This essay was published, with some edits, in the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Young Blood column. We publish the article in full.
A couple of weeks ago, my question of the day for my Psychology 101 classes was “What do you admire most about your parents?” I was unexpectedly touched by my students’ answers, especially those mentioning how patient and loving their parents are to them, how sweet they are to each other, and how strong their marital bond is. I realized that I cherished such answers precisely because I haven’t experienced them myself: my parents were never my main support group nor my cheerleaders nor my biggest fans. Their marriage was no walk in the park either. In fact, even if theirs was an enduring love and partnership, it was wrought with complications and drama (including tense, almost surreal, family meetings).
In other words, our home was never a sanctuary—our house on Calla Lily street as a shelter from the world’s harshness existed only in my wildest dreams. Papa’s voice used to startle me; his anticipated criticisms intimidated me. I also couldn’t understand his silence although the desire to be able to get through that silence died only when he did. As for Mama, she has never been an earth mother who cooks one’s favourite meals; she never was a ‘provider’ of hugs and soothing words for a child in pain. Actually, she can be tactless (to the point of being searing) when she gives advice, often making me shake my head and say, “Why did I ask her in the first place?”
Instead of a forthcoming father and a nurturing mother, my parents were something else.
Almost a year ago, as we were on our way to our annual Añonuevo Christmas celebration, Mama was telling us about her charm bracelet and how it will protect her from bad vibes/evil spirits. The logic of her claim was lost on me and so I chuckled and said that it doesn’t make sense for a bracelet to have such power. My Papa smiled, which I interpreted as full agreement with what I said.
My differences from Papa have always been more salient to me, but I now realize that my firm belief in empiricism and my attempts to exercise rigor in the academe and in everyday life come from Papa, not Mama. Papa always had high standards—for himself and for others. As a child, I remember seeing many scary red marks on students’ bluebooks; Mama and Papa’s friends recount how Papa would lament his students’ flailing English. Despite this, Papa actually had a laissez faire philosophy in raising us: We could always do what we wanted to do and he only needed to be informed of these choices.
Conversely, my similarities to Mama have always been more obvious than our differences. Many people say that I remind them so much of my mother—even my lolo (Mama’s daddy) once mistook me for my mother as I entered his home. Yes, my mother and I are two peas in a pod: we look the same, have similar gestures and the same passion for books and for learning. But we have many differences, too—her subscription to charm bracelets and such is the most glaring one. Another is that I am not as impulsive and energetic as she is. While I also like exploring the world and experiencing other places and other cultures, I am less spontaneous and more reserved in my curiosity and drive.
Finally, a little something on one similarity between my parents: both were social scientists who weren’t trapped in their ivory towers. They not only taught economics and sociology; they were (and Mama still is) also dedicated to social change. In other words, their NGO, government and even international work always involved empowering others and cultivating better communities and societies. For them, the personal is the social is the political. Even my birth was framed by Papa as “bunga ng tunggalian at kaisahan, tunggalian at kaisahan dala ng pagmamahal sa isa’t-isa at sa sambayanan”.
What does this mean? That now I have an unshakable ‘nationalistic-activist’ (instead of Catholic) guilt! I have often contemplated working in a publishing house in Europe and living a life of serenity and beauty. Oh, oh! The trees, the cultural events, the wonderfully temperate climate! But, until now, I cannot get rid of the voice in my head telling me that leaving my country is a form of betrayal. This also means that I am easily moved to tears when the theme is what Filipinos can do for the Philippines (just like I was several nights ago when I heard Conrad de Quiros’s speech as part of his Tongues of Fire book launch).
My parents didn’t give me hugs, nor did they give me endless encouragement whenever I failed. They didn’t hold my hand when I was struggling with a break up or middle-class guilt (which is not entirely similar to the other type of guilt I mentioned, although they have points of intersection). They have never told me what to do (except for my mother’s explicit, “Stay and teach in UP—you owe it to the taxpayers who financed your UP education!”). Nope, no plainly stated pearls of wisdom from Mama and Papa (another exception: Mama’s “Huwag ka na lang mag-asawa”).
Instead they gave me an independent mindset, an intelligent and inquiring mind to go with it, and an idealism that I am having difficulty shaking off. Not the usual gifts one would get from parents, I suppose, but I am a grateful daughter. In the end, what they have given me weren’t what I originally wanted, but I now treasure what they have passed on to me and take heart in the knowledge that I am truly my parents’ child.
Krupskaya Medel Anonuevo, 27, teaches Psychology at the University of the Philippines (Diliman). Being a fan of evolutionary Psychology, she wants to point out that her similarities to her parents, though partly environmental, are probably largely genetic.