This is my father’s son. He is a myth to me. But as fate would have it, I was sent to serve on an island in the middle of nowhere overlooking a remote stretch of beach. It’s barely visible, far off into the horizon, but it’s home to an orphan whom I now call brother.
A myth because when I was young, my father joked about adding another boy to our family who endured poverty in a small fishing village. Said he was just like those kids on the commercials where an old bearded white guy asked for monthly donations to feed them. Like one of many pictures pasted on my principal’s door of a child clasping a bowl of rice, stomach bloated, an insect stuck to his right eyelid. We could save him my father said. I thought he was just trying to make me feel guilty for being chubby and spoiled. We never talked about it again.
I can’t believe I’m living on this island. I fling my phone onto the bed frustrated with the 18th text message I just received; same person, not even 24 hours has past since his first text. It’s from that brother I finally got to meet 3 years ago in a chance encounter in Manila. Not worth mentioning here. He needs money for new fishing nets. I’ve already sent you money! So he changes his story. Wants to buy a boat so he doesn’t need to keep searching for one to rent everyday. I get even angrier at the request. He tries a different tactic. Hopes to feed the village with a pig for an upcoming fiesta. Nonesense I tell Amy. Then he pokes at my heart. My kid is sick, help me brother. So I send money.
I consult my friends in Manila and in the States who support poor family members. He’s not being responsible, just taking advantage of you they warn. Watch out, you’re enabling, making things worse. He’s just a gambler. They have nothing to do out there but waste money on nothing. I get more texts from my dad’s kid. How annoying! But he’s just checking to see if I’m doing well, hoping I’m getting enough rest from my teaching responsibilities.
I ignore the text, head to my next class to teach poor kids how to read. I ask them where they’re from, who their fathers are, what dreams may come. It wasn’t but a few months ago that I wanted to rip their heads off for teasing my dog, sitting on my motorcycle parked out front, yelling for me to come out. I befriend them and they teach me about their way of life. God tells me to be compassionate, to persevere in generosity and kindness. I love them now, though it’s tough. Today, they’re learning about Jesus. I learned that their fathers are fishermen. Along with farmers they are the poorest people in the Philippines. Squatters in Manila make more money. Fishermen only work to feed their families, nothing more, usually less. My dad’s abandoned kid is a fisherman.
Why don’t you go to school? Why can’t you read? They tell me it’s because they have to work to help buy rice for their family. There’s no time. Why don’t you have good manners? You’re always yelling out my name, calling my wife and kid Amerikano or whitey. Why did you buy candy with that change I just gave you? Save it! How come your parents don’t properly budget? I saw them trying to purchase food for a birthday party. You guys are poor! Use common sense!
God speaks to me again. I calm down. Then this picture arrives – the one with my dad’s kid leaning on a boat. My heart breaks and I want to cry but I’m not honest enough to do so. Amy helps, knows what we need to do.
On Thursday my brother is going to travel almost 2 hours to pick me up in his new, second-hand boat. Thank God for my parents’ help in purchasing it. I’m going to see what his life is like, what it means to fish in the middle of the ocean from 5:30pm until the morning sun rises; lie on his mat and try to nap in the middle of a scorching, hot day before heading out to sea again; attempt to buy enough food for a family of 6 with less than 3 dollars; learn what it feels like to be abandoned, never having seen his own father until decades after his birth, and then try to establish a relationship with that father’s other son…the son that was the reason his father never came back in the first place. I want to open my eyes.