When we discovered freediving, it’s a complete turnaround. Complete u-turn.”

On June 15, a day before Fathers’ Day, the Casio family — Marlon, Catherine, Nicky, and Gaby — had already left for Pagkilatan, Batangas, some 134 kilometers from their humble abode in Taytay, Rizal. Marlon, really, doesn’t mind the long drive. After all, his priority is the golden opportunity to invest time with his two kids, especially in a hobby that has become a whole family affair.

Marlon believes in the magic of an occupied mind. As a reflection, he and his wife have made it a mission to bring their two kids to wherever experience can be found, and where they can enhance their memory bank of what’s meaningful. 

“Yung kids ngayon, laging na lang nasa computer, so maraming advantage sa amin when we decided kasi first, it’s family bonding; second, it is outdoor. And the kids really love the waters,” Marlon Casio tells GMA Regional TV News during a holiday dive at Freediving Coaches of Asia (FCOA)-Pagkilatan, a non-profit diving school based in Brgy. Pagkilatan, Batangas City.

Freediving was introduced to the Casio family some two years ago. “Nung 2022, na-invite kami ng kasama ko sa work, so napag-usapan namin ng wife ko, si Cathy, na i-try lang kasi nga, tubig eh.”

It did not take long for them to consider diving deep, literally, into the sport. Their ‘introduction to freediving’ lesson was just the beginning of what would eventually turn into a meaningful way of spending weekends together. 

That their children, Gaby and Nicky, happen to be naturally talented divers at such a young age, could very well be considered a strong incentive for the couple to take freediving more seriously.

“Pinaenrol namin yung kids sa lessons 1 and 2. And sabi ng coaches after, si Gaby, perfect daw yung duck dive. Grabe raw yung potential nung dalawa. And thats when we decided na mag invest. During the first year, we were here (in Batangas) almost every month,” he shares.

“Nung 2022 until August 2023, the kids said na medyo bumibigat na yung school requirements and studies. So may gap between August 2023 and January 2024, parang lay-off. Pero in 2024, third na namin ito,” he adds. Marlon loves the fact that their children have found delight and curiosity in a non-school activity that can groom their competitive spirits.

The Victorias City, Negros Occidental-born telco firm AVP has always wanted his children to be into co-curriculars that involve physical fitness. 14-year-old Nicky, younger of the two, joined summer clinics in basketball before falling in love with freediving, while 16-year-old Gaby has always set her eyes on joining the school’s swim team, primarily because of her heart for the waters.  

“Sa amin ng wife ko, hindi naman namin alam initially na may sport na freediving. Si Nicky, may height kasi sya, so inenrol namin sa basketball every summer. Si Gaby, bago pa mag freediving, gusto talaga namin sumama sya sa swimming team ng school kasi mahilig talaga sya sa tubig — innate, inborn,” he says.

To say that Marlon is a certified family man would be an understatement. For someone who’s admittedly an outgoing and energetic guy, the 46-year-old Negrense sure loves going on trips and spending fun weekends someplace that isn’t home, and 99% of the time he likes spending them with the familia.

“Pag ganito kasing leisure activities, masarap talaga sya pag kashare mo yung pamilya mo. Kasi kami ng wife ko, mahilig din kami sa mga activities even before we got married, so it’s good that we extended this to our children,”  shares Marlon, who’s an avid fan of letting Gaby and Nicky “fully and consciously share these experiences.” 

Asked about the impact of freediving on their family dynamics, Marlon sounded ecstatic while talking about all the positives within the Casio household since engaging in this water sport, “When we discovered freediving, it’s a complete turnaround. Complete u-turn. Grabe, ang laki ng naitulong nitong freediving.”

As with any other sport, the competitive nature of freediving also comes with many complementary skills and competencies that benefit not only the kids’ athletic domain but more importantly, their life beyond.

Case in point: when Marlon and Cath’s firstborn, Gaby, went through a phase of self-doubt, it was freediving – the weekend dives, the solace underwater, the Saturday night socials, the healthy competition amongst divers – that gave the 16-year-old aspiring marine biologist the necessary boost to reclaim her rhythm. 

“After namin mag-freedive, they (Gaby and Nicky) immediately liked it. And subsequently, tumaas na yung self-confidence ni Gaby. Medyo may pagka-introverted kasi sya. Naging malapit na rin siya sa coaches. Yung world niya, lumalaki nang lumalaki. Nagkaroon na sila ng confidence sa sarili niya so we are very thankful to freediving,” Marlon, all-smiles, shares. 

“Nakatulong ang freediving to improve their performances in school, never the other way around. Hindi naapektuhan ang school,” he proudly adds.

Marlon, a telco engineer who had previously worked at a firm in Singapore, also made it a mission to never knew live any iteration of family life away from his family, partly because of his own experience being a son of an OFW. “Yung experience ko with my dad, since grade one ako until my early years of work, nasa Saudi (Arabia) siya. Magkikita kami mga one month per year. Nandun yung key learning na I always want to be there for my children kasi hindi ko iyon naranasan.” 

As a matter of personal principle, during his eight-year employment stint in Singapore, he decided to bring the entire family to the city to ensure that fathering his children has his “personal touch” and for them to feel that “I am always here.”

There is no magic formula to connect with a child, let alone two teenagers going through the inevitable angst of teenhood. But as Marlon puts it, “There is no one-size-fits-all solution.”

He does not advocate for blanket solutions and mimicking parenting styles that have worked in the past or have been tested by successful parents, because he believes in the uniqueness of each and every family unit. “Every family as its own characteristic, so baka yung parenting approach ko might not be applicable to other families.”

“We are not perfect and ideal, we have our own set of problems. Ang ayaw lang namin, maramdaman nila na they’re alone. Basta andyan lang kami palagi if they need us. Ayaw namin ipush ang sarili namin sakanila and it’s been working so far,” he adds.

Marlon is cognizant of how difficult parenthood can be, especially due to the ever-looming challenge of generational gap between parents and children. Every little nuance there is to his kids’ personalities is like navigating a brand new route in an already challenging ride. The destination, however, remains the same: to love his children, and be loved back.

Marlon is enticed by the idea of being a ‘cool dad,’ or so he tries to become one. “I want to think na I am a cool dad. That is what I want to aspire.”

In his 16 years of being a father, he has learned the importance of fostering an intimate relationship with Gaby and Nicky with open communication and genuine concern at its core– a fundamental trick of the trade. 

“Ang mga bata kasi, when they think cool dad ka, puwede sila sayong lumapit, puwede silang mag open up na parang kaibigan lang. I dont want to be an authoritarian father,” explains Marlon.

Part and parcel of that ‘coolness’ is his willingness and capability to be a life constant in his kids’ formative moments without breaching their self-negotiated boundaries and privacy. “May constant reminder that I am here for them, kung kailangan nila ako. Meron kasing tendency for fathers na ipilit mo yung sarili mo, but ako I am just here if they want to talk. Ayoko ipilit yung sarili ko sa kanila kasi lalo silang magdi-distance– lahat naman, lalo teenager.”

Even in today’s day and age where conversations on gendered roles are actively being brought to the fore, it is still a rarity to see fathers open up about the perks of slow-burning intimacy, and the power of vulnerability by lowering one’s guard. Marlon’s openness and profound wisdom on such topics, therefore, makes him a rare kind.

“Bakit yung mga children, they are open to their friends? Kasi they choose their friends whom they think will vibe with them. Pero ang parents, hindi naman tayo pinili ng mga children natin diba, so no choice sila. Pero hindi ibig sabihin non na mandatory or default na open na agad yung line, so that's really the challenge for parents,” he says.

“This is called the generational gap– magkaiba yung pananaw natin sa pananaw ng generation ngayon. So sometimes, as parents we need to put ourselves in their shoes: ano ba ang ineexpect nila? It might not be kung ano yung bata ka, ito yung expectations mo sa parents mo, because times change. Iba na yung mga gusto nila eh,” he adds. 

Parenthood does not come with a comprehensive breakdown of rules, nor does it require prerequisites and a licensure test to ensure the preparenedness of a would-be parent.

What it does have is a blank canvas with unlimited pages where experience and creativity are most paramount; where parents, together with their children, can write and draw their own unique designs, scrap a page or two, turn over a new leaf, and explore new things. Like freediving.