Sunday, September 19, 2010

Reflections on How the Cookie Crumbles

The following ruminations were inspired by a video link posted on Facebook which obviously proved to be effectively provocative else I would not be writing about it. My due diligence English rendition of the title would be "The Letter from Mother and Father." The verbiage caption displayed to the accompaniment of a musical score was in Tagalog. As such, I wished I could have written this piece in Tagalog. Considering that I have never conducted my thinking process in that dialect, I'll have to say this is just how the cookie crumbles. Whatever little Tagalog fluency I can muster, I learned it the old fashioned way: I worked rather hard for it.

These toilsome but essential preliminaries aside, let me start by noting that the video was very provocative on several emotional levels and dimensions of perception that I may need to keep some personal baggage in order, before I could accord adequate justice to the substance of the video that it so richly deserved. The baggage should emerge as a laundry list. There is no implication of order in significance that can be properly imputed to the items contained therein. They are just enumerated and delved into in the order that they call my attention as I write.

First there is the subject of parents/children relationship which obviously touches upon both childhood and parenthood, each of which are most often taken for granted as a result of the fact that most everybody goes through it. Then there is the subject of parentage itself that not everybody is lucky enough to experience. Unfortunately, not every parent looks at it as both a privilege and an opportunity although every parent should feel the burden of responsibility that it entails.

Next there is the content of the video itself which depicts a reality so poignant because it happens too often that parents feel neglected by their grownup children who are themselves overwhelmed by the demands of making an adequate livelihood worthy of their being parents themselves. The emotional turmoil the video so uniquely engenders in me mainly stems from the unique relationship I had with my parents and the guilt I used to feel that I may not have given back to them adequately when I finally, if ever, became an adult.

I said "if ever," because sometimes I have serious doubts whether or not I had outgrown my childhood. It is a rather popular cliché that you can take the boy out of the farm but you cannot take the farm out of the boy. Incidentally, Joan Swrisky, a well established award-winning author I used to correspond with, did explicitly advise me not to attempt to take the farm out of the boy with the not so subtle suggestion that it would be a futile exercise, and more importantly, the day I would succeed in doing so would be a day I cease to be a decent human being.

It is a suggestion I cannot but give credence to. The late Richard Feynman, one of the few physicists I deeply admire opined, and I paraphrase, that most everybody outgrows childhood except two kinds of people, namely, those who are fascinated with physics and those who tinker with poetry. I plead guilty to having attempted to venture into both physics and poetry as erstwhile forms of indulgence, although I don't have much to show for on either count.

In case I missed relating it earlier elsewhere when I first wrote about my parents, I was born the fifth of eight siblings of two sisters and six brothers. There was a ninth issue but it came pre-mature and pre-natal. It did not even look like a human fetus. Since the event was traumatic, having almost claimed mother's life from hemorrhage, father baptized it "Fructoso," collected it in an airtight glass jar and buried it in the side yard beside a dormant mango sapling which a year or so later died for unexplained causes.

I happened to have been an eyewitness to the ritual. I even helped dig the grave hole. It would not surprise me if the rest of my siblings could not testify to confirm the event. Most of the time, only the youngest three of the brood stayed at home. I might have been the oldest one at home at the time. The older ones usually were sent to faraway places pursuing higher education. This was inherent to our farming upbringing and attendant to my parents' rather uniquely singular determination that their children were formally educated far beyond they themselves had achieved in their schooling. They both barely finished grammar school when they decided they had far more important mission in their lives, like raising a family, than indulge the whimsy of overpaid and patronizing school teachers.

Father's choice of name for the ninth arrival bewildered me deeply at the time. To begin with, the order of arrival amongst my siblings was a well established pattern of two brothers followed by a sister. My little child's mind's I expected a feminine name for the ninth member of the brood. Besides, the only person I knew in the community by that name who would occasionally help out during coconut harvest as a hired hand, was a character I did not like. He seemed to enjoy teasing me about some inconsequential thing or another which I found to be extremely annoying but could not complain about because I was only a child.

Unfortunately, I was not in a position to argue with my father, and I never questioned any decision he made until I was age 14, which is a separate story all by itself, perhaps for a later occasion and/or a different venue. The important point was, had the ninth arrival been a legitimately identifiable human being, I could have rightly claimed the authentic middle of the brood dispensation of rights and privileges which would lend gravitas to my interpretation of the subsequent unfolding of events.

However, I nonetheless claimed the mantle of being the eldest of the second half of the brood and managed to introduce a departure from traditional orthodoxy as it governs protocols of engagement amongst my younger siblings. For instance, on my behest, we had successfully done away with the use of honorifics when referring to or addressing the older siblings. We used this negation as our superficial badge of progress, or a symbolic liberation from the shackles of tradition. The symbolism, notwithstanding, we knew we were steadfast in our respect for the age-old tradition of respect for our venerable ancestors, beginning with our older siblings.

The poignancy of the referenced video link stems from my own guilt of having failed in my filial obligations during the twilight of my parents' years, when they must have needed their children most. I simply was not available to them as a result of a career trajectory altering decision I made earlier in life. It was far too easy to rationalize that I was not available to them because of circumstances "beyond my control." The truth was every career decision I made was a matter of choice, factoring in the intervening circumstances. When I decided to leave the country for good, unbeknownst to them, I in effect consciously recruited my siblings to cover for my filial shortcomings.

It was over late lunch/early dinner at a restaurant in the Mactan Airport compound in Cebu that I paid my last respects to my parents, the first week of April 1974. Before the meal, I was the only one in God's creation who knew I was leaving the country for good. After the meal, there were exactly three people who were aware, with absolute certitude of my intentions. Not even I myself knew exactly what my plans were, because I really did not have any.

In my memory banks, it was not a pretty sight. To my knowledge, it was the only time I had wittingly brought my mother to tears. Ever the stoic, father attempted to console her the best way he could, but I could read and feel the pain of disappointment in mother's eyes and in her voice, and her rebuke will forever reverberate in the inner chambers of my reverie. That my decision was not arrived at lightly was no consolation to my mother. Neither was my protestation that I was not abandoning them but pursuing my life's calling.

That I loved my parents dearly was beyond dispute, not even to them who may have construed my perennial meandering ways as bordering on being irresponsible. That I habitually failed to demonstrate my devotion to them was also a common knowledge, at least within my father's family. In my defense, it behooves to emphasize that I considered my parents to be both over-achievers in their ambitions to provide for their children and set the standards of behavior by their own example.

My difficulty was compounded by the fact that having surpassed their educational attainment, my parents were ill-equipped to stipulate specific goals for us as a metric of their expectations. Being fifth in the picking order of over-achieving older siblings did not make the task of earning bragging rights on anything any easier. I would not even dare to imagine how my younger siblings must have felt if they had the same passion to excel as I harbored. I had ample reasons to suspect they did because that was what my parents emphasized, as the only metric of their expectations.

(To be continued . . . Next:
Going Rogue on the Lighter Side)

1 comment:

  1. Below is my 'due deligence' English rendition of the captions in Tagalog of the referenced video:

    The Letter from Mother and Father

    As I get old, I wish you’d tolerantly understand
    If due to my failing eyesight, I’d accidentally break some dishes,
    Or should I spill my soup, don’t get mad at me, I pray;
    Getting old makes me ultra-sensitive and prone to get hurt,
    And consumed in self-pity each time you yell at me.

    Should my failing ears prevent me from understanding you,
    Don’t deride me for being hard of hearing
    Just repeat what you said or better yet,
    Jot it on a piece of paper for me to read;
    Bear with me, my child, old age is setting in;
    If my knees are failing me, help me to stand up,
    Just as I had guided you through your efforts to learn how to walk.

    Pray bear with me, should I keep repeating myself like a broken record,
    Just hear me with patience, pray;
    Don’t sneer at me or ignore what I have to say;
    Remember when you were a toddler then,
    When you wanted anything at all, you’d keep repeating,
    Day in and day out, you’d keep nagging until you get what you wanted;
    I patiently indulged you in your nagging ways.

    Bear with me and my body odor,
    The stench of old-age akin to the smell of mother earth,
    Pray, don’t compel me to bathe myself,
    My health is failing and prone to getting sick when exposed to cold;
    Don’t deride me for this shortcoming;
    Recall when you were but a toddler,
    I indulgently plucked you from under the bed when you refused to bathe.

    Indulge me when I proved irritable ever so often,
    It’s par for the course in old age; when
    It shall be your turn I know you’d understand.
    Find some little time to chat with me
    I’m so forlorn and lonesome, home by myself all day long,
    And not a soul to commune with;
    I’m aware that you’re busy at work.

    Although I’m also aware that my stories bore you,
    But remember when you were little,
    I indulged you with feigned interest and
    Listened to your tales of your teddy bear.

    Should the time come when I’d be sick and bed-ridden,
    I wish you would not get disgusted to take care of me,
    And be tolerant should incontinence make me soil my bed,
    I pray you’d endeavor to look after me during the last moments of life,
    I promise I don’t intend to tarry that long.

    Should I be wont to recoil from the thought of retiring from this mortal coil,
    I implore you to extend your hand
    And lend me your courage to cross the bar to take my last breath,
    And don’t you worry for when I’m face to face with my maker,
    I’ll implore Him to bless you with peace and fortitude
    For you shall have acquitted yourself in your filial solicitude.

    The reply:
    Thank you for your loving care in raising me,
    Father and mother I love you dearly.