[Editor's Note: This story originally appeared in the fall 2005 issue of The Avid Cruiser.]
It made Wilfredo Tubog proud that he had saved $30,000 for his kids’ college education. After all, that was the reason he took a job on a cruise ship. He knew that he could earn much more than he could earn in his native Philippines.
God knows, he had tried there, working at a hotel, but that, as it turned out, was not enough to get ahead in a country where many people live in poverty. And so in 1984, Tubog joined Holland America Line as a bartender. He’s moved up in rank over the years to become bar manager. He makes a nice living and is able to save for his children’s education. It is important to him that he make provisions for his kids to get a good education. “That’s my number-one aim,” he says.
If you are a parent, as I am, you discover in talking to people like Wilfredo Tubog that we are not that much different from one another.
We all make sacrifices, the way our parents did, so that our children can have better lives. There is, of course, the difference that people who work on cruise ships make a larger sacrifice than most, because they are away from their families for six months to a year — every year.
Tubog misses his three children, and they miss him. “Every week,” he says with a smile, “I call my wife and children. They always miss me.”
When he returns home every six months, he showers his family with affection. “I cook breakfast for my children, I send them off to school, I go to church with them on Sunday — I spend all of my time with my family,” he says. “And when I leave home to go to the ship, they are crying. I tell them this is a part of life, something I must do for them.”
After more than 20 years at sea, Tubog would like to return home to be with his family. But he’ll have to stay on a bit longer. You see, the college fund he invested in went bankrupt, and he lost the large sum of money that he sat aside for his kids. He shrugs it off with a smile. What can he do but begin saving again?
Arnel Dineros: Mixing Martinis
Supporting a family in the Philippines is not easy. Arnel Dineros (pictured above) tried carving out a living farming and raising chickens back home. Today, he earns his living mixing martinis on a cruise ship.
“When I was a kid, I used to skip stones on the ocean, thinking some day I would go around the world by ship,” he says. “And now I have done it.”
During his 15 years as a bartender, Dineros has been on two world cruises, and each time, during port calls in Manila, he brought his family on board. “They were very proud to see that I worked on such a beautiful ship,” he says.
His parents are his mentors, a mother of 82 and a father of 83, married for nearly 60 years now. “We are a poor family,” Dineros says, “but a very lucky family.”
He and his wife have three daughters and a son. Dineros too works on a ship to give his kids a better life. He sends them more than money. “I always pray for the family and pray for my wife,” he says. “She is always praying too, for us to have good health and a good future. We talk two to three times a week. It costs a lot, but it’s important to me.”
The mainstream media sometimes accuses cruise lines of exploiting cheap labor from foreign countries. But when you talk with people like Arnel Dineros, you realize that they welcome the opportunity to earn three times what they could earn at home. “My oldest daughter is 15, and she likes mixing drinks,” Dineros says, “I hope some day she will come to work on a ship.”
He’s managed to save a little money to open a bar back on a beautiful beach near his home. It was on that beach that he used to skip stones and dream of going to sea. Now, when he returns home, he watches the fishermen who live on what they catch and trade. He admires their simple life. He says like those fisherman he has no greater ambition in life other than to provide for his family. What more is there anyway?
Oro Dugan: Lending A Hand
Oldest of six children, Oro Dugan has not fathered any children, but he acts as a father to many. That’s because a portion of his earnings go to his younger brothers and sisters and to a group of kids who attend a marshal arts school that he supports in the Philippines.
He flips through a stack of photos that are dear to him: some of his family and others of the students. One is a photo of a large banner strung across a street. Put there by grateful students he supports, it reads, “Happy Birthday Oro Dugan Jr.”
Dugan understands how important it is to be a good mentor for kids. By his own admission, he was “a hard-headed teenager and trouble-maker.” A day before his 18th birthday, he was arrested for possession of fire arms and almost convicted to serve a jail sentence. It was a wake-up call.
He devoted himself to serving others. Over the years, he’s been able to provide financial help for the schooling of his younger brothers and sisters, a house for his parents and equipment and funding for his marshal arts school.
Oro Dugan, Arnel Dineros, Wilfredo Tubog. They are not unlike you and me. Sitting on the top deck at 11 p.m., Tubog is still smiling, even after a long, exhausting day. He and his bar staff are cleaning up after an outdoor barbecue that ended only a few hours ago. He steals a few minutes to talk with me. He tells me his story while the others pack up for the night. He looks around. There is Arnel Dineros packing bottles and glasses. Oro Dugan is helping clean the decks. It is hard work, but it has a purpose. “We are all here,” Tubog says, “because we want a better life for our children.”
Among the next generation of children coming out of the Philippines, there surely will be a group grateful for the sacrifices their parents made. Some will never know about the hardships, like shrugging off a financial loss and starting all over again — or of missing their families while at sea.
But then parents like these don’t want their children to dwell on such hardship. All they want for their children is a happy future, full of hope and full of joy. After all, what could make any parent prouder than being able to provide that?