A letter to Tatay
Last Friday, while reviewing my research questions, homesickness suddenly hit me. I then looked through some journal notes to remind me of the reasons why I decided to study here in Australia. I saw a sketchy entry addressed to Tatay, who would have turned 63 this year had he not succumbed to liver cirrhosis years ago.
Tatay, Kumusta? Sinong kainuman mo ngayon? Barik na ga? (Dad, how are you? Who are you drinking with? Drunk yet?)
I wonder how things would be if you’re still with us.
I remember how I watched you narrate your struggles as a young man brimming with optimism but crippled by economic circumstances. Yes, we were poor by the indicators I use as a researcher. I never felt we were that deprived though (thanks to the strong social ties in our community).
I once had to go to your kumpare to ask for 3 kilos of rice so we would have something to eat for two days. Mangutang ng bigas (borrow rice), we call it in Filipino. They had barely enough supply for a week, yet there was no hesitation to give us what we needed.
Remembering our discussions
One radical thinker once said "social being determines social consciousness." This would have been an exciting debate topic for us. For sure, you would begin our conversation with words to curse the land-owning elite for their sheer callousness and flawed sense of fairness. Their economic status, you would argue, has rendered them incapable of empathizing with those who are mired in poverty.
I have worked with people who live a hand-to-mouth existence and those who are utterly clueless about why massive impoverishment persists.
Last year, after a discussion on the country’s stubbornly high unemployment, a student asked me, "Sir, what sustains your interest in understanding poor communities?" I was taken aback for a few seconds. Then I replied.
"I believe it's groundedness. It's my own experience in coping with poverty and my interactions with individuals whose narratives of injustice serve as a compelling motivation to get involved in how things are run."
You used to say that the problems we face are, to a great extent, an offshoot of the choices we make. I agree. The questions we bother to ask ourselves are partly produced by the options we choose. They also influence the actions we take.
I’m sure you would have questioned my decisions on career trajectory. You would say I’m still unable to build a house with my meager income.
Well, you have a point. I don’t even have a car. But I’m proud of my collection of books. And yes, I occasionally criticize myself for romanticizing my profession – development work. After all, as some friends usually complain, this is a thankless job that somehow short-changes those who toil for a more humane future.
Still, what fascinates me about this endeavor is that it values meaning over money and recognizes process as crucial as results. This is where you can meet people who practice what they preach, where co-workers have integrity and infectious passion for social justice.
Yes, I’m one of those who dare to imagine a better tomorrow. As development professionals, we analyze our current situation. We assess alternatives, design strategies, and initiate interventions that can get us closer to our preferred condition. So we don’t just look up and stare at the stars. We act toward achieving our vision.
Of course, there are paradoxes in this vocation.
If you were here
Sometimes, I wish you were here to give your opinion about my professional and personal issues – from mundane office concerns and painful emotional skirmishes with past girlfriends to my own contradictions and inanities.
I would love to hear you re-count your childhood adventures. Your anting-anting (amulet or talisman) stories never fail to amaze me. I learned that there are rituals for warding off engkantos (supernatural being). What you would always mention, though, is an anting-anting that allows guys to ‘control’ their female partners.
Tatay, I disagree with you on this one. I think men’s ability to ‘control’ women does not come from any magical stone. This ‘anting-anting’ has been with us a social construct embedded in every fabric of selfhood and social relation.
We simply need to understand how our socialization shapes us as males and affects how we relate to women. We ought to examine how this anting-anting has granted us a privileged status (or an ‘alpha male’ posturing) that deepens gender issues and inequality.
Some people may view it as too mushy. But that’s precisely the point. It is touching on the familiar yet oft-overlooked concerns. It is reflecting on how this patriarchal charm makes our shared commitment to justice and equality meaningless. It is confronting this male-centred anting-anting.
This takes me back to how you went through your predicaments. Fed up with life’s uncertainties, there were instances when you came home drunk and terribly distressed. How I wish I had the counselling skills to be able to assuage your fears and provide a safe space where you could be at peace with yourself.
Tatay, as I deal with my own anxieties I recall how you handled your self-doubts. You often cried. You were never apologetic for showing your feelings. Behind your alcoholic macho image, you were a very emotional person.
You were my first icon of a man who knows how to weep. While Inay has been a source of inner strength, I probably got this courage to express my sentimental side from you.
Maraming salamat, Tay.
Tagay! – Rappler.com
Just like his Tatay, Redento loves to share stories over bottles of alcoholic beverages. He is currently doing a research on informal urbanism, grassroots collective action, and development planning.