E.S. Reyes: Happy Family

April 11, 2021

My mother has always been an idealist. Before my father, she never had a relationship with anyone else— a Maria Clara in a grotesquely real manner. When she had me, I heard that she collected a lot of child-rearing books; she did everything to make sure that I grew up to be the best child that I could be: I was breastfed until I was almost two (2); never allowed to watch television (except during the weekends when the teletubbies were on, of course); and was enrolled in swimming, soccer, taekwondo, and art classes. My parents made sure that my brother and I were never once given anything short of anything that we really wanted; they refused to skimp out on providing for us.

As the years went by, however, I realized that my relationship with my parents up to that point wasn’t the kind of relationship that I wanted from them. I couldn’t quite hold a conversation with them anymore. Communication ceased and much like a lot of Filipino families, the household turned into this pseudo-authoritarian household where one must never speak out of turn; with “po” and “opo” as mainstays of my lexicon whenever I talk to any adult. When in the presence of my parents’ friends and family I never spoke until I was spoken to, and if I did have to speak, I had a limited amount of answers that I was programmed to say. “Okay lang po,” “Ah I’m okay na po, no thanks hehe,” and my personal favorite, “Yes po! I want to be a lawyer.” In short, I was well-trained. 

Sometimes I think my parents were well-trained too.

Wherever we went, they would always put on a happy face, be as amiable as ever— the perfect couple with their well-behaved boys. In private, however, that wasn’t always the case. 

One particular memory that I won’t forget was at my father’s sister’s wedding. My mother was the host of the reception, and during the entire car ride going to the hotel, they were arguing over control of my father’s phone. My mom had it with her, because she knew that he was exchanging messages with his mistress; she was pushing for him to give his passcode so that she could unlock the phone, while he was vehemently denying any involvement with any mistress; refusing to give her his passcode. Once we arrived at the hotel, both my parents, like always, flipped the switch and put on their facade; once again things appeared to be fine.

Until my father pulled me aside while my mother was facilitating the wedding program. He told me to steal his phone away from my mother’s bag and delete the messages of his mistress from his phone. 

They say that in everything you do in life, you often have a choice. I, however, at that moment in time, felt like I did not. I knew that what he had asked me to do was terribly wrong, and unfair to my mother. I knew that the right thing to do was to tell my mother and rat my father out.

But then I thought about my brother; he was only 13 at that time, and I didn’t want him to face the consequences of having my parents separate at such a young age. Especially since he was particularly close with my father.

I also thought about the ensuing fight that would come after the wedding. I’ve seen it all. Broken plates, clothes thrown out the room, obscenities that even Duterte would be proud of— I didn’t want any of that. Plus, in some sort of fucked up kind of way, I was glad that my father had confided in me.

Finally, some father and son bonding. 

And so, I snatched my father’s phone from my mother’s Louis Vuitton bag (which was a gift from my father), and calmly went to the toilet to relieve my father of his cellular infidelities. When I finished, I quickly slid the phone into my mother’s bag, and went straight to the cocktail bar. 

My father thanked me. And told me that if I wanted anything, I should just ask for it and he’ll get it for me. 

A little over a year after the wedding, My father left us to start his own family with a woman barely a year older than me. And along with him, a lot from our lives had left us too. Gone was the pressure of having to cut my hair once the curls started showing; of wearing the “right clothes.” Also gone were the Sunday movie nights after church, the family road trips with family friends; his 6 million peso income; and the facade of having a “happy family life.”

Despite it all, my mother has been keeping it a secret from a lot of people. Family get-togethers were usually terrible for my brother and I. Since my father was good with PR everyone would always be asking us for his whereabouts, and we had to answer with: “oh he has a flight abroad po hehe.” And for the relatives who did know what happened, it felt as if they were avoiding talking to us. Or if they did, it was obvious that they were walking on egg-shells around us so much so that interaction was often awkward and meaningless, with no mention of my father and what he’s been up to. It was as if me, my brother, and mother were like broken glass; fragmented, sharp, and irreparable. To be avoided, to be swept aside. 

And as jagged as we seemed to people outside, we were even sharper towards each other. Weekends, after coming home from university, would be filled with fights over small, petty things, such as why my mom wouldn’t throw my father’s things out or why she wouldn’t put down my father’s pictures in the living room. My brother and I always felt that despite everything that happened, our mother still hoped for his return home. I never really understood why. But I guess that’s what more than 20 years of marriage did to my mother— and probably what 20 years of growing up in that marriage did to me: I don’t know if I ever want to get married!

Most of our fights would only really happen when it concerned my father. When it was just us it was always different. Or rather, it gradually turned out different. I mean what else would we talk about before or after our fights, if not our lives? It was during those moments of respite where I felt like we actually communicated with each other; I could talk about my heartbreaks and my friends, my brother about his dreams and aspirations, and my mother about work and her past. And as the 3 years have gone by we find ourselves thinking (and arguing) about him less and less.

Now, every Thursday at 5pm, ever since I moved to Davao, me, my mother, and brother would have our weekly catch up. We talk about our plans, and how our week went. Our old family group chat— the inaptly named “happy family” chat was transformed into “3 fam” where everyday the three of us would say good morning and good night to each other. Sharing stories about any significant details about our days or our plans for the week. In truth, I only understood people who skipped events or parties in favor of family dinners or get-togethers recently. Because now, even if we’re apart, I think I’m actually starting to enjoy spending time with my brother and mother. 

It’s been four (4) years since the wedding, and I still haven’t told my father what I wanted. But I guess in a way, I’ve already found it in what he left behind.

*About the photo: Paul Cezanne’s, Four Apples, contrasts red from green, depicting departure or change in still life – similar to the waves of changes happening in a person’s life.

*About the author: This was E.S. Reyes’ speech delivered during a Toastmasters meeting. You can contact him directly about his Philippine Eagle advocacy at ereyes@philippineeaglefoundation.org.

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