August 2007
All about Eba

Rediscovering daddy

VANCOUVER — For him, she is his little girl, his princess, the apple of his eye. For her, he is the most important man in her life, a disciplinarian, tough but soft

FILIPINO fathers are said to be a little bit more nurturing than those in other cultures, especially when it comes to dealing with daughters, of whom they are often very protective. [photo by Alecks P. Pabico

Father and daughter relationships are difficult to characterize. For every father who deserves the “best dad in the world” award, there is a deadbeat, absent, or abusive father.

For every positive father and daughter relationship, one that is close, nurturing and emotionally fulfilling for both parties, there is one that is distant and cold, fraught with tension and resentment.

Just like elsewhere in the world, Filipino fathers are seen as the family breadwinner and provider, with female interviewees often describing their own dads as strict but kind, fair but a disciplinarian. But Pinoy fathers are also said to be a little bit more nurturing than those in other cultures, especially when it comes to dealing with daughters, of whom they are often very protective. And while circumstances such as a busy work schedule may sometimes “bury” that nurturing side of the typical tatay, the lack of the usual support systems in a strange, new place can bring the doting father back to fore.

When families migrate overseas, a rift is sometimes formed between generations, with the older set unable to understand and accept the new ways of the younger ones. But there are also instances when family members who are suddenly forced to spend more time with each other do experience a “rediscovery.” Here in Canada, where there are now more than 300,000 Filipino immigrants, many tatays have renewed their bonds with their children, especially with their daughters. Without the help of extended family members or maids to count on, and with the mother also often with work of her own, the immigrant Filipino father has had to step up and help tend to the children. And while it seems still difficult for Pinoy fathers to connect with their sons, looking after their daughters has become more of a mission of sorts now that they are in a foreign land.

Father and daughter Joseph and Pia Lim, for example, say their relationship changed when the family moved to Vancouver over a decade ago. According to Joseph, the traditional role of the father he used to play in the Philippines left him little room to interact with his children, which included his one and only daughter, Pia. Yet when asked which parent had the greater influence on her, Pia, now 29, says unhesitatingly: “Papa.”

This is the same girl who as a toddler would actually run away crying or hide behind her mother’s skirt whenever her father tried to play with her. Reared mostly by her mom and a succession of yayas (nannies) and maids, she seemed scared of her own father. Recalls Joseph: “I used to feel a little hurt before. But I know it wasn’t personal.”

AS THE First Man in a daughter’s life, a father’s behavior and treatment and attitude toward a daughter can shape the aspirations and attitudes of a lifetime. But back in Manila, Joseph was at work managing the family business from seven a.m. to six p.m. daily, except Sunday. Pia herself says that when she was growing up, her father was a distant figure, someone who went to work during the morning and came back home at night. “I used to have to tiptoe around him,” she says. “Mom always said I need to be quiet because Papa is tired after work and deserves rest. I always thought he was a killjoy.”

The dad as killjoy figure was maximized by her mom, Lydia, who often used Joseph as a bogeyman. “She’d say ‘do your homework or I’ll tell your dad and he’ll use his belt on you’,” recalls Pia.

In homes where the mom is soft on physical punishment, the dad is often the disciplinarian — or at least portrayed as one. As a result, the children in these homes sometimes grow up in fear of their dad. Pia, however, clarifies, “It’s not that I was afraid of him. But he is more stern and demanding. My mom would cajole me, but Papa put his foot down.”

Then came the move to Canada, which coincided with Pia’s teen years. Although the typical father-and-daughter relationship normally has a clashing of wills, this is especially so during the impressionable and turbulent adolescent years. Pia, however, seems to have welcomed her father’s interest in what she was up to after they migrated. She recounts, “I think once I hit high school, he started paying more attention to me. But he became stricter. He was worried for me all the time — love life, education, and just in general.”

Joseph the immigrant also became more involved with household matters. “He just became more hands-on,” says his daughter. “He became more motherly, in fact. He started to cook and do laundry too. He would putter about in the garden, and he became very makulit (a nag) and maasikaso (doting), like my mom.”

And so while Pia says her mother taught her more in terms of day-to-day tutoring, she also began listening more to Joseph, who eventually gave her guidance in developing her academic and professional career.

A businessman who believes entrepreneurship is the key to a stable, rewarding future, Joseph pushed his daughter to take commerce and business administration in university. Pia followed her father’s wishes. “It’s not something I love,” she now says. “But it’s practical, you know. It makes sense, and I can use it.”

She says she toyed with the idea of majoring in archaeology or classical history. But her dad, she says, “told me to be more practical. What was I going to do with classical history, he’d say.”

Like most Filipino fathers, Joseph believes it is his responsibility to make sure his daughter is ready for the rough and gritty reality of life. He says, “I want to make sure she’s ready for the world. Of course you want to shelter her and protect her, but at the same time, you know you can’t, so you don’t want her naïve.”

He also believes he has an obligation to ensure Pia’s future. The very Filipino desire of dads to leave their children with an inheritance, however modest, upon death is still very much with Joseph. He has clung to it even after more than 10 years of living in Canada, in a culture where independence and self-sufficiency are paramount. Joseph had to sell his business when they moved here so he says he has nothing to pass on to his children. But he insists he will make sure Pia will be well-provided for; by being able to give his daughter a financial safety net, he feels he is being a good father. Joseph says with a chuckle, “These (Canadians) here, the parents are lucky. Once the kids move out, they take care of themselves. They’re just on their own.”

“But I don’t agree,” he adds after a moment. “I wouldn’t do that to my kids. You always want what’s best for them, and if you can help out, then why not, right?”

IT’S A concern that Joseph most probably shares with Tom Padilla, who with his two children — nine-year-old Nina and eight-year-old Mark — migrated to Canada just a year ago. Right now, however, the 42-year-old Tom is more preoccupied with getting his kids fed, cleaned up, and clothed properly – things that he would usually leave to his wife Marina to worry about when they were still in the Philippines. But Marina has been left behind in Manila to take care of the family hardware business. Although far away, she has become the breadwinner in the family; Tom is the stay-at-home dad.

Tom also had his own business in Manila, but there the care of the children was strictly his wife’s domain. “My mother, the children’s grandma, lived with us and she and Marina were in charge of the children, and we had a yaya for them too,” he says. But in Victoria, British Columbia, where he and the children now live, he is the primary caregiver.

“It’s strange,” says Tom, taking a break from stir-frying some vegetables for dinner. “I never thought I’d be a househusband.”

Suddenly the former car mechanic who used to work with roaring engines and greasy tools is in charge of cooking dinner and washing greasy pans. He makes the kids’ school lunches and walks them to school. He does laundry and even irons, sews buttons, and goes grocery shopping. Tom admits he has conflicting feelings toward his new role, and that the loss of breadwinner status is a significant blow to his ego. But he says this is tempered by an improved and closer relationship with his children. “It’s the best thing to come out of this living arrangement,” he says.

For his little girl, the big difference between life in Manila and life in Canada is that here she sees her dad a lot more. He’s the one who wakes her up in the morning and tucks her into bed at night. When she wanted to buy some dangly earrings, he was the one who said no; when she wanted pink nail polish, he was the one who also said no, never.

“Daddy’s around more,” says Nina. “I see him a lot. He helps me with homework, which mama used to do before.”

She still sees him as “strict” and “frightening” but less so since they moved, she says. Indeed, in Filipino migrant families, the father is likely to be the disciplinarian between the two parents. But the immigrant father’s duties also expand to encompass things that would have remained out of his “turf” in the Philippines. And as he rediscovers his nurturing role, he also becomes more approachable and less distant. Too, the constant close proximity forced on the family members by their new set-up encourages a closeness between the parents and their children that they might not have enjoyed back in the Philippines.

“Here, I’ve become more like their mom,” says Tom. “Nina says I am very makulit, always telling them to do their homework or brush their teeth.”

MORE THAN likely, Tom will be on Nina’s case for years — maybe even decades — to come. Or at least until she gets married.

Joseph Lim says it was also his responsibility that his unica hija was safely and happily wed. “Then I (could) wash my hands off her,” he jokes.

Pia has been married for two years now and lives separately from her parents. Her dad approves wholeheartedly of her husband, David Ang, another Filipino immigrant who Pia met in university.

Pia says although she is now a wife and mother, her father’s opinion and thoughts still matter the world to her. “It’s a good thing he and Dave get along well,” she says. “Otherwise I’d be torn.”

She sees the care and concern her father had for her mirrored in her husband and their two-year-old baby girl, Deanne. But she says it is a very different father-and-daughter relationship from the one she had with her dad. Unlike her father, David has been more hands-on from the beginning; Pia is unsure whether the difference is caused by the generational gap, or because there is no barrier brought about by nannies and maids.

Both Pia and David work. They alternate driving Deanne to daycare and picking her up in the afternoon. Pia works Monday to Friday in an investment banking firm. Last year, David took a pay cut from his engineering job for the city so that he could have two days in the week during which he is Deanne’s primary caregiver.

David grew up in the Philippines and migrated to Canada just a few years ago. He believes traditional parenting roles are less delineated in Western society, and this allows him to take a more active parenting role with Deanne. He says he wouldn’t want it any other way. “I like the fact that I’m taking care of her,” he says. “It’s part of being a dad.” He says his own father was a “non-presence” in his life when growing up and he wants to make sure that this will not the case with his daughter.

“The old excuse of love being shown through money? That the father works hard and that’s how he shows his love? I don’t buy it,” says David. “Being there and being involved is more important.”

But Pia disagrees with her husband. “It’s a valid reason,” she insists, perhaps seeing in her husband’s description the father she knew in Manila. She says she doesn’t believe her dad loves her any less than her husband loves their daughter, and remarks, “It’s a different time and a different place. But he loves me in his own way. He just has a different way of showing it.”