A Father at Sea: Get to know the Munzones Family

Family is the most important thing in our lives. Especially in the Philippines, it’s the rock that keeps us going through the tribulations that life throws at us. We are used to constantly text messaging and keeping in touch with loved ones throughout so having a family member working abroad is a definite trial, but a trial we all will push through for our loved one.


Let us meet the Munzones Family. Gene Munzones is a recent graduate from a top tier university in Metro Manila. His two older sisters are successful career women in their respective fields, and his mom is comfortable living in her home and taking care of the household. This is all thanks to his dad Roy Munzones who is currently an engineer based in the United Arab Emirates. It was hard having his dad abroad, but with the advantages one receives earning from abroad and the opportunities available, they made it work.


OFW Guru sat down with Gene over a cup of Joe to ask him how his dad working abroad made an impact on the lives of his family, and on him personally.


When did your dad first leave the country and how was his career?


My dad left the country back in the 80’s. He started out as a seaman but he eventually rose the ranks as time went by. Now he’s a chief engineer, one of the highest officials in the hierarchy.


How did your family cope when he first left?


At first, my mom would cope by spending much of her time with her brothers. It was then that she grew much closer to them. It was especially hard for her at the beginning, as my dad would only take short vacations home. When my mom was first pregnant with my eldest sister, during her trimesters my dad was at sea. She had to rely on her family to accompany her to doctor’s appointments and the hospital visits.


Having to raise three kids; my two older sisters and myself, was not an easy task for my mom. She had to do it for the most part alone with little help from family and friends. She’d often complain that my dad should return back to the Philippines and that he’s missing a lot of important milestones in his childrens’ lives. It was a heavy burden for her, and for us kids too. I think that growing up with little presence from a father figure is different, especially when you watch friends growing up with both parents in the country. I feel like I did not go through the same experiences as some other kids because of the lack of a father-figure growing up.


Luckily, by now, we have got our own rhythm. My eldest sister is married, my parents are happy grandparents, and I’m an uncle. We got used to it and while we’d like to have experienced having our father around a lot, we understand our parents’ situation.


How did the family roles change?


My mom had to be the person-in-charge for everything when my dad was away. She went to our schools to talk to our teachers. She took us to church, taught us values, and had a huge impact on our personalities. This may be why my siblings and I all sort of behave like her, in a way. Whenever there were chores or errands she needed to do, my sisters would go with her. They have become her plus ones to family events or reunions with friends. Having my dad definitely took a toll on how she imagined marriage life to be.


My dad is, of course, still our dad. He’s the one who provides for us, even if he’s hundreds of miles away. We understand the sacrifice he makes and are proud of him for truly making it big in his career. We know he loves us.


For problems that require a man, oftentimes my uncles would step in and help. When we have technical problems in the household or have problems with neighbors, my uncles would support us in dealing with these.


These days, I’m sort of stepping up and being the man of the family while my dad is away. A lot more responsibility has been put on me to take care of my sisters and look out for their best interests even though I’m the youngest, but I’m the only boy. It has a lot to do with Filipino culture.


How do you stay in contact with your dad? What tips do you have for other people so they can stay in touch?


Back then, my mom would stay in contact through snail mail. At the start of the millennium, the advent of technology allowed for better systems of communication, i.e. email. My mom and dad frequently sent emails to one another. Right now, when my dad is on assignment, my mom would just message him on Facebook or Viber. However, being at sea, sometimes there is no cellphone coverage or Internet. Because of this, we try to make his visits back to the Philippines as special as possible. My dad missed a lot of family events like the birth of my eldest sister’s daughter and a picture or shared video with him isn’t going to make her feel a connection to her grandfather.


Scheduling weekly Skype session dates with the whole family and assuring that everyone gets to update our dad with their life is what keeps us going as a family unit.


What is your viewpoint on Filipinos living abroad?


Filipinos living abroad is beneficial for the economy however it has drawbacks regarding the psychological and sociological effects it has on the family. It takes a lot of courage for a parent to leave his or her family behind, and losing a father or mother figure can affect how the children are raised.


For a kid to leave their family abroad, sometimes they to in order to find a job that will be able to support their family. Circumstances force them to leave their homes. On the other side of things, instead of finding greener pastures for their families, these days, some OFWs also want to see the world and travel. They don’t essentially have to leave the country to find a job but they choose to leave to have easy access to travel.


Living abroad, does your father have a group he can call family?


There is a small community of Filipinos where he works. Primarily, he works in the ship. So his crew consists mainly of Filipinos and foreigners comprise several officials. Those folks are like his family when he’s at sea.


He shares stories about life in the ship, how they celebrate birthdays together and explore different places their ship docks. He takes pictures and sends them to us. However, he also tells us that sometimes he feels detached. It is hard being a boss and friend at the same time. There are communities of Pinoys in Abu Dhabi for those who mainly live in the city that are more supportive of each other and further aspirations besides their current jobs.


Which social media outlet is the most useful?


Viber and Facebook. Viber is especially important to share things on a daily basis.


What is your viewpoint on a career as an OFW? Would you like to work as an OFW?


For me, I wouldn’t want to work as an OFW. Given a choice, I think my dad would have preferred to work in the Philippines and be with his family. He chose to workabroad so that he could earn more and provide a much better life for us. He worked hard so I would not have to workabroad and can work in the Philippines. I don’t want to waste the opportunity he worked so hard for.


Abroad?


If ever I would workabroad, it would be more of in the field of business and finance, fields I’ve studied in university.


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