It’s one of the biggest moments of a man’s life: holding his first-born in his arms for the first time.
But four months since his son Ezrah was born, Leo Laurente still hasn’t had the chance to cuddle him, and has only been able to coo at him on video calls.
Leo, 31, is a seafarer and was thousands of miles from home, on a nine-month contract transporting cars around Europe, when he learned his wife, Ethil, had given birth.
He sailed from Portbury this week and is finally on his way home to the Philippines to meet his son.
Leo said, “I’m very excited, I can hardly sleep at night imagining I will soon meet my baby.
“I feel like the last few days on board have been like a month, I really want to kiss and carry my baby, that’s how excited I am to be with them.”
Leo last saw his wife Ethil in April last year, when she was about three or four months pregnant. They had been married for just seven months when he set off to sea.
“Leaving her was hard because I knew I wouldn’t be there to see her give birth to our baby,” he said.
While seafaring can be a lucrative profession, many of the seafarers on ships serving the UK come from some of the world’s poorest communities and see the job as necessary to support their families.
Stuart Rivers, CEO of international maritime charity Sailors’ Society, which supports seafarers and their families, understands the sacrifices seafarers like Leo make.
He said, “Phones, computers, cars, 90 per cent of everything we use on a daily basis comes by sea, transported by an often-invisible workforce like Leo, who miss many of the things we take for granted.”
Before becoming a seafarer 10 years ago, Leo had numerous different jobs; dicing fruit in a mall, working in a warehouse and delivering parcels.
“Working away at sea is hard. But I need to do it to secure my family’s future and to support their needs,” Leo said.
Life at sea can be dangerous and seafarers face crises such as abandonment, piracy and terrorism.
It also means missing key life events, like the birth of your first-born.
Leo, unlike many of his fellow 1.6 million seafarers, has Wi-Fi access on board his ship, the Emerald Leader.
“If the signal is good, Ethil and I chat every day. When Ezrah is awake, we try and video call,” he said.
Although better than nothing, it’s not the same as spending time with your child.
Seafarers who don’t have on board Wi-Fi access will often make a beeline for a reliable connection when they’re docked in port.
While docked at Portbury, Leo met Sailors’ Society chaplain Steve Loader, who was able to provide him with practical and emotional support, as well as a teddy to take back to Ezrah.
Leo said, “It’s a big help knowing that there is someone out there, like Steve, who is interested in your story and can give advice and inspire you.”