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Ernesto Guieb, Jr. became a dad when he was 19 years old, and again, three years later, at the ripe old age of 21. The birth of both children was unexpected and marked a huge time of change in his life. He jumped into work, starting first at a fast food restaurant, then taking on two more jobs, and helping out at home in what little free-time was left. In other words, he dove into his new life as a dad, sacrificing sleep and his 19-year-old dreams for his children.
Guieb’s wife, Maria, says her husband is one who does not usually think in terms of sacrifice or what’s in it for him. This point of view culminates in a person who is always on, always doing, giving all of his time for his kids and community. “Ernesto has the attitude of a person who likes to take risks but at the same time you know he has good intentions,” says Maria. “He told me, ‘Don’t worry about what we cannot do, let’s just do what we can do.'” Guieb proves that one man can do a lot. He now has three children — 21, 19, and 2 — and keeps his hours packed with work, much of it volunteer. A recent example includes an event he held for the homeless and less fortunate he organized, cooking for some 200 homeless people in the community he grew up in on the island of Oahu.
Ernesto’s first big sacrifice in life was for his kids, some 21 years ago. “It was really difficult in the beginning,” Guieb says. “I had to be tough on myself. And I had to be way more mature.” He also had to skip a lot of sleep: For the first three years of his oldest daughter’s life, and just before the arrival of his son, Ernesto was constantly working.
“I’d start at four in the morning for my first job and finish at noon. Then, I’d start my second job at two, and finish at eight. I was part-time on the graveyard shift — so I’d go straight from my second job to the other shift and finish at 3 a.m.” Most weeks, he was working anywhere from 100 to 150 hours a week, sleeping one or two hours a night.
Soon after having his second kid, he took on culinary school. It was more work, but he needed a career to eventually work less, and he knew the kitchen was his calling.
“My grandparents used to cook a lot. I grew up watching them and my mom and dad cook. They inspired me to be a chef.” Cooking is also a way for Guieb to be close to a resource that, as a child, he lacked. Ernesto, who moved from the Philippines to Oahu in 1987, spent the first 10 years of his life struggling.
“When we were in the Philippines, we had a hard life. I am one of eight siblings and my mom would take one egg and stretch it between all of us. I know how it feels, not eating. I’ve been there. I haven’t eaten for days and things like that, so I feel for the people who can’t.” That feeling — plus a nearly pathological need to stay busy — is why now, saddled with only two jobs and a 70-hour work week, he goes out and delivers hot meals on his catering truck two days out of the month.
“At least twice a month, I go out to the neighborhood and give out free plate lunches. I would love to do it every week,” he says. But with the help of his family, he can only put in so many hours.
Beyond the fact that he’s incredibly hardworking, he revels in being a dad. Unexpectedly becoming a father at 19 wasn’t easy on him. He had to grow up fast. But he wouldn’t change it — and a surprise that came just two years ago — for anything.
He’s 40 and just became a dad for the third time. “My wife and I didn’t expect anything. We didn’t know. She didn’t even know she was pregnant until she started feeling ill. But it was a blessing in disguise. We needed somebody to keep us busy again since our kids are growing and going to college.”
Guieb brought his first two kids — Precious, now a 21-year-old senior at Arizona State and Ean, an 18-year-old freshman at Grand Canyon University — to college a few months ago. It was hard on him.
“I didn’t want my son to leave Oahu,” says Guieb. “I cried. I have never felt that way before, when my kids left me. I want them back home, you know?” But ultimately, he knows he’s just being a loving parent. “The harsh truth is that I’m depressed because I miss them, but they got to do what they got to do for their future. It’s okay.” He’s not sure how to fill the hole, or how to deal with the feeling that he needs to support his son while missing both of his children terribly.
His daughter, Aria, certainly helps. “Having a 2-year-old makes me feel younger again. She loves it when I pick her up and rub our cheeks together.” Even though on the day he talked with Fatherly he had no work to do, he met some clients for his catering business before taking Aria to the store so he could prepare for the weekend of cooking ahead. Then they went to Chuck E. Cheese, hung out, and later got ice cream.
His wife, Maria, who has been with him since high school, just wants him to take a seat, relax, and enjoy the fruits of his labor. But that’s not him. When he’s left to do nothing, he finds something to do. Whether it’s managing eight restaurants, owning his own catering company, feeding the homeless, or hanging out with his daughter and getting ice cream, there’s just no version of this story where Ernesto isn’t moving.