When I was five years old, my father worked as a military officer. He was stationed at Kawait Island, in our native Philippines. In the 1940s the Americans had built the hospital there, which served as a quarantine station for foreign ships entering the ports. When the Americans left the Philippines after World War II, Kawait Island and the hospital, which was no longer functional, was left under the care of the Philippine government. A skeletal workforce, including my father, was stationed there to provide security.

It must have been lonely working on Kawait. tatay, as I called my father, would stay at the staff house near the told hospital during his three-day shifts. He had only the goats and chickens that roamed freely on the island to keep him company. The coast guard patrol boat would dock there once in a while, and some local fisherfolk would drop by for an afternoon nap.

I hadn't started school yet, so my father would sometimes take me along with him while he was working. I cherished those moments dearly. Although practically marooned on the island with no playmates. I was never short of toys because the ocean swept up a lot of stuff, mostly other people's junk which I found very interesting and useful.

Each morning upon waking, I would run to the shore to see what treasures the tide had bought during the night. My precious collection included a toy car with missing wheels, little plastic soldiers with no hands or feet and an assortment of rubber and plastic balls. I stored them in my treasure chest -- an ice cream canister that I had scooped out of the waves one morning.

One day I saw a beautiful white boat. It was made out of carved polystyrene material and had a transparent plastic sail. It was perfect.

I was mesmerized as I watched the wind blow the sailboat towards the shore. My heart thumped with excitement as I ran to retrieve it before it swept away again. As I held it in my hand, I vowed never to lose it. I proudly showed it to my tatay, who was happy enough to see my enjoying myself, although he warned me not to go into the water again without him.

One day I was floating my boat on the water, carefully staying near the shore where my father was watching when he remembered that he needed to take his medicine. He instructed me to come back to the shore for a moment before he rushed into a nearby hut that served as the staff kitchen to take his pill. I started towards the shore as I saw my father turn away. But when I reached out to get the boat, a soft wind caught its sail and pushed it away from me. I took a couple of steps towards it, but the current that my movement created kept propelling the boat further and further away.

I watched in horror as my boat floated out of my reach. I was determined not to lose it. In one huge step, I stretched my arm as far as it could go and strained to grab the boat, but I missed and plummeted into the ocean, not realizing how deep the water was and forgetting that I could not swim. I was enveloped in sea water. I paddled and kicked hard, trying to remain above the surface, but the water was just to deep, the current too strong and my body too weak to fight. I felt myself sinking to the bottom. I gasped for air, but only salty water filled by throat and nostrils. Then I passed out.

When my father emerged from the hut, he was horrified to see me thrashing in the water some distance from the shore. He dived in and swam as hard as he could to the spot where I had gone under. He repeatedly dived under the water, frantically searching for my body.

Then his hand brushed against my hair. He grabbed it and yanked my head out of the water. He pulled me to shore and started mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. I came to soon enough and vomited a large amount of salty water. I opened my eyes to see my father crying. I had never before, and have never since, seen him cry so hard.

In the days that followed, I was so traumatized that I would not go near the water. My little boat was gone, but I did not miss it. One day my father, worried that the incident would scar me for life, took me to the water's edge and urged me to go in with him. Though scared, I went in because I trusted him. Afterall, he had saved me from drowning.

In the following weeks, my tatay taught me how to swim. When I was confident enough, he took me to the jetty on Kawait and challenged me to jump into the water. I knew that the water was deep, but I was not looking at it. I was looking at my father, who showed great faith and confidence in me.

He told me that I could do it, and in my heart I believed him. I plunged into the ocean and swam back to shore. I was exhilarated. As my tatey proudly looked on, I knew I had overcome my fear. I felt so grown up, like a real man.

I grew up loving the ocean like never before. More than that, I realized that obstacles and hardships are a normal part of life. They are meant to be overcome so that we can cherish the victories and make the most of the lessons learned.

I went onto earn a degree in fine arts. Today, as a professional painter, I have learned not to give up too easily. I continually aspire to stretch my creativity beyond my imagination , like swimming in the ocean with a great sense of freedom.

At these moments, I always remembered what my father said when he brought me to the jetty to jump into the water: "You can do it, son!"