You know when you're a teen-ager and you're looking for a sense of who you are, you begin to distance yourself from your parents and your immediate family. More and more you spend your time with your peers. Your parents no longer have the monopoly of influencing you and shaping your views, your attitudes, your values. You think, well now that you're on your way to becoming an adult, you're free to become who you want to be. You can pick and choose among the array of lifestyles and ideas you encounter.
But then you grow older and you get over that selfish "me, me, me" phase. Now you are a bit more assured of your identity and so there is less need for self-assertion. You no longer feel as strongly about setting boundaries between yourself and your parents.
All grown up, I am still amazed at how I see so much of my mother and father in me, and how much I credit who I am to how my parents were. Unconsciously, I learned which values to appropriate, which mistakes not to make, which attitudes serve which occasion best. They never gave us lectures, we weren't that kind of family. I must have learned it all just by being around them.
Even when I was very young I knew my mother was no ordinary woman. Growing up, she was the model to which I unconsciously aspired. I always knew, she was a woman before her time, unafraid to be ambitious, she had grand dreams. For a woman who had to make do with three pairs of knickers in college, and who occasionally had to hide from the kunduktor because she didn't always have bus fare, her dreams seemed far-fetched indeed. But she dared. I honestly don't know how she could have come to be herself, to have formed her ideas considering my grandparents' humble rural background. She could have just easily been one of the girls I see every time I work on our dating website - a nubile probinsiyana looking to get the good life by hooking big fish. But my mother had very radical ideas about what it meant to be a woman, even when she didn't consciously articulate this to herself.
From my mother I learned it doesn't matter how you look, but it matters the way you dress. Although once crowned Ms. Waling-Waling when she was younger, I never thought my mother "beautiful." I think its because all her other traits outshone her looks. From my mother I learned that a woman can not show emotion, that women don't necessarily cry, that women can be clear-headed in times of crisis. From her I learned to think "clingy" women were weak and that a woman shouldn't just be an appendage of her man. From her I learned not to be intimidated by social status and other people's riches. I wonder how she came to be like this, when she didn't have enough money to buy hifalutin' books and read of social equality. Maybe because she lived, rather than read, of something for we she didn't even have a name. My mother must have thought very highly of herself indeed. Now I wonder at her self-confidence when she had no "pedigree," not even elite schooling as I do, to prop her ego growing up.
I was still in my rebellious "me, me, me" phase when my father died unexpectedly. We never had the chance to heal the rift of not speaking for almost two years. Because my mother was the star, my father always seemed to pale in comparison. I thought I had an arduous childhood and adolescence, just because my parents fought often. Forced to choose sides, my mother won over my father every time, and so he never had a chance to gain much credit or sympathy. In their battles I learned to be kind, to be tolerant, to be patient. I learned not saying anything, the dance of bodies, of gazes avoiding, of declining touch, hurt just as much as words.
My father wasn't quite the visionary, but from him I learned single-mindedness and hard work. From him I learned to be comfortable not being the centre of attention, and that there is contentment to be had from sitting on the sidelines - watching, observing. As one not given to tooting his own horn, or talking much for that matter, my father taught me how to listen, and to give others my undivided attention. While my mother's confidence verged on arrogance at times, my father taught me humility and the strength of self-deprecation. From my father I learned to express kindness the way my mother never could just because she always needed to be hard. My father taught me how to be pragmatic and realistic, how to be grounded when my mother knew only flight.
From my father I learned men can not be arrogant, that men don't always need to make the final decision, that family things are always up for negotiation. He showed me how men can be more fragile because they can't cry. He taught me how not having words to express emotions can be devastating to the self and to others. One must always find the words and one must always find the courage to say them.
My father taught me there is no shame in saying your mother sold fish at the palengke, and that her earnings weren't enough to see you finish your schooling. From him I learned to see the hypocrisy of pretension.
I never once heard my parents complain. I never once heard my parents ask for help from other people. Fiercely independent they were and they expected the same from other people. Now I know this is the reason why my friend M. once said I was freakishly prideful, and that I would rather get helplessly lost or waste time poring over a map before it occurs to me to ask for directions.
I never thought my parents wasteful or frivolous. Every expense always had a function, nothing was taken lightly, nothing was just for kicks. This was because they both had to arrive at a compromise as my mother liked to spend and my father liked to save.
I learned, from both of them, to be introspective and to focus. I learned, from both, to laugh heartily, even at corny jokes. I learned from both that your spine is what you make of it, and that one must not wallow in the frivolity of self-pity. One must soldier on despite life's tragedies. Because really, the drama is in the doing, not the telling.