Ever since he was a boy, Don Stanley Castillo-Dalisay would only see his father at home every three or four months, whenever the seafaring breadwinner of the family was on vacation.
But for Dalisay, 22, his old man’s absence was never a letdown but a testament to a parent’s love that he hopes to repay soon.
And the grateful son is on a march toward fulfilling that mission, quite literally.
A UP Manila graduate and a current plebe at the Philippine Military Academy (PMA), Dalisay is the only Filipino out of the 20 international cadets admitted this year to the elite US Military Academy in West Point, New York. He is set to fly to the US on June 26.
Dalisay earned a degree in public health in UP Manila in 2011 thanks to a scholarship program of the Overseas Worker’s Welfare Administration (Owwa) that supports children of migrant workers. He made it to the PMA in Baguio City the following year.
The agency announced Dalisay’s West Point admission and presented him to the media at its Pasay City main office on Friday, with Owwa administrator Carmelita Dimzon hailing him as “the pride of the entire country.”
Speaking to reporters, Dalisay recalled that since he was 4, his father Armando, a ship captain, would be at sea most of the year. But the lack of a father figure at home was only physical, for Dalisay maintained that his old man still “raised us well. I never felt less loved just because he was always away.”
“If my father didn’t work hard abroad, after my [UP Manila] course, I would have been forced to work instead of pursuing higher studies. He gave me this opportunity,” Dalisay pointed out.”
Dalisay heaped equal praise on his mother, Merian, who studied engineering but chose to be a housewife so she could “focus on me and my younger brother.”
“Even if my father wasn’t there, my mother always was. I never felt alienated,” Dalisay said.
Merian said she had “mixed emotions” about missing her eldest son in the next four years. “I am happy because it’s a rare opportunity, but sad because my eldest is joining a field we all know is dangerous,” she said.
Dalisay’s decision to enter PMA surprised her, she said, and more so when he passed the entrance exams. He grew up excelling in academics but not really in sports and other physical activities. “I always thought he was inclined toward medicine, so I was shocked when he suddenly entered the military,” the mother said.
She and Armando, who constantly kept in touch on the phone, initially tried to dissuade Dalisay, but eventually let him go after their son pointed out: “What plans do you have for me? To just keep me by your side?”
“My husband and I talked and decided to just support him and entrust his fate to God. I realized that serving the country is a higher calling from God,” Merian said.
Ironically, it was from his mother that Dalisay, who was born and raised in Bolbok, Batangas province, first heard of the prestigious American military school. “When I was a child and Fidel Ramos was president, whenever we watched the news my mother would say: ‘President Ramos is great, he’s from West Point,’” he recalled.
“Of course, being children, we had big dreams—and I was dreaming of becoming president,” Dalisay said, breaking into a laugh. “So I thought that to become one, I should enter West Point. I didn’t even know at that time that it was a military academy.”
But that childhood wish indeed led him to various leadership roles growing up. He became a high-school valedictorian, a campus debater and journalist. His PMA classmates elected him president. He also gained work experience in the health sector and in the local government.
He remains singularly focused going on a higher level: “What I want to learn from West Point is leadership. Their (American) graduates went on to really lead the nation, like Dwight Eisenhower.”
After all, he said, “if you can lead men to die for your country, you can easily lead them to live for it.” Dalisay vowed to return to the Philippines after West Point and “teach my fellow soldiers here the strategies, technologies and skills that I will learn.”
On a more personal note, he said, by then his younger brother would have already graduated and their father Armado could already retire from the high seas, spend more time with the family, and watch a faithful son reciprocate his sacrifices.