[Two Pronged] The distance between me and my sister
Rappler's Life and Style section runs an advice column by couple Jeremy Baer and clinical psychologist Dr Margarita Holmes.
Jeremy has a master's degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in 3 continents, he has been training with Dr Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives.
Dear Dr Holmes and Mr Baer,
My sister is married to an American and I experienced living with the two of them right here in my own place. It's cultural differences, I guess, that we eventually clashed over when my sister left him with me as she had to go back to the US ahead of her husband. There were so many ways of his I tried to bear. Blame it on Filipino hospitality.
But in an instant, I lost my patience and forbearance and so we had to part ways. Lo and behold, my sister sided with her spouse. I guess this is expected.
It's a long story... but the reason why the hubby had to stay behind was because I found them a child to adopt and they had to bond. Since they could not just have the baby all at once, they stayed with me. They were planning then to get a property in Tagaytay.
This, until I lost my temper and fought with the guy. He left the baby with me until my sister came back several months after. She didn’t come to my place to get the baby. Instead, she asked somebody to pick up the stuff they left. I sent the baby also. We've been estranged since then. It's sad that we allow this foreigner to get in the way in a supposedly beautiful relationship between me and my sister. I am 12 years older than my sister. so I even took care of her when she was young.
I’m sorry, it's not about a union between husband and wife, but I guess somehow it has something to do with it. On several occasions I knew my sister would be in an embarrassing situation because of the American's ways.
Thanks for reading.
Thank you for your email.
Your account of your fight with your brother-in-law (let's call him Bob) is strangely short of detail. You say you had to bear his 'ways' and accuse him of embarrassing your sister, but you do not give a single example of this supposed clash of cultures, leaving us to deal in generalities in the absence of any specifics.
Your story seems to suggest a certain nostalgia for the past when you used to take care of your much younger sister (let's call her Carol) and perhaps a reluctance to recognize that that relationship has been altered by the passage of time, Carol's marriage to a foreigner and her life in the USA. You are and always will be her ate (elder sister) but you seem to have failed to recognize that the bond between you has been weakened since those days when you could order her around and expect unswerving loyalty and obedience.
She has, after all, made her life abroad in a very different culture with a non-Filipino and that must have changed her enormously.
You should have known all of this before Carol and Bob came to stay and it should surely have been obvious when they were both living in your house. If Bob's ways were too "foreign" for your taste, it was clearly the height of folly to have him stay on after Carol went home and it was bound to end badly.
Then there is this bizarre notion of yours that Bob has come between you and Carol while you seem oblivious to the fact that you yourself have attempted to come between Carol and Bob. Unless their marriage is on the rocks, if forced to choose Carol was always going to take Bob over you, unless of course he had done something outrageous e.g. he attempted to seduce you.
In short, you appear to have brought this misfortune on yourself and matters are not helped by trying to shift the blame elsewhere. If you are to reconcile with your sister, you will need to accept you are responsible for the rift and make the first move by apologizing in a suitably abject fashion. I suspect that that this may be a bitter pill to swallow but is there any alternative?
Best of luck,
Thank you very much for your letter. Jeremy has reiterated the salient points of your letter and also shared some insights and given some advice which I agree with 100% (if that is ever humanly possible) and 99.9% (in case it isn’t). More than that, being more astute than many, he presented you a paradigm which you can use to analyze your own situation.
Thus, I see my contribution merely as an add on, as a way to present a historical and cultural perspective which may further elucidate the reasons you expected behavior that, in your eyes, you had every right to expect but in others’ eyes (certainly your brother in law and, yes, even your sister) might have surprised—even angered – them.
Based on their belief that you had the temerity and lack of understanding of their relationship to do so.
The historical perspective I can buttress with snippets of your letter. The cultural will be based on my clinical experience dealing with cross cultural/ inter racial couples. For the cultural I will admit I do not, at present, have the research to quote but it is certainly available (and I can ask UP Professors Ton Clemente and Jay Yacat, foremost experts in Sikolohiyang Pilipino) if anyone is interested and comments below.
A. Gratitude you expected from what used to be:
"I am 12 years older than my sister. so I even took care of her when she was young.”
How disappointed you must have been in Carol for perhaps not telling Bob how important you are to her, how you took care of her and, in a way, are still taking care of her. Where is the “Utang na loob” you must have taught her in the past (or, at least she should automatically show, especially if it had been shown in the past)?
B. BUT… STILL HAPPENS NOW!!
“In addition… I found them a baby”
In a way, it is reasonable to expect gratitude. After all, you did something very few people could do. But perhaps, it was gratitude that was unreasonable /unrealistic/they had no idea you could possibly expect. Perhaps what you expected was the kind of utang na loob shown you in the past—before she had left for the US, before she married someone who could reasonably be expected to take over your role, not merely out of love etc. but because it is part of what the Bible says (Genesis: 24-25) 24 For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.
This change is a shock! Especially if one had never in her wildest dreams expected it to happen. After all, your gifts to Carol are not just historical (based on what you did in the past, on what you used to give her), they still continue in the present!
Her husband stayed with you, and, biggest of all, in your very own words, you “found them a baby to adopt.” Who can do that sort of thing? And gratis et amore, but this is to be expected of a big sister,…in the same way, what might have been expected in the younger sister was to show due gratitude...or, at the very least, the sort of gratitude your sister used to bestow on you as a matter of course.
You also said: It's sad that we allow this foreigner to get in the way in a supposedly beautiful relationship between me and my sister.
Yes, it was beautiful in the past, which is the sad part, BUT it can be beautiful again!! AND as Mr Baer said in his answer: “in a way, it is up to you.”
Do you really want Carol, who is two—some would say 3—cohorts younger, to be caught in the middle like this? How can you be so rigid and either-or/black and white in your thinking? To force her, in effect, to choose between the two people she probably loves the most in her life: her husband and, her (de facto) mother? How can you be so cruel to put her in such a terrible position?
There is so, sooooo much more I’d like to share with you which I think might help – and I probably will in a Clinical Note or two.
I so hope you understand? The purpose of this column is NOT to judge or pronounce whose “fault" it is. It is just that, since it is you that wrote, it is only you we may have a possible influence on.
We do not mean to “berate” – and I hope you don’t see it that way – only you. It is just that we have no means to get your sister and brother-in-law to listen. Perhaps if they were to write us, we would, and point out places they could possible have misstepped. And no, it would not be a good idea to merely “pass on” what we say. Then it would be same old, same old, the way you possibly might have treated her in the past and if not, chances are that is definitely the way her husband might see it and even resent it further.
Instead we hope to provide a new perspective that with luck all 3 of you will be open to.
All the very best,
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