R’Perspective: The reality behind the holiday’s family tensions

Courtesy of Pexels
Courtesy of Pexels

For as long as I can remember, my parents have been divorced and this consequently has resulted in separate events for virtually everything. Thanksgiving Day had to be split in two  —   lunch at grandma’s and dinner at mom’s. The same went for graduations and birthdays. Given my family’s Catholic background, there has always been some awkwardness, as divorced parents are like the antithesis to the Catholic religion itself; the Roman Catholic Church does not acknowledge marriage annulments. Suffice to say, the holidays have always left me with mixed feelings instead of genuine excitement and happiness.

My mom and dad’s sides of the family are similarly divided in their respective attitudes toward the other. It’s so interesting how my mom is always the one pushing my siblings and I to stay in touch with our dad’s side of the family, while my dad’s side either turns silent when my mom is brought up or they focus conversations entirely on my dad and my younger half-brother. My grandma on my dad’s side always reiterates this sort of dad-focused rhetoric in every interaction. A litany of Taglish (Tagalog and English) and hand-rubbing spills forth —  “Ay, maganda ang grandchild ko” (“Oh, how pretty my grandchild is”) and “Kawawa naman ang daddy mo” (“How sad your dad is”). These sorts of attitudes have caused my “Ate” (“older sister”) to take on an acerbic demeanor in recent years and to revile in bringing up our mom to counter compliments about our dad.

Moments like these make me wonder where the Christian upbringing we share is in my family’s interactions. Instead of remembering the past mistakes and talking openly about them in jest, those old wounds are exacerbated because they are ignored completely. Honoring one parent over the other is unnatural and does not align with fostering good family relationships. In particular, my family’s codified rhetoric of title addresses is quite revealing of this inequality. Whenever my dad would sign gifts with “Love, Daddy, Tita Lori, and Jullian” (“aunt”), my Ate would intentionally sign with “From Marianne and the kids” — Marianne being my mother’s name. Or, as my grandmother likes writing frequently, “Your daddy misses you” narratives. While this may not be unusual for families, I think that it’s worse because of how both sides try to subtly erase each other’s existence. Especially since this obvious misogyny, through my mom’s passiveness and my dad’s side’s overt bias, is often buried under Filipino culture’s reputation of hospitality and strong religious faith.

In fact, back when my parents were still together, my mom was always highly encouraged to seduce my playboy dad back, to reel him in. Instead of being taught to analyze the relationship’s problems, my mom was made into the sole causal factor behind why the divorce even happened in the first place. Yet, this created an unhealthy relationship instead whereby my dad was allowed to be both physically and verbally abusive toward her. It still surprises me how candid my mom is in mentioning one particular concussion that she received from my dad while pregnant with me. Even though my mom has more of an excuse to take on a mentality similar to the one that my dad’s side adopts, she shows how much of a greater Christian she is by pushing us to still interact with them. But my mom also has recently started allowing my siblings and I to decide for ourselves if we wanted to maintain relations with our dad’s side. This level of maturity is certainly lacking on our dad’s side.

Personally, I have not decided if I want to still interact with my dad’s side of the family. While my Ate is adamant to interact with them as little as possible, my “Kuya” (“older brother”) is fine with visiting my dad’s side of the family and seeing our younger half-brother. Until both sides of my family can acknowledge this division, this air of tension and awkwardness that the holidays hold for me will never dissipate. I am certainly tired of this constant cold war and how careful I have to be to not mention either parent with both sides of my family.

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