By Jane Kingsu Cheng

When the job of the breadwinner entails frequent travels for work away from Manila, and Covid-19 comes in and puts a stop to traveling, what should the family do? It was a hard decision for the Dingcong brood to make but they knew, deep inside, that their 50-year-old father George had to fulfill his commitments as a contractor back in their hometown in Bacolod City. 

“2019 was a slow year for his construction firm and so when he decided to renovate his mom’s home in Bacolod in that same year, he thought that it would be a good idea to also take on projects there since he flew in and out of Bacolod anyway to check on the house renovations. When the pandemic hit last March, we had to weigh things and decided it was the logical thing for him to stay in Bacolod so he could finish his projects there,” says George’s 45-year-old wife and freelance makeup artist Chiqui.

The family was used to George flying in and out for projects all over the country, but the most that he had been away was five days. “It was unchartered territory for all of us. We never thought it would drag on for three months and counting,” she adds.

HAPPY FAMILY Chiqui and George (center) with their children Chloe and Gavin

HAPPY FAMILY Chiqui and George (center) with their children Chloe and Gavin

Flying out

George flew to Bacolod on March 10, right before the enhanced community quarantine began. This lockdown has been nerve wracking, to say the least. Married to George for 22 years, Chiqui was anxious if she could hold the fort back in Manila, with no household help to assist her. Aside from that, she’s also worried about George catching the virus with no one there to take care of him. Their two children also shared their own concerns, with 20-year-old Gavin troubled about his dad being alone for such a long period of time, and 14-year-old Chloe stressed about their father’s health.

Their worries subsided when their father made a conscious and regular effort to keep in touch. All three family members left in Manila agree that George has kept the communication lines open. “He would call us regularly to check up on us. He would also send pictures and videos of himself with his friends in our family group chat,” says the eldest son. The unica hija would feel her dad’s care and love whenever he asked her what pasalubong she wanted from him when he eventually came home. “Every time something relevant came up, he would text or call me,” says Chiqui. “He was relentless in saying how he missed all of us and that he couldn’t wait to come home. He always reminded me to make sure we were safe and to double check the locks in our house before hitting the bed.”

Learn something new

The house might have been a little lonelier without George, with his music being played at home and his goofiness and jokes that could make anyone laugh. With the head of the house away from home, each of the family members had to step up—Chiqui had to take on her husband’s role as the resident handyman. “My dad would sometimes call me to get dimensions of items that he needed, so he taught me how to measure correctly. It felt nice that even though we were apart I could still help him with his work,” beams Gavin. The family seem to have adjusted well with the new setup, but things were about to be shaken up.

REGULAR VIDEO CALLS The family makes sure to keep in touch every single day

REGULAR VIDEO CALLS The family makes sure to keep in touch every single day

Close call

All their fears came close to reality. One day, George informed his wife that he felt weak with  a slight fever and a sore throat—all Covid-19 symptoms. “He was a bit susceptible because of his lungs. He had extrapulmonary tuberculosis in February of 2018 that required video-assisted thoracic surgery to draw out the fluid from his lungs, so he was still healing from it,” she explains. 

Chiqui had to downplay her worries so her husband wouldn’t worry as well. She also sought support from their children as they prayed together for him to get well soon. “At that time, even thermometers were sold out so he had no way to check his temperature. I specifically told him to take paracetamol only and not ibuprofen because some articles said it would worsen the condition of the patient. I also told him to hydrate, rest, and watch out for further symptoms,” adds Chiqui, who also sought the help of a doctor friend to pay him a visit and check on him. Thankfully, he got better after a few days.

Virtual celebration

George plans to be back home mid July, and the whole family cannot wait to prepare a feast for him. “He’s most likely to call us for a family prayer time and have a movie night as well with pizzas because that has been our tradition,” says Chiqui.

As George can fly back to Manila no sooner than July, it will be the first time they won’t be spending Father’s Day together. Despite the distance, the family plans to surprise him with a video call and gifts that they have sent over for him to open and enjoy. They all share the same sentiments that they will never take George for granted. “He likes to make me feel less lonely and protected. He spoils us with good food and takes us shopping even if we don’t really need anything,” says Chloe. Her older brother agrees: “It just won’t be complete without our dad. He works hard to make sure our family is secure and happy.”


Source: Manila Bulletin (https://lifestyle.mb.com.ph/2020/06/19/away-from-home/)