Abandoned boy finds new home
Published: March 5, 2006 | 3680th good news item since 2003
This couple has been compared to Elizabeth and Zecariah, who had their son — later to become John the Baptist — at a very late age.
But Benjamin Mata, retired commodore, and Librada, a dentist, now both 75, are not Biblical figures. They are just an ordinary couple who fell in love with a two-month-old boy and took him in as their own son almost nine years ago.
“We were content with what we had, with all our six children giving us 10 grandchildren,” Librada said. “We had the usual family life — having problems sometimes with how the family business goes up and down, family relations. It was a normal life for us.”
But Benjamin admitted that after all of their children were married and had left the nest, their house became “so quiet.”
“We were left behind here, the two of us. It became lonely because this house used to have six children running around. The children would visit us once in a while but we still longed for their company,” he said.
Peter, now nine, knows the story very well. He joined his parents during this interview and they talked about the past like they were recalling a favorite movie.
It was in September 1997 that one of their daughters brought them a nameless baby boy who was abandoned by his mother in a hospital. They named him Peter Emmanuel.
“When I saw the boy, he was already so handsome. There was a full crop of hair on his head but there were so many lice. His bottom was raw because he was not properly cleaned,” Librada recalled.
“That was me,” Peter joined in.
Peter was the product of an illicit affair between the husband of a friend of the Matas’ daughter and his paramour. When the boy was in the hospital, his father was in the United States, visiting his legal wife.
Apparently frustrated with the situation, Peter’s mother left him in the hospital but not before letting the family know about the affair.
“The first wife called my daughter and asked her to check if it was true. So my daughter went to the hospital and found Peter there. She took pity on him so she brought him to me,” Librada said.
When Benjamin learned that Peter was coming home to them, he immediately rushed to a mall to buy diapers, infant formula, feeding bottles and nipples — practically everything a baby could need because they no longer had any “baby stuff” at their home.
“At that time both of us were already 67. While I was in the baby department buying in a rush, the sales girls there were all surprised that this old man was buying all these things. (I presumed they were thinking) ‘Is that another man, making his last hurrah?’ I could see the faces of the salesgirls. They were not smiling but smirking. That started our life with Peter,” he recalled with a hearty laugh.
With Peter, Benjamin experienced being a father for the first time. Before, his job had kept him away from home for long stretches.
“I was a ship captain when my wife started having children and I did not experience seeing my children born, sit up, make the first step, speak their first words. I hardly (saw) them grow up,” he said.
Peter’s coming into their life became “a chance for me to experience what I missed — caring for my own biological children — because of my occupation.”
“It’s a very nice experience because I started to learn how to carry a baby. From that time on, it was like recapturing all over again the lost time, the lost experience of rearing my own children. That is how my wife and I started to get so attached to him,” Benjamin said.
The couple decided to give their name to Peter through legal adoption. But when they told their children about their desire to legally adopt Peter, almost all of them refused to give their consent, as required by the court. They were worried that due to their advanced age, their parents would not be able to raise another child.
“I was hurt because I thought my children wanted to make me happy and this boy was the source of my happiness,” Benjamin said.
Librada said their children opposed the idea “because they thought we were already too old to be worrying if Peter gets sick,” and about other problems associated with parenting.
“They wanted us to just enjoy each other… There was even a time they gave us a European tour for more than a month. They did not want us to worry about anything anymore,” she said.
The couple resorted to filing a simulated birth certificate in their desperation to “show the world” that Peter was their son. But in 2003, they again sought approval from their children, who readily agreed this time.
“That was a gift from God. I really prayed hard for it. I think they realized that’s the reason why mom and dad are living longer, happy and very proud. Each time it’s grading period in school, we always go up the stage to receive Peter’s awards,” Librada said.
She said that Peter, now in the second grade, always tops his class in mathematics, reading and English and is even a “high blue belter” in taekwondo.
“He is now at the top 10 of his class. He talks like an adult. This boy is very intelligent but sometimes so makulit (naughty). But we see to it that he will not be spoiled. We want him to be a God-fearing and a law-abiding citizen,” Librada said.
According to Benjamin, they told Peter about his status as an adopted child on Valentine’s Day last year, upon the prodding of their children.
“We were lying in bed when we told him the truth. He was listening intensely. After that, we asked him how he felt. He said he was okay,” Benjamin said.
Peter quipped: “I already knew. The maids told me but I did not believe… I am still happy. They take good care of me and I have a fun time living here.”
But the boy, Benjamin said, fell silent during their talk and suddenly asked them: “What if they (the Matas’ biological children) abandon me?”
The couple did not have an easy answer so they immediately called a “family counsel meeting.”
“During the meeting, our biological children professed their love for Peter and they promised to take care of him when we are gone. We all cried. That was one of the happiest moments in our life,” Benjamin said.