(by Mike Blanding, father of Mateo)
I’ve heard it said that a father has two roles: (1) provider; and (2) protector.
Now that may seem a bit old-school for the modern Dad, but I really do take these two roles very seriously. And I thoroughly enjoy both roles. I find delight in being able to provide for my family physically, emotionally, and spiritually; and I take pride in being able to protect my family both literally and figuratively.
As a child, my father used to sing me to sleep each night with a rather unconventional lullaby. He would sing Summertime the jazz classic, composed by George Gershwin for the 1935 musical Porgy and Bess.
Summertime and the living is easy
Fish are jumping and the cotton is high
Your daddy’s rich and your mamma’s good looking
So hush little baby, don’t you cry.
One of these mornings, you’re gonna rise up singin’
You’re gonna’ spread your little wings and take to the sky
Until that morning, there ain’t nothing can harm you
With your daddy and mamma standing by.
Naturally, I’ve carried on the tradition with André and Mateo as part of their bedtime ritual. As I sing the last two lines over the boys, it’s been my way of reinforcing my commitment as a father to protect them and keep them safe from harm: “Until that morning, there ain’t nothing can harm you, with your daddy and mamma standing by.”
My older son, André, has a wild imagination. And I love that about him. His little world is filled with epic adventures, imaginary friends, and the occasional scary monster or two. Each night when I put him to sleep, he asks me to pray for him. “Daddy, pray for me to have happy dreams,” he requests, “and pray that the monsters won’t get me,” he often adds.
“Don’t worry André. I won’t let the monsters get you,” I assure him.
“Will you protect me, daddy?” he pleads.
“Yes André. I will always protect you,” I affirm. But as I say those words each night, and as I sing the last two lines of Summertime, I know in my heart that they’re not entirely true. While I will do everything within my control to protect my family… some things are not in my control.
Shortly before Mateo passed away, I had an experience that left me feeling quite unsettled. I’ve always heard horror stories about the crime in the Philippines, but I’ve never experienced it personally. One story I hear repeatedly is about a carjacking scheme in which a motorcyclist hits a car, pretends to be injured, waits for the driver to get out of the car and then attacks, robs, and carjacks the driver. The general advice that I’ve repeatedly heard is this: “If you get hit by a motorbike in Manila, lock your doors and just keep driving.”
I had just landed in Manila with André and we had hired a car to bring us to our family’s home. Joanna and Mateo had arrived a few days prior. It was getting dark, and we were driving through a rough and unfamiliar part of town with no streetlights. Suddenly it happened. BANG. A motorcyclist hit our car. To my horror, the driver stopped the car in the middle of a three-lane traffic circle, unlocked the doors, and got out. In an instant, a thousand thoughts flooded my head. While I’m not typically a worried person, in that moment I was filled with fear.
The windows weren’t tinted, so everyone passing by could see that there was an out-of-place white guy and a toddler sitting helplessly in a driverless car. I immediately leaned over and locked the driver’s side door. “I’ll call Joanna and let her know where we are,” I thought… but my phone had no mobile signal. “I’ll jump into the driver’s seat and drive to a more public, well-lit spot,” I planned … but the car was a manual transmission and I’ve never driven a stick-shift in my life. The driver had left his phone in the car… “I’ll use his phone and call the police,” I considered… but his phone was locked and password protected.
Unfortunately this was a situation that I could not provide or protect my way out of. This was a situation which was out of my control. So we prayed. I pulled André onto my lap, we folded our hands and said a simple prayer for God to get us home quickly and safely.
Thankfully, the situation resolved without issue or incident and we were soon safely reunited with the family. But the feeling stayed with me. Why was I so shaken by this experience? Nothing bad happened, everything worked out fine. All’s well that ends well, right? It’s as if God was showing me that as much as I may endeavor to protect my family, I am never going to be 100% in control of the situation nor the outcome.
Weeks later, as Mateo was lying unconscious in critical condition in the ICU, a friend of mine commented “I wish we could just throw money at this situation and make it go away.” I wholeheartedly agreed. I wished for the same. But again, I had found myself in a situation that no amount of my own provision nor protection could change. Again, this was a situation which was out of my control. So again, we prayed. Day and night, we prayed. We prayed for a miracle from the One who is in control.
As I stand in the ICU with my lifeless, breathless son in my arms, and tears rolling down my face, I sing him Summertime one last time. Suddenly a different line of the song speaks to me “one of these mornings, you’re gonna rise up singin’, you’re gonna’ spread your little wings and take to the sky.” I smile at the sad but beautiful irony. His eyes are closed as if he’s sleeping peacefully. I kiss his forehead. “Goodnight Mateo,” I whisper as if this night were like any other night. But I know in my heart that this night is very different. I know that when I wake up, he’ll be gone. And I know that when he wakes up, he’ll be in a very different place. And as the door of his small, cold, sterile, ICU room closes behind me, I know that this is the last time that I’ll see my son on this side of eternity.
“For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep”—Acts 13:36
The #MightyMateo Legacy lives on.
Our little Mateo was highly involved in our efforts to fight online sex trafficking of children in the Philippines during his seven months of life. We believe that he'd love for us to continue this legacy.
#MightyMateo's parents document their journey through grief towards healing.