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Generations

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Public Lives

Generations

/ 09:36 PM June 01, 2013

Invited to give the keynote speech at the 7th National Social Science Congress the other day, I welcomed the occasion not as a celebration of the work we have done but as a cue to allow the next generation to shine. The congress had “Generations” for its theme. I spoke about the political oligarchies that rule our country, but prefaced this with a light self-referential reflection on what it means to deal with the burden of genealogy. Below are excerpts of the personal part of these remarks:

Shortly after I retired from full-time teaching in 2011, I began to be introduced as Kara David’s father. In academic circles, on the other hand, young students were wont to ask if I was the father of Dr. CP David, my geologist-son.

Of course, it is with no small amount of ironic pride that I accept this implied demotion, recalling how, not too long ago, my children must have felt annoyed when they were not being acknowledged for what they could do as their own persons, because of the long shadows cast by their elders. It was never easy for them to deal with this inherited identity—just as it was not easy for my wife, Karina, to live with the expectations attached to being the daughter of Renato Constantino. They all had to live with the burden of having to prove themselves not just as competent or qualified students or professionals, but also worthy of a name or a memory. Such can be the tyranny of genealogy.

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On the other hand, while opening doors for them, the institutions and organizations in which they sought acceptance tended to be skeptical and guarded against the presumed advantages of a familiar name. I first saw this when, without telling me, my son CP decided to apply for membership in my fraternity. I was happy. I looked upon it as his way of affirming the wisdom (or folly) of his father’s choices as a young man. But some of my younger “brods” in the fraternity did not see it that way. Rather than treat him like any other applicant, they gave him a hard time. I could only suppose that they needed to prove to him that having a dad for a brod would not earn him a free ride.

Pretty much the same thing happened to Kara when, after working for two years as a researcher in the Senate, she decided to pursue a career in the broadcast media. I encouraged her to apply as a reporter at the network where I was presenting the early evening news and hosting a weekly talk show. She went through a grueling application process, only to be told at the end that she did not make the cut. Undeterred, she applied in another station, and was taken in as a part-time production assistant in the election coverage for that year. This is the lowest position in the totem pole of any network’s public affairs department, just a cut above that of an OJT.

The station retained her as a part-time PA after the election. One stormy day, a boat sank somewhere off the Visayan coast, and there was no reporter available to cover this breaking story. It fell on Kara to gather all the details of the disaster as they trickled in. Instead of merely offering these in bullet form, she took the further step of weaving them into a story. The desk thought her script to be good enough to be read by a senior reporter on camera. As a result, she was recommended for a writing position in a show that dealt with disasters and emergencies. It was all she needed in order to show that her skills had little to do with her being my daughter.

Kara’s daughter, 12-year-old Julia, butted in as her mother was recounting how she landed her first broadcasting job. She said she also often found herself unable to shake off the expectations that came with her being her mother’s daughter. Her story made me realize why our four children, who went to UP from grade school to college, grew up shy in an environment where they were expected to be assertive.

One day, in a class in Filipino, Julia tearfully recalls, the teacher told the class to imagine they were journalists assigned to do an interview with a resident in a flood-stricken community. “What is the first and best question you would ask?” The teacher paused as she scanned the room. Seeing no hands raised, she turned to Julia who was seated at the back: “What do you think your mother would have asked?”

The little girl froze as she groped for something to say. Tears welled in her eyes. “My mind went blank because everyone was looking at me, waiting for me to say the right answer. The only thing I felt at that moment was that I had failed Mama.” From then on, Julia resolved to do better. But, she never again raised her hand in class.

In the face of the inevitable comparisons and inflated expectations to which they were subjected, my children learned to adopt certain defenses. Kara said she developed a strong stomach for failure. CP entered the academic life, but stayed away from the social science world of his elders by becoming a natural scientist. Our daughter Nadya also became a teacher but chose the arts as her field. The youngest, Jika, an accountant, spent two years as a volunteer teacher and dorm mother in a rural school in Palawan, but later joined the corporate world—away from anything that remotely smelled socialist. None of them became a political activist. But I think they have done more to change our society. One founded a grade school that focuses on the sciences and the humanities. Two set up foundations devoted to helping young girls from the poorest families get a good education.

Karina and I decided early on never to force our children to become our carbon copies, or to tell them what careers they should pursue. Living under that kind of pressure, many from our generation rebelled. Our children did not, and we trust they are free of any resentment.

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