Saturday, June 05, 2004

thoughtlife: the filipino family

One of the barkada's evening topics was familial influence.

I asked everyone to assess, given the context of the Filipino family, to what degree they are influenced by family at this point in their lives. We got a wide range of answers, which is not surprising given the fact that we at different points (living at home, have own home, financially dependent or independent), have different ages (18 to 35) and were raised in different ways (by complete parents, broken marriages, by grandparents, by surrogates). The common thread, however, is that, like it or not, family matters. There are many positive ways (guidance, wisdom, emotional/financial support) just as there are many negative aspects (approval, family "shame", competition, bias) in which family continues to make their presence felt.

The Filipino family is traditionally a close-knit unit, extending to people beyond the immediate core of father-mother-child. The extended family, which counts grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins of varying degrees, in-laws, godparents, family friends, centuries-old neighbors, is a powerful institution which is difficult to escape. Many people try - as soon as they realize that being a small cog in a huge machine is not for them; some manage to leave by going abroad (but even isolation in a different country is not true isolation anymore - with texting, phone calls, the internet, fly-in visits plus the local Filipino community present), some try to co-exist within the same city, province or country (with the occasional required appearance at family lunches, events and reunions), and some just surrender to the inevitable weight of too many people who feel they have a right to involve themselves with the minutiae of your life.

Family is good, of course. But personally, I feel that distance is required once you develop a sense of self or reach a self-sustaining capacity or get married. It is vital to become whoever you need to be, to live a life on your own terms, to succeed or fail based on your own choices. Needing to seek approval from family (especially on matters like whom you can marry) robs you of your capacity to make decisions on your own. Consulting or canvassing opinions is a different thing - what I'm talking about is taking the word of your parents or clan patriach/matriach as the Law.

On reflection, I realized that even with my current situation (adult, married, with child, with own livelihood and place to stay) I am still affected by the opinions of family, specifically my mother and my step-father. Part of it is the fact that I will always love and respect them. Weighing in also is the fear of failure (my stepdad is absurdly wealthy while I have little in comparison) and needing to prove myself capable of living the way I deem fit.

Love and fear, in a nutshell.

I recognize the fact that while I've sundered visible ties (the allowance I used to get as a young person, the free food and lodging) they continue to influence me in invisible ways. Perhaps there is no escaping family at all, even if you do not communicate with them on a regular basis or allow them within 50 meters of yourself.

But much worse for me would the daily presence of family members, having to eat with them on schedule, having to do family-oriented activities together, having personal concerns discussed in a town council, having so many people to please or be wary of.

Again, this is not to say I'm anti-family. On the contrary, even since I gained sentience and realized I was part of a broken home, I swore that I'd never make the same mistakes as my biological parents did.

I suppose I'm a firm believer in the need for individuality, in discovering one's capacity, in establishing my own family.

Nikki and I carried on the conversation with each other until the sun rose, over a breakfast of ham and egg sandwiches, until I just couldn't keep my eyes open. We talked about other ancillary matters, including the question "When does parenting end?".

What bothered me about my opinion on this matter is the fact that I am a father myself, which means that at some distant time in the future, I'd better have one hell of a thick skin when Sage decides to distance herself and do her own thing.

The very thought saddens me, and yet I agree with the sentiment.

Or maybe, when I'm older, I'll change my mind and cling to my child because of love, loneliness, or the very human need to be part of the life I helped nurture. And she, of course, will resent the clinginess and want to run away from my arms.

What all this thinking and talking did to me was to make me reconsider how I deal with my three parents (mother, father, stepfather), and ask if my behavior of the past years created sadness for them.

When the rebellious, independent-natured, critical-thinking child becomes a parent himself, there is necessary change in perspective, no matter how late.

And I'm not sure if I like the fact that I've crossed to the other side.

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