A story of the flight attendant and the doctor
Pam Baricuatro was 25 years old when she applied for a flight attendant job at Cathay Pacific.
Her story could have been an ordinary one as many Cebuanas, mostly beauty queens and pageant titleholders, were eager to get a job
with the airline in the early ‘90s.
But Pam had a secret which she could not disclose to the airline.
She had a five-year-old daughter, Elise Nicole or her little Nikki.
“I was a single mother, but I didn’t tell the people who interviewed me that I had a daughter. I wanted to apply and get the job because I needed to support my daughter,” recalls Pam.
She got the job with Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong’s flagship carrier with headquarters and main hub at the Hong Kong International Airport.
Fearing that other applicants would file a protest when she got the job, she did not officially declare Nikki as her daughter.
But fate smiled on her, and in 1996 an anti-discrimination law was passed in Hong Kong allowing her to freely declare that she is a mother to a sweet little girl without fear of losing her job.
While her friends spent their 20s exploring the world, Pam had to come home to Cebu to be with Nikki. At that time, Nikki was living with a
nanny in an apartment.
“It was very hard raising her. I wanted to spoil my daughter yet I needed to discipline her, call her out when she does something bad. I was both father and mother,” says Pam.
Nikki went to a Catholic school from preschool to high school. In second grade, a classmate teased her for “not having a daddy” which made Nikki feel bad.
The young girl didn’t want to go back to school but did not tell her mother why.
“Eventually she recounted being bullied. So I went to the school and talked to the teacher. I said it’s not Nikki’s fault that she is a product
of a broken family. And it’s better that I’m honest with her than pretend that the dad and I are together,” Pam says.
After the incident, the quiet and shy Nikki was called by the teacher to stand in front of the class and everyone gave her hug.
Nikki says there was a clear delineation between “needs” and “wants.” Her mother made sure she always had books and food. All other things had to be negotiated.
As a single mother, Pam consciously raised her daughter to be socially aware of the plights of the poor and the common people.
“When she was in Cebu, she would buy sampaguita garlands sold by street children and she would tell me their stories… about how a kid her age was still up late at night to sell sampaguita. Early on Nikki realized how blessed she is to have roof over her head, and that other children weren’t as lucky,” says Pam.
Nikki frequented airports and became close to Pam’s friends in Cebu along with her fellow flight attendants whom Nikki fondly calls her
Pam would bring Nikki to Hong Kong for summer and Christmas vacations. But the mother-daughter bonding would at times be interrupted when the airline called her for work as she was on the reserve roster.
“It’s true that it takes a village to raise a child. I would leave Nikki in the apartment and then I would call my friends, the CX Titas, to take care of her,” says Pam.
In Cebu, Pam’s friends took up the slack and helped Nikki with homework. And when she learned to drive a car and it broke down
in the middle of the road, her mom’s friends came to her rescue.
“I got the best of everything. I was a constant visitor to everybody’s home. I have many adoptive parents. It was just me and my Mom but the extended family was huge,” shares Nikki.
Pam says emotional security is important to a child.
She has always been honest to Nikki about her romantic relationships. Nikki was a witness to her heartbreaks. Nikki also saw her titas cry over failed relationships.
“My mother synthesized those experiences. In a way, I have a bit of wisdom about those issues. You don’t have to experience something firsthand to know what to do. Some things you learn from other people’s experiences,” says Nikki.
Pam belived that to become a good mother, she needs to be a woman first.
While she admits that she didn’t do everything right, she explained her situation to her daughter.
“For me to be a good mother, I have to be a woman first. I have to show my daughter what kind of woman I am so she can choose what kind of woman she wants to be,” she says.
In her experience, Pam says it’s best to be honest with her child than for her to find out from other sources
A simple rule she told Nikki was: “Follow what I say, don’t follow what I do.”
“You are a student of life and a student of love. We make mistakes. I can’t say that I’m holier-than-thou. That is why it is best to manage expectations with your children,” she says.
She tells single mothers to refrain from talking ill about the fathers of their children. “Let them (children) figure out for themselves” is what she would always say.
Pam was 37 when she met the love of her life, and Nikki was 16 years old.
“Raising a child is hard. But I reckoned, if this kid turns out good, she will be an asset to me. If I mess this kid up, she will be a liability to me. I think my husband married me because of my daughter. He fell in love with Nikki the moment they met,” she says.
Nikki was in preschool when she expressed her ambition to become a doctor. But after high school, she wanted to study journalism.
“I was a tiger Mom so I told her to study Nursing for pre-med and focus on finishing med school. She was an obedient daughter,” says Pam.
After med school at the Cebu Doctors’ University, Nikki took her postgraduate internship at the Philippine General Hospital. After passing the medical board exams, she pursued Masters of Public Health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York.
While Nikki was in med school, Pam saw how difficult it was for her so she told Nikki that “it’s okay to stop.”
But Nikki persevered.
“After passing the board, she called me and said, ‘Mom, thank you for pushing me to become a doctor because this is what I’ve always wanted.’ That was a lesson for me, that as a parent, it’s okay to give your kid a gentle nudge. There are successful people because they have hands-on parents,” says Pam.
Today, both mother and daughter consider each other as best friend and most trusted confidante.
They are also part of SimplyShare Foundation Inc. (http://www.simplyshare.org) where Pam sits as executive
director and Nikki serves as Director for Public Health.
The foundation aims to address malnutrition and under-nutrition among Filipino children in the Philippines by
setting up the Food Bank Council of Cebu, an endeavor which they hope will gain Cebuanos’ support.
“Even the foundation is a product of my relationship with Nikki because I love to cook. I would feed her and her classmates. So when my friends and I got together to form this foundation, I stood up and said I’d like to deal with children and address hunger,” says Pam.