A SOJOURNER’S VIEW: Fatherhood facing fearful facts in post-modern times

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 21 June) — Even before COVID-19 radically changed people’s lives across the globe, the dawn of what has already been labeled the “post-modern epoch” began to give us a glimpse of the future which – depending on one’s views and perspectives – could bring the best or the worst of times!

All of a sudden, the future is here and with the corona virus – and other viruses that scientists are telling us will also eventually arise owing to factors such as climate change – and we all realize we were never fully ready to face its consequences.

When the majority of the world’s population was forced to go into “house arrest” with the lockdown and we all had to cope with all those restrictions and follow protocols such as wearing face masks, social distancing, etc.), the virus brought along other problems including mental disorders caused by increased anxieties and stress.

The ones most affected are, of course, the frontliners especially the medical personnel whose profession now parallels those of soldiers in the battlefield. After all, some have referred to COVID-19 as the enemy we need to fight in a battle. So as doctors, nurses and others working in hospitals take care of the infected patients, they, too could succumb to the illness and die.

But perhaps the next most affected by COVID-19 are parents, both fathers and mothers especially those who have under their care their elderly parents while also looking after their children. If the father (or mother if she is the main breadwinner) is a daily-earner whose livelihood depends on having to get out of the house to work outside, the pandemic has become like a curse!

There is no question: today, fatherhood faces fearful facts! When forced to go on lockdown, how does he maintain communications with children who – because of work, studies, etc. – are living far from home especially if he is not computer-literate or technology-savvy? How does he provide for his children’s needs if his income has been reduced? How to make sure tensions at home do not create more emotional stress for everyone?  And how to get everyone ready to adjust to the “new normal” when things may go from bad to worse?

So is there any reason to celebrate a Happy Father’s Day on Sunday, June 21? How can you buy balloons, ice cream and gifts when there is hardly food on the table for everyone in a big household to share?  After all, this kind of celebrationsonly arose as capitalist entrepreneurs thought of all kinds of ways to promote consumerism so we are enticed to go to the malls and buy a gift or treat our fathers to a nice meal?

But perhaps in these times when we need not only to bolster our immune system but to keep our spirits high and to fortify our emotional strength, a simple celebration to affirm our love and affection for our fathers may not be such a bad idea! Here is where “the post-modern construct of families” may have changed the landscape of what fatherhood is all about.

In traditional or pre-modern societies, the father was clearly a biological one. One became a father if he with his wife – or whatever was the status of the woman who got pregnant with his child – became parents to a child or children. He was expected to make sure to take care of them, until they, too, were ready to have their own families. If the child is a son, he took him hunting and fishing so he learned basic skills of survival. If they were baganis, he taught him ways to deal with the enemy and not be killed in a tribal war. And in the liminal rites of passages, he plays whatever is the role expected of the father.

The role of the father would shift as modes of production moved from communal to feudal to capitalist. The modern times, of course – especially with industrialization and urbanization – began to change the construct of families, but father’s roles still managed to hold on to some of the residues of the pre-modern model.

However, radical changes began to unfold with heightened globalization, the rise of information technology, advances in the science of conceiving babies, and the LGBT liberation movement. Welcome to the advent of the post-modern epoch!

When millions of fathers in mostly Third World countries opted to be overseas workers, generations of children grew up with absentee fathers. Mothers followed suit and children’s surrogate parents were their grandparents or their caretakers.

When in-vitro fertilization (IVF) became possible, a husband became a father only because of the assistance of reproductive technology. And with same-sex unions, there can be two fathers to one child who may claim one of two fathers as his/her biological father and perhaps not know who her/his mother is.

Then there is the case of “imagined families” with individuals becoming father or mother to a group of “surrogate children.” Even without the biological ties, the bonds could even be stronger than those of the traditional kinship system. In some cases, the children are far more open to share their secrets and struggles with a surrogate parent than one’s own biological parent.

I maybe a religious, expected to live a celibate life. But does this mean I do not have deep longings to have a child or even children?  In my mid-30s I did ask these questions: Did I want a son or daughter? Would I ever feel the need to have children?  I answered these questions by writing an essay – “To Father or Not” – which became part of an anthology of essays published in the book – To Be Poor and Obscure: The Spiritual Sojourn of a Mindanawon  (ISA: 2004).

To quote some lines of this essay:  “I searched my heart and I discovered that there was a tentative answer. Yes, I, too, would like to have children. However since I had made up my mind to become a religious, it was no longer likely that I would have biological children.

Eventually, I became a father. A surrogate one, that is. As of the last count (this was 2004) there were ten of them, six young men and four young women. (Today. 16 years later the number had increased to nine men and five women: four living abroad, four in Manila, two  in the Visayas, one in Western Mindanao and three in Davao City). Each of these relationships is a story in itself.

I may not be their biological father, but each one of them knows that I love them very much as if I were their real father. I may not have been there to feed and clothe them, to pay their fees in school and help them with their homework. But I was always there when they needed affirmation, advice, and the wisdom of accumulated experiences. I may not have anything to do with their genes but I may have influenced their options, choices and commitments in life.

For in the end, what is a father for but to be the older person they could lean on when the going gets pretty rough, the friend they could unburden themselves to, and the guru who could guide them through tumultuous times and weather.

 [MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar is a professor at St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute (SATMI) in Davao City and until recently, a professor of Anthropology at the Ateneo de Davao University. Gaspar is author of several books, including “Desperately Seeking God’s Saving Action: Yolanda Survivors’ Hope Beyond Heartbreaking Lamentations,” two books on Davao history, and “Ordinary Lives, Lived Extraordinarily – Mindanawon Profiles” launched in February 2019. He writes two columns for MindaNews, one in English (A Sojourner’s Views) and the other in Binisaya (Panaw-Lantaw).]

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