Captain Barbell the OFW

Glenn Paulo C. David
On the days where I stand alone in the face of politics and corporate hullabaloos, I grasp my barbell just as Tenteng does to summon his strength

As with any profession, there are days when you’d like to throw in the towel. The rock you’re pushing up the hill is stuck and bears its weight on you. You feel intellectually and emotionally spent. As an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW), days like this make the distance between you, your family and closest friends back home seem awfully wider. As a management consultant, I share a glimpse of this feeling of isolation being away from my wife and child as I travel across the US every week. It is during these times that I call on Captain Barbell. 

Of course, metaphorically, that is. 

The feeling of isolation starts on Mondays as I head out to the airport to catch the first flight out of Chicago. I wake up in the wee hours and open my eyes to a fat 11-month old boy drooling beside me. I’ll silently laugh at how silly my son looks with his mouth open. I’ll count his fat-folds (yes, I just coined that term) which are pockets of fat formed on his arms and legs. Sixteen. Eighteen if you count the ones underneath his diapers! I’ll tilt my head higher so I can see my wife’s head behind my son’s. I’ll wonder when Mr. Fat Folds here will stop sleeping between my wife and me. I’ll put my finger on his tiny nose to watch him squirm a bit careful not to wake him up. I’ll stare at my wife and son for a few more minutes and let my mind ingrain this image which will have to last the whole week.

Many of my clients have not been to Asia and know little about the Philippines. As I am sure you would as well, I am enthusiastic to let my clients know about the Filipino culture. One memorable exchange was in Duluth, MN. My American colleagues spoke about ice fishing, state fairs, and fried Oreos, Snickers and butter: things you would not typically see in Hollywood movies. I, in turn, talked about our food, our beautiful beaches, and famous international Filipino celebrities, among other things.

I told them that I grew up watching Sesame Street but that I particularly enjoyed the characters in our local version, Batibot. I distinctly remember my American clients’ faces light up when I told them about Captain Barbell. I may have even raised my hands and shouted “Captain Barbell!” when I recounted the legend, gesturing how our hero, Tenteng, transforms from a scrawny beggar to a golden hero. I summed up the story jokingly with: “Can Superman really do what he does if he were carrying a barbell? Flying with a barbell just makes perfect sense!” They all laughed and were surprised at how colorful our Filipino superheroes were. 

Regardless of what complex problems are presented before me, I remain confident in the fact that I bring a unique perspective. The convolution of ideas in my head comes from an upbringing that is uniquely Filipino. Seriously, who else in this room have thoughts of a hero lugging a barbell around? And on the days where I stand alone in the face of politics and corporate hullabaloos, I grasp my barbell just as Tenteng does to summon his strength. My barbell comes in the form of three thoughts that resonate a mantra of humility, pride and home. I share my barbell to fellow OFWs so that you, too, may feel like golden heroes!


My first mantra looks inward. I sit in silence and wait for my heart to beat a little slower. Even with the strong friendships my wife and I have developed over the years, there is a void that remains unfilled when you are in a foreign country. I pause and center myself until I am reminded that I am never truly alone. Filipinos look to God for strength and I am not exempt. I remind myself of greater struggles that have brought me here, both mine and my family before me. I know that I will see this one through too.

As a people, there will always be moral issues that divide us as we mature as a nation. Case in point: the RH Bill and the role of the Church in government policies. We were once a role model for peaceful revolutions carrying rosaries and not guns. We are one of the few countries where abortion is still illegal. There are issues that divide us but we are a people that innately trust in God. Looking to the heavens for strength will always be part of our identity.

Burning pride

President Aquino’s words hit front and center when he said, “Pagkalooban mo lang ang Pinoy ng kaalaman, kasanayan, at karanasan… bigyan mo lang ang Pinoy ng sapat na panahon, magpapakitang-gilas po tayo talaga. 

These words best capture my second mantra and the aspirations of the 10 million Filipinos around the globe. I remind myself why we have braved distant shores. While we are scattered across the globe seeking opportunities and building careers to provide for our kin, our deeper aspiration is to show our colleagues what a world-class Filipino truly is. We did not leave our country to simply augment staff and provide temporary relief. We do not sit idle reaping other countries’ wealth. We are here to work hard for a dream back home. We are here to excel and show mastery in our crafts!

More recently, there has been hate language used against us by our Asian neighbors. Lest other nations forget their histories, all nations have undergone periods of struggle and we are not exempt. Countries, organizations and families have significantly benefited from our presence. Let me repeat: they are better off because we are here! There is only pride knowing where we are from.

Let them know that there are only three instances when an OFW will show his or her vulnerability: at the departure gates of NAIA, on the phone with loved ones, and when disaster strikes our homeland. Otherwise, they face Filipinos with unrelenting spirits that end each day with high hopes, contagious laughter, and a smile knowing that the sacrifices today build better lives back home. Let them know.

Barbell lifted

A favorite song, “Miss Kita Pag Tuesday,” is always on my playlist because it reminds me of my wife, Claudine, and how silly we are as a couple. This song is the rhythm of my third mantra. My mind races to thoughts of coming home to Mr. Fat Folds and a warm home-cooked Filipino meal on Thursday evenings in our small apartment. My thoughts go further and I stop and think about long conversations and banters with friends and families back in the Philippines. Our humor is certainly unique – there’s a level of laughter and animation that I only reach with Filipino friends! I remember laughing with them and my spirit is elated. 

Why are these seemingly mundane memories so important?  It keeps me from completely falling in love with this country I temporarily call home – its tastes, conveniences and opportunities. My wife and I keep our hearts focused on finding our way back home one day permanently. We’d like our son to grow up surrounded by people who share our values and speak our language. Do not fall in love, because once you do, you’ll never return home for good.

For now, our endeavors continue while we live in the United States. We’ll just have to look forward to visiting the Philippines around the holidays! Flights back home around this time are definitely a sight to see. There is so much excitement that touches down with the plane at NAIA. Passengers would cheer and applaud, and if you’re really lucky, a high-five from a complete stranger. No embarrassment here: I am one of those guys! Understandably so, this is the only time when we can truly say we are home. 

At this moment, my mantra is complete and my barbell fully lifted. The rock I am pushing up the hill doesn’t bear its weight on me anymore. I am reminded that we are cut from the same cloth of Filipinos with unrelenting spirits, past and present. We are golden heroes. 

Captain Barbell! Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam. –

Glenn is a consulting manager for the hospital industry at one of the big four US consulting firms. He lives in Chicago, Il. with his wife, Claudine, and 11-month old son, Timothy. 

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