27 AUGUST 2007
THIS MONTH'S FEATURES
LITERATURE AND LITERACY
FACES OF CHANGE AND CHANGELESS PLACES
by CHERYL CHAN
Father and daughter relationships are difficult to characterize. For every father who deserves the “best dad in the world” award, there is a deadbeat, absent, or abusive father.
For every positive father and daughter relationship, one that is close, nurturing and emotionally fulfilling for both parties, there is one that is distant and cold, fraught with tension and resentment.
Just like elsewhere in the world, Filipino fathers are seen as the family breadwinner and provider, with female interviewees often describing their own dads as strict but kind, fair but a disciplinarian. But Pinoy fathers are also said to be a little bit more nurturing than those in other cultures, especially when it comes to dealing with daughters, of whom they are often very protective. And while circumstances such as a busy work schedule may sometimes “bury” that nurturing side of the typical tatay, the lack of the usual support systems in a strange, new place can bring the doting father back to fore.
When families migrate overseas, a rift is sometimes formed between generations, with the older set unable to understand and accept the new ways of the younger ones. But there are also instances when family members who are suddenly forced to spend more time with each other do experience a “rediscovery.” Here in Canada, where there are now more than 300,000 Filipino immigrants, many tatays have renewed their bonds with their children, especially with their daughters. Without the help of extended family members or maids to count on, and with the mother also often with work of her own, the immigrant Filipino father has had to step up and help tend to the children. And while it seems still difficult for Pinoy fathers to connect with their sons, looking after their daughters has become more of a mission of sorts now that they are in a foreign land.
Father and daughter Joseph and Pia Lim, for example, say their relationship changed when the family moved to Vancouver over a decade ago. According to Joseph, the traditional role of the father he used to play in the Philippines left him little room to interact with his children, which included his one and only daughter, Pia. Yet when asked which parent had the greater influence on her, Pia, now 29, says unhesitatingly: “Papa.”
This is the same girl who as a toddler would actually run away crying or hide behind her mother’s skirt whenever her father tried to play with her. Reared mostly by her mom and a succession of yayas (nannies) and maids, she seemed scared of her own father. Recalls Joseph: “I used to feel a little hurt before. But I know it wasn’t personal.”
AS THE First Man in a daughter's life, a father's behavior and treatment and attitude toward a daughter can shape the aspirations and attitudes of a lifetime. But back in Manila, Joseph was at work managing the family business from seven a.m. to six p.m. daily, except Sunday. Pia herself says that when she was growing up, her father was a distant figure, someone who went to work during the morning and came back home at night. “I used to have to tiptoe around him,” she says. “Mom always said I need to be quiet because Papa is tired after work and deserves rest. I always thought he was a killjoy.”
The dad as killjoy figure was maximized by her mom, Lydia, who often used Joseph as a bogeyman. “She'd say 'do your homework or I'll tell your dad and he'll use his belt on you’,” recalls Pia.
In homes where the mom is soft on physical punishment, the dad is often the disciplinarian — or at least portrayed as one. As a result, the children in these homes sometimes grow up in fear of their dad. Pia, however, clarifies, “It's not that I was afraid of him. But he is more stern and demanding. My mom would cajole me, but Papa put his foot down.”
Then came the move to Canada, which coincided with Pia’s teen years. Although the typical father-and-daughter relationship normally has a clashing of wills, this is especially so during the impressionable and turbulent adolescent years. Pia, however, seems to have welcomed her father’s interest in what she was up to after they migrated. She recounts, “I think once I hit high school, he started paying more attention to me. But he became stricter. He was worried for me all the time — love life, education, and just in general.”
Joseph the immigrant also became more involved with household matters. “He just became more hands-on,” says his daughter. “He became more motherly, in fact. He started to cook and do laundry too. He would putter about in the garden, and he became very makulit (a nag) and maasikaso (doting), like my mom.”
And so while Pia says her mother taught her more in terms of day-to-day tutoring, she also began listening more to Joseph, who eventually gave her guidance in developing her academic and professional career.
A businessman who believes entrepreneurship is the key to a stable, rewarding future, Joseph pushed his daughter to take commerce and business administration in university. Pia followed her father’s wishes. "It's not something I love," she now says. "But it's practical, you know. It makes sense, and I can use it."
She says she toyed with the idea of majoring in archaeology or classical history. But her dad, she says, “told me to be more practical. What was I going to do with classical history, he'd say.”
Like most Filipino fathers, Joseph believes it is his responsibility to make sure his daughter is ready for the rough and gritty reality of life. He says, “I want to make sure she's ready for the world. Of course you want to shelter her and protect her, but at the same time, you know you can't, so you don't want her naïve.”
He also believes he has an obligation to ensure Pia's future. The very Filipino desire of dads to leave their children with an inheritance, however modest, upon death is still very much with Joseph. He has clung to it even after more than 10 years of living in Canada, in a culture where independence and self-sufficiency are paramount. Joseph had to sell his business when they moved here so he says he has nothing to pass on to his children. But he insists he will make sure Pia will be well-provided for; by being able to give his daughter a financial safety net, he feels he is being a good father. Joseph says with a chuckle, “These (Canadians) here, the parents are lucky. Once the kids move out, they take care of themselves. They're just on their own.”
“But I don't agree,” he adds after a moment. “I wouldn't do that to my kids. You always want what's best for them, and if you can help out, then why not, right?”
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