Preparing for this article I thought back and was amazed to realize it’s been more than 30 years since that first trip my sister made to the Philippines, with her son still in diapers, and Dan, her Canadian husband.
Through the years they would make more visits and always, poor Dan was the object of Filipino curiosity. As my father commented, with a strong sense of disapproval during their first visit, “He’s different.”
Just a small sampling of the remarks from Filipinos:
Don’t they have a yaya? They did, actually, a Filipina who had migrated to Canada but she would not join them in the trips to the Philippines. Of course, even if she did, I know Dan would have still done much of the child-tending.
Why does he talk so much with the kids? I did tease Dan about his transforming everything, from checking in bags at the airport to walking down the beach, into a class discussion or school field trip.
He’s spoiling the kids, that said when people observed him using time-out when a kid went into a tantrum. Dan would scoop up the child and go off with them into a separate room to talk, or for a walk outdoors. Once along a beach in Boracay, he pointed to overcast clouds and told her the skies, too, were upset that she was upset.
Fast forward to the present. I started my family quite late, the eldest only 17 and I find myself learning from colleagues who began parenting earlier than I did. I also have Dan as a model for fathering, convinced his “Western” way is more human.
Even if it is more difficult, gods, difficult is an understatement. Unlike motherhood, fatherhood has much less to do with biology and evolution. We had to invent all kinds of attributes of fathers—the breadwinner, the disciplinarian and all that, derived from traditional, and sometimes toxic, masculinity.
That included distancing from the children’s care, which was assigned to the women in the home.
I worry about how Asian fathers believe you should not just be distant but harsh with the kids so they can “properly” fear you. It’s worse of course with sons, and hellish when it comes to gay sons, sometimes beaten to a pulp by homophobic dads with the help of kuya (elder brothers) aping their dads.
We’re caught in old hunting-gathering and agrarian models of fatherhood, the need to be tough to survive although, as an anthropologist, I’ve found our indigenous communities’ fathers can be much more affectionate and participative in household chores than lowland Tatays.
I do see changes happening, in part because more women now have jobs outside the home, or even overseas. Fathers are forced into becoming househusbands… although some skip it by pushing responsibilities to yayas.
If we are to survive as fathers, we need to be bolder in tackling the very mindsets about fathering and discovering the joys of parenting as mothers do.
I’m glad observing that boys are scolded and labeled gay less often now for crying; but maybe we can go a step further and not be too embarrassed, as I still am, when we cry. There are times when crying is a display, too, of strength, the strength of sensitivity.
We want to provide for our kids but that requires more than being a breadwinner. Kids need to develop their emotional quotient and it won’t come from propagating the current models of men being the perfect public relations guy, the ever gallant guy with the world, but who has problems relating to their own kids.
UP Diliman should thank my kids for a testosterone-tamed chancellor, tamed realizing that it’s better to start with being loving and nurturing at home and letting that spill over into public life, rather than the other way around.
One time late last year, I fell asleep in the car and woke up feeling someone was playing with my hair.
It was my 14-year-old son and he was trying to make a man-bun of my long “lockdown hair.” I laughed thinking if it had been my father he would have gone ballistic—boys don’t play with other people’s hair, much less their dad’s hair. These days the man-bun’s come to reality and I have no problems with my daughters braiding my hair, my only regret being that I never picked up that amazing skill to use with them, daughters or son.
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