The family ties that bind
We should hold our reunions before we start having our get-togethers in each other’s funeral wakes.”
I said these words last year as the world was starting to emerge from the pandemic, during which terrible time we lost several members of our clan. I uttered them to jolt my siblings and cousins and make them push through with the holding of a long-planned grand reunion. Thankfully, it worked.
Last week, my father’s side of the family, the Butuyans of Asingan, Pangasinan, came together to reminisce old days, renew ties, and create bonds for the young generation. Several families took turns in hosting the week-long reunion that had us gathering and traveling to Quezon City, and in the provinces of Isabela, Cagayan, Ilocos Norte, and our last stop was Pangasinan where we all trace our common ancestry. Of the 71 attendees in the biggest leg of the reunion, one-third came all the way from the United States. Some of the young ones, I met for the first time. Of the four generations represented, the youngest attendee was two years old, and the oldest was 91.
There were eight siblings in my father’s generation, only three of whom now survive. They begot a total of 34 children who grew up as first degree cousins with memories of wonderful reunions mostly held in our ancestral hometown. It was those happy memories of “six-to-six” (6 p.m. to 6 a.m.) eating, storytelling, games, and no-holds-barred banter that we, the old cousins, wanted to recreate and pass on to the younger generation of second-degree cousins.
One of the common concerns of family clans, as the generations expand, is that family bonds grow weaker for second cousins and down the line. This is because the interaction and gatherings become less outside of immediate family and the circle of first cousins. Unless the older generation exert effort to create occasions for bonding for the young ones, familial ties thin out. Although unstated, I was sure this was in the minds of my generation of old cousins.
Our bunch of first cousins thought that we will need to exert effort to break the ice among the young ones, many of whom were born and raised outside of the Philippines. We were pleasantly surprised when they naturally bonded together, spending the wee hours of the morning playing and sharing stories. We thought we will need to nudge them to engage in group activities, but it was them who were prodding their forebears to join in the singing, dancing, and group games. It was delightful to discover openness and joie de vivre in face-to-face interactions among the young generation. I was so mistaken in thinking that since they’ve grown interacting mostly through virtual reality, they would be ill at ease in face-to-face interactions.
Foreigners usually observe that Filipinos have closely knit families. Many Filipinos look at this as both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because the extended family allows multiple sources of support in times of need, whether it be financial, emotional, or physical (i.e., caregiving duties for babies and seniors). A curse because of the obligation to lend support to an expanded number of relatives beyond immediate family members.
Growing up, my siblings and I immensely benefited from having a closely knit clan. We had relatives who welcomed us in their homes, providing us free bed and board during our studies. Others supported us with school expenses and allowances. We had an aunt who financially assisted my parents as they struggled with a business reversal. Uncles and aunts also served as role models in our professional aspirations. Interactions with our well-off cousins provided us with motivations and fostered perseverance, as we aspired to be endowed with the same privileges. Through a combination of grit and clan support, we have taken our turn to be in positions where we can now be sources of support and inspiration for our kinfolk.
There are so many things that are broken in our country. We mend our nation, starting with our families.
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