Family

Dread to Die A Young Daddy

I went along with colleagues to the wake of husband of Ka Celia Eugenio, our farmer constituent. That was at 2 am, yes, today.

Since yesterday, death has been a usual topic among colleagues. Francis “Kiko” M has died of leukemia. A woman farmer leader (Ka Monina Magsico) had died of tuberculosis. Then, the news of Ka Celia’s husband dying of heart attack.

Can’t help but feel the fear of dying young. Kiko did at 44. Ka Celia’s husband also did at 52. I am 41 and I still feel young.

Ka Celia recounted the days leading to the demise of her husband Ka Rudy (April 22, 1956-March 1, 2009). He complained of perennial pains in different parts of the body like he had sprains. The pain moved from one site to another.

I shuddered because the story prior to the death resembles mine. In fact, I always feel sprain in my left hand for an unknown reason. Chest pains (which I always dismiss as gas-related) are perennial as well. Everytime I sleep in the night, I make a sign of the cross and say a very brief prayer: “Lord, thanks for the day and I look forward to a great day tomorrow.” The next morning, I immediately thank and praise Him for making me alive and continue life however cruel it is sometimes.

Still, the fear is there. My reason is that my wife and I are raising a young family. Our kids are 9, 7, 4 and 1. I wish to see our kids through college. I even wish to bring my daughter to the wedding altar someday.

Yes, I fear of dying a young daddy. But to God I rest my life. He knows best.

Angels without wings

My daughter Dea Hannah is already 5 years old now. And I’m grateful to loved ones and colleagues who extended their help, without which it would be impossible for me to minister to my wife and daughter when they were in hospital. Brace yourself for the rather long list:

  • Ninong Maning Q, who gave me his committed financial support at the time I needed it already. He himself went to the hospital despite his own problem with his son, who was also in a hospital for viral infection.
  • AJ, who, from out of her resolve to still have me at a major work activity that coincided with Lea’s delivery, had Lorna B switch roles with me for one day: She to assist Lea at the hospital, me to participate in the activity (as a resource person). Indeed, I only realized about this possibility with AJ’s resourceful mind. “Let’s help each other Dong,” were her words that ran true during the last weekend.
  • Lorna, my kumare who accommodated me when I needed her help to facilitate my financial benefits like an emergency loan. Of course, I’m more grateful to her because she pitched in to assist Lea while I was in our activity.
  • Clea, my kumare who prioritized preparation of my check for an emergency loan.
  • Junjun, who brought me my salary advance early in the morning of Saturday. I used the money to buy milk, diapers and feeding bottle for Dea Hannah.
  • Goddie, who helped me prepare PhilHealth-related documents (certification and previous contributions) required by the hospital for deductions from my bill.
  • Bubong, who brought me the documents prepared by Goddie and assisted me in preparing my wife and daughter in going home.
  • Brothers-in-law Vardy and Niel, who brought our kids to and from the hospital.
  • Nanay Nora (our house help) and mother-in-law Ma Maneng, who took care of our kids at home.

I’m also grateful of distant loved ones and friends who sent their best wishes for our new angel. They were not with us physically, but their prayers and good thoughts helped a lot.

I felt that everything that happened last week was God’s handiwork. He let me survive the challenges that came my way. It’s as if He sent unwinged angels to see me through. I felt like a favored soul here on earth, thinking that there are other people who are much more needy than me. I’d like to pay it forward by being an angel to friends who’ll need the same help I needed and had.

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Dea Hannah: Another angel in our midst

About three-thirty AM yesterday. Lea sat up from our bed and got worried that a rush of fluid flowed from her. Then she proceeded to the toilet as she felt like defecating. Then pelvic pain ensued. For about 10 minutes, she and I waited wondering if she was already due to give birth. Only when the pelvic pain continued did we resolve to rush to the hospital. She prepped up while I went out to call a tricycle, which transported us to St. Vincent Hospital.

At the emergency room, an attendant screened her while I was asked to fill up a couple of forms, one was about her admission and another about my consent to her ligation (yes, we decided that to punctuate our desire for the great future for our children). Lea’s pelvic pain heightened and contractions went more regular. Her blood pressure rate was 130/90 and opening, 4 cm. After a dextrose was attached to her, she was brought upstairs into the delivery room. I was asked to wait outside. Argh!

I’m sort of used to that pattern as it was the fourth time that Lea was to deliver a baby. But being blessed with another angel is a feeling like no other. The concern for Lea’s safety has always been there but anticipating a child gift from God feels like a new divine experience for me.

While waiting outside the delivery room, I met a man in his early 30s who chatted with me. He said that his wife had just given birth to their first baby. I was glad to know from him how he felt when his wife experienced the pain while giving birth. That fed into my view that husbands do share the pain of their wives, if only vicariously, wishfully thinking that they could take the pain away from their beloved.

Over one hour into the waiting, I felt weak and was reminded about my own health condition. Wishing that I wouldn’t miss the time of our baby’s birth, I went back home to take my breakfast and bring a few things to the hospital. Back at the hospital, I was surprised to know that the baby girl was just born at 6:20. Of course, I was elated by the news but was equally sad that I missed to see it as soon as it was born. Anyway, after a few minutes, the doctor went out of the delivery room and asked me to get inside to see the baby. Wow! I was so blessed to see her. She looked tall and her cheeks were rosy. The doctor remarked that she’s beautiful. I agree as she looked like her mother.

With my excitement, I forgot to take a picture of her. That should have been a copy that my wife would see while she’s still away from our daughter.

At 8am, I still felt alone inside Room 201 becuase Lea’s not yet brought in. Doctor said she’s still asleep and under observation. While waiting, I told the news through a text message to all our colleagues, friends and relatives, about 80 of them, who have numbers in my phonebook. Expectedly, most of them replied with congratulations and best wishes. Two of them called me. One was Singapore-based Ninong Joven, father-in-law’s best friend, who said he didn’t know about Lea’s pregnancy. He congratulated me and gave his regards to the Banares clan. Another caller was Mars Mendoza, who expressed surprise at the coincidence that the name we gave to our daughter is the same name she’s giving to a baby girl she’s about to adopt.

Another coincidence was noted by Lea’s best college friend. In her text message, she informed me that a strong typhoon is about to visit the country, named Hannah. I replied saying that the typhoon is a good one.

Speaking of our baby’s name, Dea Hannah. Dea is a blend of Dong and Lea, which is a good thing because it also means God. Hannah means gift (from God), which also puts consistency in our naming our children, whose second names start with “H”: Howell, Harmon, and Herald.

At past 12pm, Lea was finally brought inside our room. She was already awake but looked still having pain. I kissed and congratulated her for our new baby girl. Then we exchanged updates. She narrated how she labored with her BP shooting up to 150/90. She said that her doctor ably sensed her condition, giving injections each to her back shoulders and buttocks to counter the threat of convulsion. She further said that she had felt groggy and unable to make sense of her surroundings. According to her, even the remark by the doctor that Dea Hannah was beautiful sounded nothing to her because of her state.

In our exchange, we could not help but analyze the situation where I should have been at the important three-day activity of my organization. I was not even prepared for the cost of Lea’s delivery. Last week, we made an appeal to our baby, with me speaking in front of my wife’s stomach, that she be born on October 1, after the three-day activity of her Dad is finished and the money for the hospital cost, produced. We were conditioned about that “imposed covenant” with the baby. But, with what happened, Lea half-kidded that perhaps Dea tested her naughtiness to make “lambing” with her Dad. Lea surmised that perhaps that is already a sign of Dea’s being “malambing” (affectionate), particularly to her dad. I guessed so.

God was really benevolent because I was able to find ways to meet my financial needs that day. My office mates were there to support me, facilitating my emergency loan. And so was my godfather, who gifted me with sufficient amount of money to complete the amount needed for the hospital cost.

The day was also enervating because I had to do errands to buy stuff related to my “mag-ina” (wife and baby). Nevertheless, I think that was good enough for me as a form of physical exercise.

My dear God. I feel like I’m being pampered by You with the blessings that come our way. I know that I must be prepared for possible trials along the way. So please give me strength to remain humble and persevering in life. And thanks very much for another angel in our midst: Dea Hannah.

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Behold thy mother; her name you bear forever

Yesterday morning, I received mail from a bicycle-riding mailman. It’s my copy of the latest issue of the AIM Alumni Leadership Magazine. Apart from the excitement about cool updates from AIM and its alumni, the mail label got my attention because it misspelled my middle initial. It should have been ‘B’, not ‘V’. I thought that the labels that AIM is using are seamlessly produced from out of its alumni database, which I’m sure contains correct ID info about me.

Although, I must say that there’s a ring of accuracy in the misspelling. Yes, my middle initial could be, or should be, V. Befuddled? Let me explain before you complain, using the words of the showbizlandia’s witty man, Joey de Leon.

I’m actually adopted child of my aunt and her husband. After my aunt had multiple miscarriages, the couple was blessed with only one biological son. That I think was the reason why it decided to adopt me. I’m sure my adoptive parents didn’t get disappointed, after all.

So I’m using my foster father’s surname, Calmada, not my biological father’s, Benavente. My aunt’s maiden name should be my last name and biological mother’s, my middle name–Vergara. Thus, the inch of truth in the mail label’s error. And thanks to that for I got to remember my real parents, whom I failed to meet face to face as parents and child, because my foster parents hid that truth from me until when I was 19 or 20 years old already. So sad because the only time I got to see the face of my real mother was when she was dead lying inside a makeshift coffin. Until now, there’s a longing for me to see the face of my real father even in a picture. And the conscious search hasn’t begun yet.

There are times when I wanted to write my name in full, as in my middle name is completely spelled. That is my way of remembering, and giving tribute to, my father. But that is kinda weird, because people usually emphasize the middle name to give tribute to their mothers.

I remember that I tried to do that–giving tribute to mothers–during my organization’s assessment-planning activity in 2003. When I facilitated a session, I gave an exercise wherein a participant was tasked to remember the middle names of his/her seatmates, after which I asked them in random for these middle names. Lesson from that exercise: It’s not easy to remember two family names of your colleagues.

I thought that the exercise was my way of instilling gender consciousness among my colleagues. Perhaps, they appreciated that. Although, I came to realize later that the exercise indeed was not really gender-sensitive because there’s no certainty that a person’s middle name is actually the surname of his/her mother. So I must have received a rating of E for that effort, don’t you think?

Haven’t there been efforts to change the Philippine personal naming system so that mothers, or women, for that matter, get equal recognition across all generations? I’m not trying to be wet blanket here. I’m just trying to propose two amendments. One, each person must bear two family names, each from his/her mother and father. (I observe that couples attempt to inculcate parity to their pre-schooler kids’ minds by having them memorize their full names only to give in to the men-biased system when they grow up.) Two, marrying women should not be given an option to change their family names. (Ladies, I believe that there sure are other ways to show love and respect to your men, right? Although, I’m flattered and proud that my wife is bearing my surname in some of her public engagements. I wish I could do what some Brazilian men do–adopt the surnames of their wives.)

Never mind the inconvenience of saying and writing long names, if that means our women will be given due respect forever. But then again, I wonder how I’d treat my real mother’s maiden name. Ampons surely share this angst.

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Parenting and gender equality

I observe that every time I attend my kids’ school activities, I learn a big thing or two. (As if I never knew that every person with an open mind inevitably does learn that as long as s/he lives.) I feel that kiddie schools are much more blessed because it is in these places where little angels hone their raw talents at the same time involve their mentors for their bouts of innocence and mischief.

This Sunday, I, tagging along Josh as usual, attended the Parents-Teachers Conference called by the school of Martin, my eldest son at 8 years, although I was late by an hour already. As a penalty for myself, I sat outside the classroom where the program was held. And I wouldn’t want to get inside only to disturb the program.

The school’s Director, Dra. Lilia Torres, was a show-stopper for her great input and handling of the forum. She would keep the audience wide awake with comic asides and realistic examples. She said that even though she had majored in counseling, she had been tempted to spank her little kid for a grave misdemeanor. “Ano’ng counseling counseling. Pinalo ko sya sa pwet,” she said. The audience laughed. She said that there’s nothing wrong in punishing a child if that’s done for a valid reason. “If you spanked your child, explain to him or her the reason why you did it. There must be an explanation afterwards so that similar misdemeanor would not happen again. We don’t punish our erring child just because it pleases us.”

After giving her own experience as both a teacher and a mother, she asked the audience for some testimonials about their lives as parents to their schooling kids. A mother volunteered to share the first one. Hers was a revelation of a gender issue in parenting. Here’s her account, as reconstructed:

When my kid was in elementary level, I was the one who focused on guiding him. I attended to his needs in school. He was a consistent top pupil. My husband barely had any role except to provide for the financial requirements of our son’s education.

One day, I decided to work abroad, leaving my husband to take care of our kid. I didn’t realize that my leaving created a problem in our child. It turned out that my husband’s way of guiding him was extremely different from mine. Of course, fathers don’t have the patience and passion as mothers possess. My husband would easily get mad when our son erred big in school. Many times, my husband would yell at our son and force him to get out of the house.

That, i think, rendered our son to lack appreciation for education. From then on, he failed in classes. Until I was forced to go back home and concentrate back on his schooling. However, that did not solve the problem. He still failed in classes even up to college. My husband remained the same, impatient and harsh on our son. We found that our son was hooked to his girlfriend and barkada; he practically lost interest in school. By the decision of my husband, we were forced to stop his schooling for a while, until the time when he’s ready to get back to it.

So what is the gender issue in the testimony? That is the unnecessary attributions (which is also called stereotyping) like the mothers are patient, while the fathers are not. Fathers bring home the bacon, while the mothers just serve it, so to speak. Fathers are “haligi ng tahanan” (who keep the home from breaking down), while the mothers are “ilaw ng tahanan” (who provide light to the home). I’m afraid that both the wife and husband have the equal roles in ministering to the needs of their children. Or to put it more aptly, both the wife and husband can shift roles as they see fit. A woman has the right to work, leaving the husband obliged to fill in the gap in terms of providing more direct guidance to kids in school. Or both can still work, yet be able to upbring their kids with equal attention. I’m not speaking that being a father myself, I perfectly take on the role that my wife has taken. I’m not yet there, but there are inroads already.

Dra. Torres, for her part, particularly raised the issue of a couple being prepared for the task of parenting. It’s high time that couples paid more attention to this. “It’s not right to show mixed signals to your kids. The couple must seriously take up how to handle problem situations involving the kids, so that they will hang on to their studies and still look up to their parents as they grow up,” she advised. She then claimed that if only for the parenting responsibilities, maintaining the marriage becomes equally challenging.

I raised my hand to give my testimonial. But Dra. Torres did not notice me. I was partly thankful that she did not, really. If I were called in, I would say to my co-parents that my wife and I are also challenged to be cool parents to our kids, that we are willing to learn as we have imperfections. I would say that I learned a lot from the first testimony. I would likewise share that my wife and I have to control ourselves in pressuring our son to excel in school as a top pupil, considering the competition in his class. Because that would not help our son any. We need to find more ways to motivate our son than to point out the competition.

We’re now more challenged because Martin is top two for the first grading period. He was consistent top one the previous year. So my wife and I should take it up and unite on a strategy or two to further motivate Martin to “reclaim” the top spot.

My kids are pogs addicts

My wife and I can’t do anything about it: My kids have been preoccupied with the latest game craze, pogs. When they wake up in the morning, the first thing they would do is retrieve their pogs cards from a secret place and place them on the dining table. Robb is even more OC. He would eat meal with his pogs cards in one hand; the fork would then be of no use. That pogs addiction has been one of the reasons why we resort to spanking them. Why, the kids oftentimes forget to eat on time, do their homework promptly, and go to bed early.

My youngest 3-year-old son, Josh, has been ‘infected’. It’s been his routine to ask one peso from us and, without our knowledge, buy pogs (which costs 3 cards per peso) from a nearby store. Unfortunately, he cannot play it because he does not have the strength to slam the cards. His kiddie neighbors who are older than him would entice him to a game, which is of course one-sided. Everytime he loses, he comes back to Mommy and ask for another peso. Sometimes, Josh would discover the places where his Kuya and Diko hid their pogs. He’d get those to either give to other kids or lose to them in a one-sided game.

Look at the pictures of Robb and Martin playing solitaire with their pogs as soon as they got home from school.

The craze has not yet died out but has been in a dormant stage because of the rainy season. But I guess that preludes it. Only then would Lea and I sigh in relief.

Now a part-time father

The title will definitely raise the eyebrows of friends happening to read this.

For the second time around in a matter of several days, I did the following for our two kids for their school days:

  • Wake up before 6 am.
  • Pour water into a kettle for boiling.
  • Buy breakfast food in the neighborhood (actually, the previous day had me cook hotdog for breakfast)
  • Wake up the kids. My eldest (Martin) is easy to awaken; he would rise up from the bed immediately at the instance of my nudging his foot. His younger brother (Robb) was more like magnetized to the bed. You have to drag him from the bed and carry him like a lifeless child. The only time he will be in a conscious state is when you force a spoonful of food to his mouth. Whether the food is his favorite or not, it does not matter.
  • Serve their breakfast.
  • Give their toothbrushes and motion them to the bathroom.
  • While they are taking a bath, prepare juices for their baon (recess food).
  • Take out some pennies from my coin purse for their monetary ‘baon’.
  • Help them in wearing their school uniform.

Simple tasks for a father. But I never did these in my years as a father until lately. Before, it was our house mate who did these. My wife (Lea) would only do so in case the maid was sick or absent. Now, we got two concerns: There’s no maid and my wife has to take complete rest from work because of her medium-risk pregnancy.

There is an implicit agreement between my wife and me that I am mainly the bread-winner in the family. I bring home the bacon, and it is the wife that cooks this for the family, so to speak. Now, because of the abovementioned concerns, yours truly has to come in and do the job of ministering to the kids, at least before I go to office and as soon as I come back home.

The sacrifice felt like great at first thought. But as soon as I got used to it, there was that feeling of completeness. It feels like I’m a real dad to our sons. I knew from the start (when I was enlightened about gender issues) that I’ve not really shared in the multiple burdens that my wife has been bearing. I knew that my work overload at the office was no reason why I could not ease her domestic yoke.

Now, the guilt has gradually gone and I’m feeling the joy of being a father to our sons. But why part-time father? It’s because I feel that I’ve not yet given my best time for them. Even if she’s taking a rest, the fact is that she cannot just lie on the bed without doing even a few things for the kids.

Some of my indicators for a full-time working father are these:

  • Attends to kids’ preparation for school
  • Comes back home as early as possible to guide the kids in their home work.
  • Does home chores like cooking, washing clothes, etc.
  • Treats the family for an outing every once in a while.
  • Guides the kids spiritually and morally.

Until I am able to do the foregoing on a regular basis, I’m still considering myself a part-time father.

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