[Two Pronged] My father’s keeper

This week's writer finds himself in the middle of her parents' differences

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. Together, they have written two books: “Love Triangles: Understanding the Macho-Mistress Mentality” and “Imported Love: Filipino-Foreign Liaisons.”

Dear Dr. Holmes and Mr. Baer,

I have a serious family problem that I have been carrying thru for such a long long time. I am in my late 20s and I am working right in Cebu after I finished my college so I won’t be a burden to my parents. Both my parents are working as government employees, my mother is earning more than my dad. My sister thru our concerted effort was able to work and study abroad.  

My problem started last 2008 when my mom accidentally opened my fathers phone and found a message that suggested infidelity. That problem triggered a lot of unexpressed hatred and little did we know that their children were the only thing holding their marriage. My mom eventually left our house after a messy two years of verbal abuse and physical confrontations. 

I could easily count it as another relationship that will never work and solve the problem by choosing between mending their relationship or letting them apart for good. But what makes it harder to digest is the current medical condition my dad is going thru right now. My dad is undergoing kidney dialysis twice a week. It is really hard to take that the only person accompanying my dad is a relative rather than us, his family.  I tried to ask for my mother to be with my dad but she vehemently declined or got mad at me or to anyone for not understanding her situation because she insisted she would die first because of emotional torture after all those years that happened between them and their character will always clash. When she recounts her story of the painful marriage,   I also believe they are better off physically separated. 

I am taking this problem alone as my sister is working abroad. My mom has given financial support to my dad and coursed it thru me. We eventually sold a property and more in the near future. My father always wished that my mom would go back to our old house, not in the small boarding house she is staying. She on the other hand said he treated her like a slave just like before and prefers her freedom and insisted she is a lot happier and at peace being alone.

This is the first i sought professional advice because i believe this problem has affected my career and emotional stability. Sometimes i plan to just stop any communication with them but i feel pity towards them specially my father. I  am confused on what to do and many people has conflicting advice regarding this. I believe it would be a miracle to see them being back together because my mom until now gets delirious when she hears bad things about my dad. If not because of my father sad sickness, my problem would be a lot easier to take.

I am hoping for your kind advice regarding this problem. I believe I need a fresh perspective from someone who has unbiased opinion about our problem.

Thank you for taking time to read my letter.

 Al 

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Dear Al,

Thank you for your email.

There seem to be a number of issues causing you angst: your parents’ separation, your ‘responsibility’ for your father given your mother’s departure and your sister’s absence since she’s abroad and your mother’s refusal to accept the role you believe should be hers.

Perhaps we need to consider your situation therefore in the light of two well-established theories.

First is the concept in family therapy called parentification. This is a form of role reversal, in which a child is inappropriately given the role of meeting the emotional or physical needs of the parent. In your case, it would appear that you have not been saddled with this role but have instead actively appropriated it for yourself.

Second is filial piety. Care for one’s parents is both a virtue and a duty in Confucianism and was once more or less universal. While it often seems to be dying out in the West, where the old are frequently shipped off to retirement homes, it is alive and well in Asia, as you so clearly demonstrate.

So let’s look dispassionately at the situation which is causing you so much distress. Your parents have separated for very good reasons and you yourself think that they are better off this way. Your mother has not the slightest desire to go back to a life of abuse and slavery – and who can blame her? However, she is magnanimous enough to be willing to give your father financial support and in addition he has the good fortune to have another relative living with him.  

Why you find his situation (rather than his illness) so personally distressing totally eludes me. However, the bottom line is absolutely clear: if despite the support that your mother and your relative are giving him, you feel that there is some further responsibility that has to be shouldered, give up your job in Cebu, move in with your father and get on with shouldering it. 

Of course this is a ludicrous idea, just as it is ludicrous to expect your mother to give up her newfound freedom from your father’s oppression and just as it is ludicrous to expect your sister to come back home after everything that has been sacrificed for her to study and work abroad.

So treat yourself to a dose of cold reality. Your concern is in all likelihood either misplaced or completely illusory. There is no requirement for a knight in shining armor and no need for you to embrace a burden that is a figment of your imagination. 

Your parents are fine, to the extent that they are both coping adequately with difficult situations and do not seem to expect anything from you that you could actually deliver. So just let them be and get on with your life. Should this prove to be too Western a view, I am sure Dr Holmes will add some Asian balance. All the best – Jeremy

HIS FATHER'S KEEPER. This week's reader finds himself in the middle of her parents' differences.

 

Dear  AL:

Thank you very much for your letter.  I hope you will forgive me if I ask more questions (rather than make definitive statements) in my answer to you.  I feel this is the best way to help you deal with your problem.

 

Jeremy mentioned your sense of filial piety as one of the factors that contribute to your dilemma. I feel you agree with him, as do I. However, I cannot help wondering (and am thus asking you) why your filial piety extends only to your father and not your mother.

You say “I also believe they are better off physically separated.” Does that mean you feel, however, that they should still be emotionally bound so that any emotional needs your father expresses should still be met by your mother?   And what about your mother’s needs?  

And isn’t it interesting – but mainly sad – that while your father who “always wished that my mom would go back to our old house, not in the small boarding house she is staying,” your mother on the other hand insists “she is a lot happier and at peace being alone.”

Your father has expressed a need that you have allowed yourself to feel is your mission to accomplish. Is it because he is a better manipulator than your mom?  Is it because you are programmed (either due to upbringing, your temperament, cultural values etc) to listen to your father’s needs more urgently than to your mother’s?

All your mother asks is to be left alone (and, perhaps, to be understood), a far easier task and yet you deny her this wish.  Instead, you decide to be your father’s emissary, making his plea your own.  

And what sort of plea is this?  A plea which unequivocally ignores her own needs and is designed to make her feel guilty.  Surely you don’t really believe your father wants your mother to be more comfortable and that is why he wants her to move from the “small boarding house” where she is staying?  

 After all she suffered, all you seem interested in is when she can come back and suffer more.  You will disagree, of course. You love your mom and want only the best for her.   BUT you seem to love your dad more. In asking her to move back to your old house (because this is what your dad wants), you are in effect asking her to give up her hard won freedom, and willingly return to her old life of servitude.

No wonder your mom is outraged.  

But outrage is not merely anger. Oftentimes it disguises the hurt someone feels when the person she hoped would understand and support her the most – her son – doesn’t.  Admittedly, I don’t know your mom, but if clinical experience is any gauge, this is part of what she feels right now.  If you did not notice how empty their marriage was before, surely you realized this in the two years they fought, before their actual physical separation?

If you didn’t notice, then you may be as stereotypically the macho male – aware of his own needs and blind to those of others as your father – and if you did, then, how can you possibly expect her to volunteer to suffer what she has all these years?  

Please forgive me if this is not the sort of answer you expected.  And I hope you try and answer the questions I asked. Even if you disagree with us and still feel your mother should go back home and take care of your father, then at least it will be clearer to you why you feel this way.   All the best – Margie

 Rappler.com

Need advice from our Two Pronged duo? Email twopronged@rappler.com with subject heading TWO PRONGED. Unfortunately the volume of correspondence precludes a personal response.

When leaving a message on this page, please be sensitive to the fact that you are responding to a real person in the grip of a real-life dilemma, who wrote to Two Pronged asking for help, and may well view your comments here. Please consider especially how your words or the tone of your message could be perceived by someone in this situation, and be aware that comments which appear to be disruptive or disrespectful to the individual concerned will be removed.

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