I was supposed to interview my uncle in his home for our Father's day article, but at the time of the interview, I visited him at the Malmi Hospital, lying on the hospital bed. He has fallen once again in his home.
My uncle's name is Bill and he loved to dance the cha-cha. He would dance with all his sisters in different events. He also makes the most delicious pandesals and siopaos and other favorite Filipino dishes. He is a gentleman, obedient, good-mannered, and a humble worker, who always says 'Yes Ma'm' and 'Yes Sir'.
Bill is one of the millions of Filipinos who sacrificed the welfare of their family and marriage to work abroad. They work hard to send money back home to provide a decent income for the family they left behind or to reunite the family again and migrate to the country as citizens. Bill's family chose to be left behind while he stayed in Finland for nearly 30 years.
Bill is one of the many pensioners who will rather stay in Finland instead of going back to his country of origin. The longer you live in a particular country, the more it becomes your home. You might have earned benefits such as pension that will cease when you do not live in Finland anymore and miss the healthcare services because they're not available in your country. You're not familiar or used to the weather or environment in your country because you have become accustomed to the weather and other conditions here.
Why are you here in Finland for a long time?
I have lived in Finland since October 10, 1989. I was then 46 years old. My sister, Lydia, invited me here, but it was hard to find work at first because I could not speak Swedish or Finnish. Eventually, I got a job from the Brazilian Embassy, where I worked for 10 months and in the Catholic Church as a cook and cleaner for four years. I became a sole trader and operated my cleaning business for five years. My clients were known names such as Ahlström, Truman, and Ahlbergs and mostly doctors and ambassadors.
I have a lot of friends and acquaintances in Finland. All in all, I've lived here for more than 25 years. I could not continue my business after the accident and I had operation when I was 63 years old. I will be 75 years old on November 28 and probably the oldest Filipino who lives in Finland now.
Why are you not going back to the Philippines?
I cannot go home because of my operation. I have to use a wheelchair and I have severe back pains. If I go to the Philippines, I have to stay put because the roads are bad. Now that I'm a Finnish citizen, I have more privileges here and I can also go anywhere with my motor wheelchair.
How does it feel to be alone here for so many years without your family?
I am sad but what can I do? There are many lonely people here without family, but at least I have my motor wheelchair. It's still better to live here even though I'm alone. I would love my family to come here, but what can I do? I cannot bring my family here because I'm not rich, and I live in a government-rented apartment. Maybe if I own my apartment, then my family can come here, but the government is already helping me, so why should they help my children?
How old were your children when you left them and how is your family doing?
I have four children. The oldest, Ian, was 12 years old, and the youngest was 1.5-year-old when I moved to Finland. My children are now adults and they have a successful printing business in the Philippines. My wife, Mely, is a consultant in PUP and she earns quite well. My wife doesn't want to come here because she can earn much more money there than here and her pension is much bigger than mine because she has been working since 1975 in the same company. She came here before, but she could not stand the thought of leaving the children behind while we scrub the toilets here.
What do you think of yourself as a father?
A father is the breadwinner of the family. I'm not known as a father to my children because I have been here while they stay there in the Philippines. I keep sending money to the Philippines to support my family there, but who am I to them even though they carry my name? I'd rather stay here until I die. No one will take care of me in the Philippines. They will have a hard time if they have to take care of me. I see too many poor people there. Who will take care of me? My children, my wife? I don't want to be a burden to them. Here, at least, I have my pension.
What do you think if your children can come here?
How can they come if they don't have work? They can't even come here as tourists because they don't have so much money in the bank. My wife can go here anytime because she has a social security number.
What message would you like to give to foreigner fathers who live in Finland?
If based on my story, I won't recommend staying here and giving up everything back home because I'm here alone and still poor.
What is your father's day celebration?
I'm sad. I don't have my family and my children to celebrate the holidays with me. Everyone has a family, they have a lot of families, and they have grandkids. Most are lucky because they have their relatives here. I am unlucky.
I do not have my family and my children to celebrate the holidays with me.
What is your wish or dream?
My sister says that I should not dream or wish because it won't come true. I say that it does not cost anything to dream even though my dreams have not yet come true.
Interview by Mae Lehto
Photos by Bill´s Facebook Page