WAYWARD AND FANCIFUL: Fathers who mother

I whirled around to see him crook his elbows 90 degrees, bringing his forearms parallel to each other across the front of his abdomen. He smiled triumphantly as he simulated gently rocking side to side the cradle of his arms.

Comprehension dawned on me. The stork had delivered. And Paddy Bear was a father again, five times over.

He loves it.

Paddy and Jessica had been infanticipating most of the months that he was assigned in Davao. It seemed like he got back to Villamor with just a few weeks to spare before the big event.

I dodged traffic again in a gleeful rush back to where he stood beaming under the entrance awning of the Philippine Air Force Headquarters. He answered my boisterous congratulations with a quiet, "I get to take care of her tomorrow." Happy anticipation was evident in his voice.

The wife is okay, thank you. Baby is fine and the older kids are just as taken with her. Everything is fine with Paddy's world.

It was a Friday. This man – neat regulation haircut, spit-polished shoes, and not a crease anywhere on his soldier's uniform – was eagerly looking forward to the weekend for his date with milk bottles, soiled diapers, and dancing with his little princess in his arms. The precious little bundle couldn't be in more capable, more caring hands.

I don't at all find remarkable this renewed interest in what is hyped to be the increasing participation of Asian fathers at infant and child care. Filipino men have always been at it. The shift to patriarchy brought about by the colonial imposition of Western religion and politics have mainly changed power differentials and emphasized economic division of labor. The shift had not extended too far into the nursery.

My mother, for example, used to call my hubby Father Hen because it seemed to her that he was more attentive to our girls' needs than I was. Evidently, my daughters are benefiting from being fathered by an enlightened male who pulls his weight to see to their physical and emotional comfort.

Children are highly valued in our culture, and the nurturing male is not an anomaly among us. One day last month, I just about exhausted my text credits texting fathers who mother a Happy Mothers' Day greeting. They are more the norm in my experience.

Even in the hinterlands little touched by human rights discourse on gender equality, Filipino men continue to do as they have done for centuries, that is, to transcend gender role distinctions on the matter of infant and child care.

It does not at all make them any less of a man. On the contrary.

Like Paddy, Kuya Ed has been an officer in the military for over 20 years. He is currently based in a training camp in Luzon.

This summer, he begins his day by herding his five kids, ages 5 to 14, to the bathroom and seeing to their breakfast. Then it is time to report to his office. He keeps his windows open so he can see them biking the lanes or climbing trees. The girls play in the tent they pitched near the tree nursery a few meters away.

Kuya Ed rounds them up a few hours later to feed them lunch and settles them down for a nap. Then it's back to work for him. The kids usually straggle in at mid-afternoon looking for a snack. Five-year-old Dale wants milk, and he sometimes wants to make it himself. Twelve-year-old Danielle wants milk, too, but it has to be in the sexy glass. Seven-year-old Dirk wants to ride Daddy's bike instead so Dad is needed to chase him all over camp. Father quietly and efficiently complies with the various demands.

There is nothing incongruous about a ground warfare specialist navigating the kitchen. Or a veteran flyer wrestling off dirty diapers. These guys do it with love and with an eye to working the average. They know they can't do this everyday, much as they want to.

Fatherhood for the man in service is a bittersweet experience. It's a monumental feat trying to balance family and career as military service is punctuated by constant geographical rotation, often done with little notice. More often than not, the fathers cannot be there for their children's milestones. But you can bet that they would if they could.

His voice tinged with sadness, a senior officer once advised me never to take for granted the time I spend with my children. He said, "Unlike you, rare are the times when I can really be there for the ones I love." (Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan's column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Ilagan teaches Social Justice, Family Sociology, Theories of Socialization and Psychology at the Ateneo de Davao University where she is also the associate editor of Tambara. You may send comments to [email protected] "Send at the risk of a reply," she says.)

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