By David Haldane
August 1, 2019
It was a dance of tears.
Fortunately, happy ones rather than those of another kind.
The scene took place in the backyard of a new home recently purchased in Fontana, California, by a family whose members are our friends. There, under the watchful eyes of a yard full of guests, a young woman danced with her father on the occasion of her eighteenth birthday. The girl was Filipino, and her father American. The two had not always been related, but now they were. And as they cemented that reality in a dance, both had tears in their eyes as did the majority of their guests. Obviously, the significance of the moment had not been lost on those privileged enough to see it.
To understand that significance is to know a story that began in Metro Manila, where the young girl was born. It was there that her mother, Sandy, met the man with whom she conceived two daughters; Nicole, the birthday celebrant, and her younger sister, Nadine, now 14. It was also there that he died in a motorcycle accident when the girls were still young. And so Sandy and her daughters had done their best to survive as a family.
To hear Sandy tell it, one day the girls came to her and said, “Mom, you need to find a man.” And so, she did, in the way that many couples meet these days; through an online dating site, in this case aimed at Christian singles.
The rest, as they say, is history; they dated, fell in love, she emigrated to the US on a fiancé visa, got married and, finally, brought the two girls over to be with their new father. From all appearances, it was love at first sight; Scott, who’d never had any children of his own, immediately adored both girls and they instinctively called him daddy.
Which brings us to the birthday party that was more than a birthday party. In fact, it was a traditional Filipino debut, in this case celebrating not just the entry of a newly-minted young lady into the world of adults, but also a new country, new house, new dad and new life.
“Congratulations,” I whispered to Nicole, looking splendid in a magnificent blue gown, as I handed her one of the eighteen red roses reserved for male guests taking their turns as her partner on the dance floor. There were also eighteen flickering candles for the women, accompanied by eighteen endearing speeches.
The resulting glow lasted for hours. And as I basked in its warmth, I thought about what it all meant, this sharing of lives across borders and cultures. My wife, Ivy, and I once visited the girls’ grandparents in their little barangay on Siargao Island where the family farm has been producing rice and coconuts for generations. And it occurred to me then, as it does now, how far-flung Nicole’s new life will be from what her forebears must have envisioned. And how that life will ultimately take its place amid the expanding tapestries of both these blessed nations.
David Haldane, a former Los Angeles Times staff writer, is an award-winning American journalist, author and radio broadcaster who recently moved to Surigao City with his Filipino wife and their eight-year-old son. This column tells the unfolding story of that adventure.