. He worked in Riyadh for five years whilst maintaining a long distance marriage with my mother. My older sister was also born in the Philippines, and so my father wasn’t totally present during the first few years of both my brother and sister’s childhood. With this in mind, my mother would send audio recordings of their voices in mailed packages along with numbered letters; they wrote to each other every single day.
Finally, in 1990, my father got offered a job in Al-Ain, the United Arab Emirates teaching at the Higher Colleges of Technology. He took advantage of this opportunity and re-located to the UAE, bringing my mom, my brother and my sister with him. I was then born in 1991 and my younger sister in 1994.
Our life in the UAE was absolutely amazing. My parents had well-paying jobs with good benefits; my siblings and myself all went to a private school our entire childhood, and we travelled every summer to the Philippines or different parts of the world. In 2002, however, life threw another curveball for my family. My older sister was involved in a car accident, and passed away on January 21st, 2002. That same year, my brother left for Canada to pursue a Bachelor’s Degree at the University of Waterloo.
In 2008, my parents with my younger sister and myself immigrated to Canada permanently. This was definitely another challenging chapter in my parents’ lives. After 18 years in the UAE, we left the Middle East with the intention of settling down in Ontario together as a family. The universe had other plans for us, however, and three weeks after we arrived in Canada, my father got a job offer on the other side of the country in Cranbrook, British Columbia. And so, one week before the start of my academic year as a first year nursing student, my parents and my younger sister left for the West Coast while my brother and myself stayed in Ontario. As a result, my family has not lived together under the same roof since 2002, which is the biggest reason why I don’t take our family get-togethers for granted at all. Those moments are few and far between, which is what makes them so special.
Even with the pain that comes with losing a child, my parents have now raised three children who live independent, self-sufficient lives in three different parts of the world – My older brother, Renjie, based out of Montreal, Canada who is now the Associate Director at the Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship at McGill University; my younger sister, Lorel, based out of Calgary, Canada, who is a Senior Associate for PwC and is now on vacation in South America after just finishing her last exam for her CPA certification; and myself, a Registered Nurse based out of Toronto, Canada now fulfilling a full time scholarship for a Masters Degree at Maastricht University in The Netherlands.
I know my parents are proud of each and every one of us, but in fact, I am most definitely the person beaming at how much my parents have overcome to get to where they are today; I’m so proud of them and all of their hard work. Their lives are my inspiration and I am so fully aware that I live a life of privilege because of them.
The UAE to Canada… I owe it all to the decisions they made in their lifetime. And now, as I’m writing this in Maastricht, I can’t help but shed a tear because my parents have paved the way to make this happen for me too.
My parents’ lives are a reflection of the choices that they have made.
We have a lot MORE POWER over our lives than we think we do. Every single moment, we are presented with different choices and every decision we make IS A CHOICE. The way we choose to respond, the jobs we choose to work, the activities or hobbies we engage in… etc. They are all a product of our own choices; and it’s a culmination of those choices that give us our life experiences.
Furthermore, my parents have such a deeply rooted faith in Christianity and believe that their success was guided by God and through prayers. To quote my mother, “I praise and thank the Lord for all the challenges & difficulties I experienced because they made me stronger and appreciative of the blessings and graces He showered to our family. With the intercession of Mother Mary, the Lord God has answered and continue to listen to my prayers. I glorify His Holy Name”
So whatever it is you believe in, be it God, Goddesses, the universe, energies, a higher power.. etc. – just know that He/She/It always has your back. Always. The way we show up in the world is how the world shows up for you.
So if you’ve made it to the end of this story, I wanna say thank you. Thank you for taking the time to read this. It means a lot to me, and it’s a story that is so close to my heart.
With that being said, happy 33rd wedding anniversary to my parents, and happy birthday to my mom! ❤
Love & Light,
– The Phoenix