Being a single mom is hard enough but raising a child alone in a foreign country is even more challenging. This is the inspiring journey of a Filipina single mom from Toronto, whose son is one of Canada’s most famous barber.
Leslie Dula, 48, never expected that her 18-year-old son, Jamiel Bustos would become a social media star barber. The young barber has 5.1 million followers on Tiktok and 55k+ on Instagram, and counts millionaires as clients. But behind this successful teen is Leslie, his shy and doting mom who raised him single-handedly.
Leslie migrated to Canada together with her then-husband in 2005, leaving behind one-year-old Jamiel in the care of their parents. Jamiel was four when he finally joined his parents but that same year, Leslie and her husband separated.
Bringing up Jamiel
As a Filipina expat and single mom in Canada, raising Jamiel alone was a tough task for Leslie. She was working from 11:30 p.m. to 7 a.m. as a lab technician in a veterinary clinic. She hired her cousin to look after her son when she was at work.
Despite this set up, Jamiel remained a happy kid, never once complained about not having his mother around to tuck him to bed. “He is a brave kid. On his first day of school after he arrived in Canada, I was scared that he would cry. He didn’t speak English that time. But it was me who cried.”
Making him understand the situation
Just like any other kids, Jamiel was makulit but Leslie never had a hard time making him do his tasks. “I didn’t have problems waking him up, he was always ready for school. When I went to work, Jamiel never had fits, no tantrums. When we were at the mall, he would always say, ´If we have money, Mama, can we buy this?´” Leslie made it clear that she needed to work and his son understood this. “He is mature for his age. When he was in 4th grade, I got ill for a week. He took care of me, cooking rice using the rice cooker and making me a strawberry peanut butter sandwich.”
Jamiel never had a memory of having a whole family, of the three of them together. “He was too young. He was one year old when we left him and four when his father and I separated. And in between those years, he was not with us.” But when he was growing up, Leslie could see that her son was looking for a complete family. “I always tell him, this is the life I can give you. When you have a family of your own, be a good husband to your wife.”
Despite what happened between Leslie and her former husband, she never taught her son to hold a grudge against his dad. In fact, father and son are close.
As early as seven years old, Leslie would watch Jamiel play “barber” with his cousin. “He would use a pentel pen as his scissors. He was also fuzzy with his haircut.” Leslie would often change hairdressers because Jamiel would complain about the cut. When Jamiel was 10, Leslie decided to take him to a barbershop. One day, while watching Youtube, a 14-year-old Jamiel said, “Ma, I want to cut hair.” Leslie didn’t believe him at first. “I was surprised when I saw him cutting his own hair. Although it was not pantay, it was not bad. I told him not to do it again.”
But Jamiel was serious about his new found hobby. It was only later that Leslie found out that he practiced on Leslie´s cousin. “My cousin who took care of him is a girl but Jamiel gave her a man´s haircut giving it some twists, a flower design and a lightning.” At school, Jamiel cut his classmates´ hair for free.
Different career choice
Although Leslie would like her son to go to college and have a degree, she accepted her son´s interests. “One day, he asked me to buy him a barber´s chair which I did. Then a mirror. His friends would come and he would cut their hair and play video games afterwards. “
Jamiel’s hobby eventually became a passion. At school, word got around about his haircutting skills that even older kids and a teacher tapped his service. Leslie supported her son when he started working as an apprentice at Platinum Hair Design barber shop at 16.
When Jamiel was featured on Toronto Breakfast Television, Leslie was elated. She only later discovered that her son is famous online. His videos where he cuts rich people´s hair gaining millions of views on TikTok. Though she is proud of Jamiel, she is also worried. “I don’t see his movements all the time. He drives a car now. I can´t monitor all his activities.” But Jamiel knows too well how to make his mother at ease. He calls to tell her where he is and what he does.
Jamiel continues to surprise his mom. When Leslie saw her son´s billboard at Dunbas square, she couldn’t believe her eyes.
“My son on a billboard, described as the number one TikTok barber in Canada with his favourite quote: With passion, nothing is impossible. As a mother, it was one of my proudest moments.”
Instilling good values
Leslie and Jamiel also argue especially about typical teenage issues like washing his clothes to cleaning his room. “But he never answers back. He is a good kid. I have instilled in him the Filipino values of respecting older people.”
Undeniably, the way Jamiel values his family shows how Pinoy na Pinoy he is. When asked why he works so hard, he says he wants his parents to retire soon and enjoy life. Now that Jamiel is earning on his own, Leslie tells her son to always save for the rainy days. She wants him to value his own money and learn how to keep it. She believes that he will go places. Not only because of the money that he is earning but because of the way he treats others. “My son is not scared of competition. He is even teaching his friends to cut hair. He also takes some of them to his team.”
Because of Jamiel´s hectic schedule, working at the barber shop in the morning, doing house calls and video shoots in the afternoon, Leslie misses their bonding moments. “When he was small, he would always tag along wherever I went. Now he comes home late. He is very busy. I seldom see him. Sometimes, I tease him that he doesn’t have time for me anymore. And he always says, ´I love you, Mama´.”
A single mom´s courage
Raising a child as a single working mom takes a lot of courage and patience. Leslie is lucky to have a son who understands their situation and appreciates his mother´s efforts. “I pray hard for strength. I am also fortunate that I have relatives who gave me a hand during our trying times. If not for them, it would have been extremely difficult for me,” says Leslie.
Single parents like Leslie always fear of making bad decisions and being judged by society. She may not be a perfect mother but seeing Jamiel become an independent, responsible and loving son, she knows she has done something right.
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Nats Sisma Villaluna has been serving the Filipino community in Spain for more than 13 years. His volunteer works include teaching Spanish to Filipinos, and as artistic director of the Coro Kudyapi, a group of musically inclined young Filipinos in Barcelona. His passion to serve the Filipino community now extends to other countries in his role as Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of the new The Filipino Expat Magazine.