The truth we tell our children
The one truth I always struggle to instill in my children — and I almost always miserably fail but I don’t give up trying — is this thing about integrity. If honesty is being truthful with people, integrity is being truthful with oneself, which, I tell them, is much more important. It doesn’t really matter whether one is right or wrong; what is important is to be at peace with the decision one makes.
We are a family that turns protest rallies into picnics at the park. When my children learned to walk, it was only a matter of time before I took them to demonstrations as some sort of initiation into the true world, and in fulfillment of the promise made by their father in his youth — which is quite unfair to them, really — that he would raise them to be socially conscious.
When my son launched a revolution involving his hair, wearing a tomahawk a la Mr. T at one time, his hair rising like a rooster’s comb, and then having it done like a pineapple’s crown before eventually settling for the shoulder-length rock star cut, his conservative aunts — my elder sisters — were scandalized. They wouldn’t let up on me, demanding to know if I could still impose discipline in my household. I couldn’t tell them that I actually admired the kid’s spunk — I mean, in my day which boy did not secretly wish to be a hippie but wasn’t brave enough to go for it?
There are times I would find myself wondering whether all these years I had been raising my children right, especially because the ideas that parents earnestly try to inculcate in their kids are different from what the young ones find when they go out into the real world, in the streets. The long-haired look that I used to like about my son has ceased to be amusing and has become a reason for my worries instead. I had been badgering him of late to get a haircut and start learning to look neat and corporate. And after I announced over dinner that the family would not be attending rallies from now on, my kids must be wondering what serious illness had come upon me that made me into a changed man overnight.
I am reminded of a line from “The Patriot,” which Mel Gibson, still sober then, delivered perfectly: “I am a father. I don’t have the luxury of being idealistic” — or something to that effect. What’s the point in teaching the children about integrity, about standing up for one’s principles and loving them to the ends of the earth, when young people are being found dead slumped in some dark alley or floating in a creek?
We are living in a time where integrity can hardly be found among those whom we trusted to lead us. We are living in a society that has stopped valuing the idea of standing up for your principles because it will only get you into trouble. We are being trapped in a mindset that the “bad” must be vanquished and the “good” must accept it as a fact of life. Unfortunately, a lot of people have gladly embraced that mindset, but I don’t intend to detach myself from those who don’t. If, by being good, we think we have earned the right to eliminate the bad, we will only succeed in eliminating the difference between us and them. We become the bad people that we thought of trying to eliminate.
And it all starts when at first we doubt, and eventually come to reject, the truth we tell our children.
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Adel Abillar is a private law practitioner with a small office in Quezon City where, he says, “I alternate between being boss and messenger.”
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