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To have and hold

“[T]o have and hold from this day onward…” My heart skipped some beats as the officiating priest at our wedding guided Eph and me in saying those words to each other on Dec. 22, 1979. I realized then that I was entering a very serious commitment at my ripe age of 32—more serious than anything else I had ever committed to (i.e., advocacies, creative passions, relationships). Was I really vowing to forever bond with Eph “‘til death do us part”? Was that what I really wanted? And was I really what he wanted?

“You want to marry my daughter even if she’s dark and like that?” Eph earlier told me that my mother posed this question when he asked her if he could marry me. He said that she spread her arms and hands wide at the phrase “like that.” Eph and I reflected on what the gesture meant, and we were stumped.

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Was my mother fearful that he would find her daughter wanting in inhibition or restraint, so unlike her and the conservative and prudent women of her generation? As for looks, my kayumanggi skin never bothered me despite my mestiza aunts constantly assuring me of my “25-percent blood mix from our Spanish ancestors.” What did I care? Eph after all said early in our courtship days, “You know, you look exotic and Dravidian.” This, after admitting that when he was a scholar in India, he had been attracted and romantically linked to an Indian classmate. So, I was his type of girl no matter if I was “dark and like that.” He loved my wit and humor, he said, and my Dravidian looks.

And was Eph really what I wanted? A male friend had come a-visiting one evening and asked me pointblank: “Are you marrying him because he has many books?” In truth, the many books Eph lent me, which opened me to more literary styles and adventures beyond romance and the classics, were part of his attraction, along with his fast wit and critical mind waving off fastidiousness over issues that don’t really matter. But the man’s natural kindness, gentleness and quiet humor, and the fact, too, that he’s handsome, were what made me realize that I wanted him forever.

“Loving and Working for Development” may as well be the theme of our marriage as we had met and worked together at the Population Commission. Our fun and deep friendship eventually blossomed into a comfortable romance until we decided to “take the marital plunge,” as we stated in our wedding invitation.

Fast forward to 2004 and our 25th wedding anniversary celebration. During our special thanksgiving Mass, and before our parish priest, Fr. Raymond Arre, my eyes were moist as I thanked my nearly balding husband for his love and support throughout our marriage—like changing the diapers of our three sons, heating their milk, or rocking them to sleep way past midnight, allowing me to continue my much-needed rest.

Amid all these we were concerned with a house and home to build, the family health to maintain, wise investments to secure. But most especially, we wanted our boys to grow in an atmosphere that would build and form their knowledge, wisdom, character and values in an unfettered manner. But managing the basic needs of family life was no easy task vis-à-vis our need to attend as well to the demands of our job, which involved educating youth and couples on the whys and hows of responsible parenthood—an advocacy we hold to this day. For truly, this is a basic necessity in our country that cannot yet make heads or tails of how to feed, shelter, clothe, educate and provide jobs to its many poor.

In sickness and in health. Not yet a year old, our second son Claude was confined in hospital due to a critical case of gastroenteritis. The memory of his pained wails at each application of an IV drip to hydrate his body is still vivid and stabs my heart. But God allowed Claude to survive the crisis and grow up to be an active and creative adult, for which Eph and I cannot thank Him enough.

Eph’s being there for me to help care for my cancer-stricken mother until she passed away in 1981 and my elder brother, Tony, 10 years later was invaluable. Tony, in coma for three days, had awakened no longer physically and mentally normal. Unable to afford a full-time nurse for him, Eph, after work, helped me look after Tony until we could find the right caregiver.

Now in our 35th year of marriage, retired and facing the realities of aging and mortality, I continue to thank God for the life He allows us both to share together with our three sons, His greatest gifts to us. They are good and responsible adults, albeit part of today’s generation who, in seeking their own direction toward building their own lives, want to guard their own space.

“Of your married friends, or even those ‘living in,’ how many are still together?” I asked our eldest son last week over an early breakfast. “Half,” he replied, adding curtly, “why did you ask?” I answered: “I understand it is getting to be a trend. I wonder why.” My son shrugged and said: “Well, the girl gets pregnant, they marry or live together, and the relationship doesn’t work, so they split.”

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I don’t know if I should worry for my sons who have yet to enter a serious commitment. When they do, I hope and pray that each one will be able “to have and hold, love and cherish, in good or bad times” their future spouse and the family they would build. This can’t be such a tall order if, as we heard it recently said by Pope Francis: “Families must dream and act to make the dream happen.” I therefore dream and pray that the family builders now and in the future will be able to live their marriage, not as a “trend,” but as a commitment, finding joy and true, lasting meaning in their togetherness.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

Cora de Castro Despabiladeras, 67, is retired and now writes stories for children, with themes about nature care and character-building. She says she hopes to have them published and read by as many children as possible, including her future grandkids.

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TAGS: Cora C. Despabiladeras, Marriage, Parenthood
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