Friday, July 20, 2018
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Random thoughts for Fathers Day

I grew up without a father, or at least someone whose hands I was supposed to kiss whenever I returned home from school, and who would say, “Kaluy an ka sa Ginoo, anak (May God have mercy on you, my child).”

For many years, I mentally played out this and other make-believe scenes of a complete family—a mother, a father and a child. Through this inner world of make-believe, I hoped to fill that void, and to eventually become whole, as my then puerile mind dictated.

As I look back on my fatherless growing-up years, words are spewing out of my mind in bullet-train speed and my hands are having a hard time keeping up to put them down. I realize there are just too many things left unsaid, too many emotions I have not expressed. I feel like a dormant volcano, heating up for a major pyroclastic event.

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But I know it wouldn’t happen.

For more than six decades of my existence, I have never been known to explode in major histrionic outbursts or dramatic emotional displays replete with flailing arms and dilated nostrils. I have always preferred to let my lachrymal glands do the talking, although, occasionally, I would let loose with some sharp epithets and spiky expletives when push came to shove. Perhaps these are manifestations of an earlier inferior self-image—largely the outcome of being fatherless for most of my early and growing-up years.

Or it could be the consequence of being always referred to as anak sa gawas (illegitimate child)—an offspring of “sin.” (Since early in life I have always asked myself why falling in love and expressing that love in lovemaking is a sin, if both lovers were free to be together as a married couple.) Some people don’t realize they can be cruel, in referring to others with this and similar labels. The sad part of it is that sometimes, these people are one’s own relatives. My own mother was one.

Please don’t get me wrong. For all her harsh ways of bringing me up and in making me always aware of my being the “fruit of an illicit desire,” my mother remains my strongest influence and role model. I hold no rancor toward her or deep hatred of her. Having studied the importance of one’s context/s, I have in my mature years understood why she behaved the way she did, especially after seeing me, her firstborn, as a living reminder of her first love. All I have is a cornucopia of love and admiration for the way she dealt with me and with all her other life’s hurdles.  Had she been an academic, she would have earned an “emeritus” label.  She deserved no less.

For, without her, I would not have become who I am now.

Like an egg that has been immersed in scalding water, I have hardened as the boiled egg’s shell. I matured early and became guardian and surrogate mother to more than half a dozen rambunctious half-siblings. I also made a strong resolve to become a “somebody”—to quash the image of being unwanted, of being the result of an amorous “mistake,” as it has been etched in my consciousness.

I realize at this stage of my life that becoming “whole” as a person, my own, need not be defined by elements society deems necessary to make one’s life complete. The void I used to feel as a child growing up without a father is the result of being molded into structures on which we are oriented as our social “musts” that do not consider those who defy the usual and the comfortable. We have always been oriented on stability and on “not rocking the boat.”

For sure we need stable anchors and formidable foundations. We need these to fortify ourselves to deal with various assaults that might break our sanity to pieces.

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But such indomitable anchors should also be tensile enough to acknowledge a multitude of realities out there, the myriad ways of expressing humanity and the integrity of being. And the only way we can be whole is when we accept our interconnectedness with one another—as persons, as animals and plants, as organisms deemed fit by the Great Power to be here. I remember Desiderata: “…[Y]ou are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars, you have a right to be here…”

When I reflect on these lines, I am comforted that I am welcome in this imperfect world, and I can be whole, and wholly imperfect or imperfectly whole, like the rest of creation. With or without being nurtured by a father, even by a surrogate one, I can be my complete self that is not defined by any social structure and stricture.

After all, to be whole is to be a bridge of each other’s humanity and dignity. And I think I have in many ways become one: not perfect, but wholly humane and dignified enough to honor the dignity of others.

Rufa Cagoco-Guiam, 64, is a professor and director of the Institute for Peace and Development in Mindanao at Mindanao State University-General Santos City. Originally from the province of Bohol, she has become a Bangsamoro by choice and by affinity, and now calls Mindanao her second and permanent home.

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