Lessons from my father

Sylvia Estrada Claudio
Lessons from my father
President Duterte is not my Tatay Digong. He does not command my obedience nor adulation. It is the nation, and not one person, that commands me.

Does it help to point out that, true to form, the swaggering and aggressive Du30 is a coward?

He makes bold promises in front of adoring crowds but dithers about inviting a petite and simple woman named Agnes Callamard to the country. 

He and his supporters take on defenseless women like dead Australian missionaries, the gentle Vice President Leni Robredo and the less powerful Senator Leila de Lima. But he fails to take on Senator Antonio Trillanes IV who still has influence in the military.

And oh, the position of surrender he has taken on China! This man who has sworn to protect our sovereignty, who is all bluster in front of 4 year-olds, cannot raise a single “putang ina” when China shoots at our fisherfolk who are in OUR territories.

He goes after and kills low grade and desperate pushers and addicts but never the big pushers and the rich. And he has not the fearlessness to realize that his overuse of Fentanyl is drug abuse, which is the basic problem of addiction. He lacks the moral courage to realize from his own flaws that we are all flawed like the addicts he despises. 

The authoritarian father

I wonder about the psychology of many who voted for him. How many of his supporters see him as an aspirational figure? Brave and macho and living large like Clint Eastwood. He is what they want to be or the Daddy they wish they had.

Perhaps many are like him. Boys and girls from families run on machismo. That is, they believe that an obedient and cohesive family is necessary to survival and that one must be aggressive towards who threaten it. Thus, any criticism must be muted and kept under wraps. They want a father to protect them. Someone who cares for his bakuran but fights the neighbors we despise (addicts) or envy (elitists) and then toughs it out when they complain. The one who would defend family honor (how dare you foreigners criticize us!) at all costs. This kind of father is aggressive and authoritarian. In exchange for adulation and obedience he offers protection and prosperity. The classic patriarch. The builder of dynasties.

Children raised by such fathers or who envy those who have such fathers, hate it when their authority figures are called out. They wonder why the rest of us refuse to join their family when the patriarch has been kind enough to invite us. They look at the rewards of being with him as proof of his beneficence and not his patronage. They believe that those who refuse to obey the father imperil us all. This is why they accept that a harsher discipline like martial law is the proper response to those of us who refuse to obey.

Little wonder that they also believe in love of nation. The question is really what we believe is the way to uplift ourselves. Would it decrease their support to point out his shortcomings? 

Immovable support

From social psychological studies we get the figure of 1/3rd. Trump’s immovable 30 percent support who believe and will always believe in the authoritarian father. In our case, their Tatay Digong.

They will win elections for the demagogue. They will seem louder than their numbers. They will see all critcism as betrayal and a threat. Added to this the use of governmental resources to drum up the sense of adoration that legitimizes the patriarch to his followers, and this dynamic feeds itself.

But what of the rest?

I believe in the objectivity of everyone else. Whether they are rich or poor, educated or not, most will decide on the basis of a different morality. Many will decide on the basis of their own early experiences in families with different power structures.

We all long for protection by a strong father. But many are raised knowing the difference between moral and physical courage. Many were raised by parents who understood that they must teach their children to break away from them. Raised by fathers who had the humility to know that they could not be everything to their children. Raised by parents who understood that each child needs to be encouraged to become a unique and different self. That the strength of the family is that its members are different and to a certain extent, disobedient, because they must be creative. It is love and tolerance, and not obedience, that saves. Those whose fathers loved us because of, not despite, our mistakes may be less emotional about Duterte.

I have faith that most who voted for him are of this type – whether their fathers taught them about power through their benignity or their dominance. In short, the ones who have the ability to learn from their parents’ positive and negative examples.

Those to whom the politics of the country cannot be seen as a family feud between “us” and “them” are the backbone of the country. And my faith with our people lies in that belief. I believe in the capacity of people to reassess beyond personalities. I believe in their ability to nuance and modulate. Similar in our ability of thinking beyond ourselves, our own families, our own bakuran. We understand that we can never be one family. Indeed we recoil in horror at the incest implied by a large community made up of relatives.

These are the ones who, for other reasons, voted for Duterte. The ones who then and now do not believe in social cleansing. Those who hoped his statements about women and killing were mere bluster and are upset that they have truned out to be authentic. I remember the difference between the OFWs who asked me for news of the changes in the country. When I mentioned extrajudicial killings, one noted with satisfaction “naglilinis na si Duterte” and the other who said with equal passion, “dati akong pulis at hindi namin trabaho ang pumatay ng tao.” Both had voted for him, they confessed. But the latter is like those did not vote for him but hoped to be proven wrong. The ones who gave him a chance and now find him wanting.

The 11-point drop in support for the drug war is one clear indication of this objecivity. An indication of a process that has happened before, is still happening, and will continue as long as this administration sticks to its guns.

Bury our fathers

My own father was both protective and magnanimous, but he did not expect adulation nor obedience from his wife and children. He was a man who did not just impart lessons to us but also learned from us. A man who had the courage to be both gentle and humble.

He believed that physical courage, as demonstrated by those who wanted to kill and maim the different and threatening other, was often merely an indication of moral cowardice. The man who said, “The reason I give you all this security is so that you will have compassion for others who are unlike you, instead of being fearful that they will take away from you what you have.” The same man who, in the light of our relative comfort, called on us to seek no further material or egotistical aggrandizement, “to whom much is given, much is to be expected.” The doctor who kept telling me, as I myself became a doctor, that we took our Hippocratic oath so seriously that the duty to “do no harm” was a command not to minimize any form of cruelty.

My feminism was very easy for him to understand because he took it as my way of applying his morality. One had to go beyond family. Not just his daughters and his women were to be protected and respected. But all women.

Duterte and the weak

I was ambivalent about who to vote for in 2016. Duterte was on my shortlist until he made that appalling statement about rape, refused to apologize for it, and then continued to make more statements that showed his disdain for women.

My lived experience is that those who disdain women (and anyone who calls attention to Duterte’s numerous girlfriends and that he loves his daughter can reserve a space in any gender sensitivity session with our Philippine Commission Women), disdain all those of whom they can take advantage of. Thus all the weak – the poor, the addicts, women, the LGBT – are a threat. For my parents it was our defense of those who were not our intimates that was the expression of family honor.

In his last years my father also said, “Don’t think about me when I am gone, I won’t be worried about you.” A final exhortation to bury our fathers and all the family issues that are inevitable hurts to those who grow up in a society marked by class and gender inequity. An admonition to live bravely by my own morality without seeking protection.

I have buried my father and need no other. Rodrigo Roa Duterte is the President of the Philippines, indeed. But he is not my Tatay Digong. He does not command my obedience nor adulation. It is the nation, and not one person, that commands me. – Rappler.com


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