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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Carlos

A Portrait of a Family

Many a time I meet interesting people in my travels and engage in substantial conversations with them. Some of the stories remain in tact in my feeble memory. This one particular encounter made me contemplate on Filipino family values and my take on raising children.

A tree with hanging picture frames of people's faces
"Family Tree" | Watercolor | 2019

In Transit Conversation

On the bus on the way back to Tarlac, an elderly woman sat beside me. Her seat wasn’t even warm enough yet when she began interrogating me about my destination.

“Are you Kapampangan?”

I said, “Only half of me is. My mother is Ilongga.”

Within a couple of hours of being stuck in sticky EDSA, she was able to narrate her whole life story from where she hailed, how she met her husband, a chicks-magnet police officer in Crame, how they moved to Isabela, how her eldest son died during a reunion party and then sold her house as soon as her husband left this world, moved back to Sta. Ignacia, Tarlac and learned how to play tong-its, a card game, that saved her solitary life from despair. Her second son, the youngest now works for Boysen in Manila, she added. She only went to the city over the weekend to visit, shop and stay in a hotel paid by her son. She then whipped out her coin purse and showed me pictures of her deceased husband, who was quite dashing, I remarked, that no wonder girls followed him around! She lovingly showed her eldest son’s photo and paused a little to probably reminisce happy or poignant memories of him. She then concluded, “When you will have kids, make sure to have a lot more so that when one dies, you will be left with the others to take care of you.” I sighed.

The Heir and the Spare

I felt bad for the youngest, since he is the spare by default, who is ultimately tasked to take care of his ailing mother, who probably just gambles off her son's money. If it is an extended family, the sole bread winner also pays for each member's living. This is also a typical Filipino mentality. You wonder why there are so many Filipino overseas workers—to provide a better life for the entire family. Obviously there’s nothing wrong with children taking care of their parents. It is the circle of life. What I disagree with is the concept of bringing in many children in the world to guarantee an army of caretakers to the elderly. Never mind the population explosion and expenses in the future. Having a big family is a blessing.

Being the liberal people that they are, our parents taught us to be independent and they never imposed on us to take care of them. This is probably most true to me because I am the one who flew far away from their nest. As the daughter, the unica hija, Filipino society expects me to be the one to stay closer to them. But they understood my desire for freedom well. What is most important to them is that we are happy. But I also can’t help see a smile on their faces whenever we are home or when we give them gifts. Who doesn’t love presents? As children, we do what we can to please our parents, right?

A Lesson and an Option

“You are in no debt as their offspring to take care of them and your siblings. It is their responsibility as your parents to raise you, educate you and give you a good life because they brought you into this world,” emphasized my Asian History teacher in high school. That was her most important lesson to us that day or was it about Genghis Khan?

Nevertheless those words stuck to me from them on and changed my concept of having a family. My husband and I will never have our own children unless we adopt. It’s an option but I will not raise a child for the wrong reasons even if it is for charity. Again, society expects our contribution to the human race and because it is human nature to pry on another’s business and assume they know better, it’s so easy for people to say that we could always adopt. In this case, unfortunately they don’t.

You are in no debt as their offspring to take care of them and your siblings. It is their responsibility as your parents to raise you, educate you and give you a good life because they brought you into this world.


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