BACK IN THE OLDEN days, the Filipino family prayed together, stayed together, and weathered the storms of life intact. There were exceptions to the rule, of course, but society didn’t dwell on them.
People got married and had children. If later the marriage foundered, the spouses ran a rope around the hull, kept it together “for the kids,” and sailed on. Often, the spouses pulled this way for so long (so many kids!) that their differences eventually faded into the sunset. They lived in a quiet truce, understood by them as part and parcel of love, that allowed them to proceed into dotage together. And this fulfilled them, not necessarily as individuals, but as heads of the family. Generally, parents felt that the cost was worth it.
Of course, it wasn’t possible to dissect the emotional needs of each one in such a set-up. People weren’t so introspective then, not as intensely in touch with their feelings as they are now. Besides, it was the welfare of the family that mattered most. One’s private angst was dealt with, well, privately.
Generally, children acknowledged their parents’ sacrifice and responded with gratitude, if not always with love. In most cases, however, they were happy to supply both. As tots, they did what they could to reciprocate, and as adults, they made it their business to pamper their parents whenever and in whatever way they could.
It was not a perfect social system, but it satisfied; it was how we Filipinos did things.
Now, I’m no sociologist, but I’ve observed a few things.
Times have changed and the family is no longer as tight as it used to be. Back in the day, children lived with their parents until they wed (and sometimes even after that!). Nowadays, kids like to assert their independence and move out as soon as they can – even though that independence is at times more physical than fiscal (how many parents end up paying their kids’ rent?).
People are more “into themselves” than before. Occidental individualism has seeped into our culture, and is pushing out our Asian group thinking. The current mentality is “me” and not “us,” it seems.
Children have no qualms about taking off with their barkada for a weekend out of town without even checking in with their folks. (“Why not?” they say, “we have a right to do what we want with our resources, don’t we?”) Fewer young adults understand the concept of “pagpapaalam” as both a seeking of permission and a notification of intent. It seems they feel it isn’t necessary for their elders (or others in the family) to give leave for their plans nor to even know what they’re up to.
I’ve also noticed more and more parents give in to this behavior, probably because many of them are too tired to argue.
This is unfortunate because it means there is less communication in families today. That means less information shared, and less empathy and support imparted as well. Less families are pulling together as they used to and sticking together no matter what.
I was taught as a schoolchild that “the family is the building block of society.” I accepted that because it was true in my case. My own family – our clan – is rock solid. We cousins, to this day, are more like siblings from different parents than mere “relatives.” Our parents set the example of closeness for us, and we have gladly followed suit.
But I’m afraid these bonds are weakening in the younger generation. For instance, my nephews and nieces don’t see each other much because they often have their own “thing” going on, even on family day (which we elders once considered sacred). Perhaps I am merely getting older, but this saddens me. I had hoped the intimacy of our clan would continue with them.
I have always seen each member of my family as a thread on the loom, our traits woven as warp and woof in a fabric of diverse hues and textures. It is a thing of endurance and beauty. We are intertwined and stronger because of it.
I am who I am partly because of my family. I thrive because my roots are robust and deep.
Because I have enjoyed this bolstering, it concerns me that the Filipino family might be ailing. The dilution of family ties will only compound the dissolution of society, if it hasn’t already, and this should alarm us all.
We like to criticize our institutions for their failings and blast “ang Pinoy” for corruption and other issues, as if we are not Pinoy ourselves. Why do we distance ourselves from each other? Is not our nation essentially a family? Shouldn’t we rather unite to make our vessel shipshape and forge on?
If the “foundation of society” is weakening, we must strengthen it. This is common sense. Many ills incubate in the home that must be treated before they escalate into social epidemics. This is a task we cannot relegate to the president or his agencies or the legislature or the judiciary. It is something we must do at home.
Our country is geographically and culturally fragmented. We have grave differences on major issues, and if we manage to display unity, it is often just for show. We have every symptom of a house divided.
Yet there are times when we Pinoys recall that we are kin and pull together heroically despite our disagreements. We learned to do this long ago in our families.
The “building block of society” needs reinforcing today. It is my hope that we Pinoys can work at it arms entwined and heal our nation from the inside out.
I pray that today’s Filipino families may recover precious time lost and purpose to spend it together, not apart; creating memories, not distance; sharing experiences, not status messages; and remembering that only a house united stands.
Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall.