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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 three 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 had a brother three years younger than me. When it was time for him to go to college, all he wanted was to go to UP, but my father insisted that he go to DLSU instead. My father was worried UP might make him a communist or a frat boy.
My brother, who had exceptional grades and was admired for being the brightest student in his grade and high schools, was probably bored at La Salle, because he was always getting into trouble. The last straw was when he had an argument with his teacher and, when it was obvious he was right, the teacher threw an eraser at him, which he promptly threw back at the teacher. For that he was expelled.
My brother never stopped resenting my father for what he (and I) saw as my father’s rigid view of education and lack of trust in my brother’s ability to make correct choices. Things were never the same between them after this. My brother’s chances for a good college education were also deeply affected by his expulsion from DLSU. My father then moved heaven and earth to enroll him in UP, but by then my brother said it was “too little, too late.”
Fast forward to now, 45 years later. My daughter has also been called “genius material” by her high school professors. She, too, wants to go to UP. Her father is adamant she goes to a “good Catholic school” like Ateneo, DLSU, UST. My daughter is heartbroken about his decision and begged me to intervene.
I usually don’t like to do that as it makes my husband very angry. But I do not want a repeat of my brother’s story. Please help.
SAD SISTER and WORRIED MOM
Dear SAD SISTER and WORRIED MOM (SSWM),
While your father is simply one of many who thought (still think?) that a Catholic college is a safer prospect than UP, his failure to nurture his own son’s talent and potential was a tragic misstep from which there was apparently no redemption. As for your brother, his contribution seems to be to have acted out of sheer pique, thus emulating the immaturity and petulance shown by his DLSU professor.
One generation later, history is repeating itself, possibly in a case of intergenerational trauma (for background see this, for example). Another narrow-minded father is following his own prejudices and ignoring the best interests of his child.
Meanwhile you are caught in the middle, having to choose between supporting your daughter’s efforts to go to UP and thus incurring the ire of your husband, or maintaining good relations with your husband and condemning your daughter to an arguably inferior education (I must confess to possible bias here – I am not a fan of Catholic educational establishments, having been an “inmate” at one, and my wife is a UP alumna and former UP professor).
So what to do, SSWM?
You have chosen a husband with striking similarities to your own father: dictatorial, convinced of his own infallibility, unwilling to brook dissent, and no great believer that marriage involves open communication between equals or that the aim of parenthood is to unleash the full potential of one’s children.
Even if it might be an exercise in futility, you should try to reason with him dispassionately, arguing that your daughter’s wishes should be taken seriously since she is her own person and should be entitled to her own autonomy (within certain limits perhaps). The arguments for and against UP should be fully discussed and perhaps there is room to allay some, if not all, of your husband’s concerns.
The aim after all is to support your daughter’s journey to full adulthood and independence by allowing her increasingly to make her own life choices. Love for one’s children should not be expressed by punitive actions or insistence that parental aspirations should take precedence. Your daughter is after all her own distinct and separate person.
Should your husband prove obdurate however, then the harsh realities of life and the state of your marriage will apply. You will have to decide whether you have the will and/or the means to test the limits of your relationship and resist his unilateral efforts to impose his world view on the rest of his family.
Thank you very much for your letter. I agree with everything Mr. Baer has written, except for the first statement in the penultimate paragraph, which includes the suggestion that you “try to reason with (your husband) dispassionately.”
I am fairly sure you, as all young brides do, have tried to convince your husband (let’s call him Ed) in the past. This is part and parcel of marriage, after all. However, I am also fairly sure that you discovered early on that Ed is not a dispassionate man. This is why you “usually don’t like to do that (intervene) as it makes my husband very angry.”
Up until now, your decision to let Ed have his way (or let Ed think he is getting his own way) has worked well in your marriage.
Your daughter (let’s call her Monica) wants to go to UP; Ed insists she go somewhere else. What is at stake here is not the actual school Monica goes to – a genius who applies herself will succeed no matter how limited and “Katoliko cerrado” (hence narrow in perspective) the approach of the university she goes to. As long as she behaves differently from her uncle who dug his heels in and in effect, cut off his nose to spite his face, she can succeed despite, and not because of, her education.
What matters is that she has at least one parent who has taken the time and loves her enough to override any ego needs they may have.
A dispassionate person would try to be such a parent. Alas, Ed has proven himself unable or unwilling to do so. It is up to you to give what every good parent tries to give — enough respect for Monica so she feels listened to and appreciated for who she is (and not for what a parent insists he can mold her to be). What matters is that you decide whether remaining merely a peacekeeper is enough, or whether you should take a deep breath, bite the bullet, and face any wrath Ed may show simply because you have, once again, decided to be the kind of parent Monica needs. If you don’t take up the cudgels for her, Ed certainly won’t.
I know it is scary, SSWM, but some things are worth facing paper tigers for, don’t you think? And just in case you wonder whether this truly matters, perhaps the fact that you remember, despite the 45 years that have passed, how Ed-like your father was, may give you room for pause.
Wishing you the best of luck,
Please send any comments, questions, or requests for advice to firstname.lastname@example.org.