Contented in a Christian family
I grew up in a Christian household. I have two older siblings, making me the youngest. My mother was an employee of FDA (which was called BFAD during her time), while my father was an OFW in Saudi Arabia. Due to the nature of my father’s work, we rarely saw him because he only came home twice in a year, a month or less on each stay. At times, we flew to Saudi Arabia to visit him. My mother was a busy woman as well. There were periods when she went out of the country for work. She also had a season when completing her doctorate degree occupied a lot of her time. However, she made sure that despite her busyness, her Sundays were allotted for church and family.
We were happy and content with what we had. Somehow, my mom was able to manage the pressures of work and career, and she even had time for my siblings and me. She was super! Also, in the absence of our parents, we had a much older cousin whom we considered as our nanay-nanayan. She was like a second mother to us.
But in 2008, our lives took a drastic turn.
Olim with his nanay-nanayan
A family distraught by death
My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in the 2000s. She survived it through chemotherapy, but by December 2007, she felt something was off. Her cancer recurred. We didn’t know why, but she opted not to undergo treatment this time around—probably because the cancer became more aggressive than the first one; or perhaps she resisted the drastic effects of sickness on her body; or maybe she got tired fighting. Whatever her reasons were, she passed away in June 2008.
Her death took us by surprise. We knew her as a strong, confident, and persevering woman. I prayed that she would defeat cancer for the second time, but God’s plan was different from what I hoped for. My siblings and I considered our mom as both the “haligi at ilaw ng tahanan.” It was beyond difficult when we lost her.
After my mother’s death, our father promised us that he would be there for us to strengthen the bond between us; to be present and to pick up responsibilities after mom. But his promises differed from his actions. Three years passed, and he forced my siblings to go to the States for “greener pastures.” My father also forced our nanay-nanayan to return to the province. I felt alone.
A turn for the worse
Indeed, I was left alone. I was about to finish my degree in Pharmacy then. I aspired to become a doctor, and my father supported this dream. He promised me that he would take care of it. But out of nowhere and unbeknownst to us, he married a woman we didn’t know, and it was only through social media that we learned of this. It was a shock: our father was a married man again, and we were the last people to know that he became a husband for the second time.
I felt betrayed, forgotten, and abandoned. My idea and hope for a complete family was shattered. My siblings and our nanay-nanayan were sent away, and my dream of becoming a doctor was put on hold because of what had happened. I was furious at my father. We felt that he replaced us with his new wife and that he had left us. I was also mad at the world that my mother was taken too soon because I believed that our circumstances would have been different if she were still alive. I hated the woman my father married, but ironically, I also hated myself because I could not do anything about it.
A new meaning to family
Then there came Rev. Ralph George Dulman and his wife, Shiela, who mentored and discipled me. They opened not only their house to me, but also shared their life with me. I went to church, and I often visited their house where we always talked about God, ministry, and life. Rev. Ralph and his wife always fed me, and they always listened to me. Indeed, they listened. They never rushed me to forgive my father. The truth is, we didn’t talk about my father–they were just there, present. For once in a long time, I felt the essence of family with them.
I realized that many young people might also feel the same way I did about my father toward their own parent/s. Many young people come from broken family relationships, and there could be no one listening to their story. No one might be willing to journey with them.
Olim at far left with Rev. Ralph George Dulman (center) and Pastor Shiela beside him
The road to forgiveness
A God-given opportunity came when one of the church members wanted to send some people from our church to Bible school. This church member desired to send to Bible school someone–anyone–who was willing. Together with my youth pastor, I grabbed this opportunity. I enrolled at the Alliance Graduate School (AGS) to study M.A. in Christian Counselling and Youth Ministry, while Rev. Ralph took his M.A. in Pastoral Studies. While at AGS, I was deeply burdened with my issue against my father. I thought: “How can I help my fellow youth with their issues, if I myself am struggling to forgive my own father? How can I freely accept God’s forgiveness and yet not release that same forgiveness to others?”
I was in pain as I struggled with it. One question that lingered in my head was, “Why should I forgive someone who left me and my siblings so that he could enjoy his own life?” But God reminded me not to focus on myself only. God invited me to think about my father and his actions—that maybe, there was a reason why he did what he did. The more I pondered, the more it helped me see my father’s perspective. Yes, I hated what he had done, and I wished that he had done things differently, but I needed to forgive him, I needed to let go of my anger.
In 2018, I visited my father in Pampanga, where he and his new family currently reside. We had dinner and talked about his life as a new dad again. He had a baby with his wife, and for the first time, I was not angry. I was happy to see him happy. He had another shot at raising a kid as a hands-on father and to be present always for this child. Before I boarded the bus going home, I prayed for him and his new family. I released blessings and forgiveness. It felt good to forgive, the heavy burden of resentment and wanting revenge was gone; it was liberating.
Olim with his dad
Now, I cannot say that we have a perfect relationship, but I am proud to say that I found a new respect for my father. I love him, and I will love him unconditionally. God made sure that I felt the essence of family and forgiveness with the help of others, and as a result, this enabled me to express the love that I encountered afresh and anew to that one person who at one point in my life, I hated the most–my father.
My relationship with my father is far from perfect, but the experience of reconciliation with him further encouraged me to give back and teach what I learned to others.
Olim Seth R. Aqui
Olim Seth R. Aqui is a counselor and a youth minister at Impact Church, Quezon City.