By Dr. Daisy Joy Espejo-Torina
Some time in the past, on a mother’s day, I heard an anecdote about a child who was asked “What is a mom and a dad to you?” He defined a mom as someone who… he went on to enumerate the lengthy list of household chores that mom would do when she comes home from work whereas dad was someone who “just sits down and reads the paper.”
I’m sure not all dads are like that. There are dads who do come home from work and get involved in childcare and in picking up the clutter. I know someone who does. My friend’s sister who’s a lawyer gave up her career to take care of her baby (perhaps the only one she’ll ever have as she’s nearing menopause, which is perhaps why she chose her baby over career) and as her baby is “high need” and their household is sans yaya or katulong, she does not have time to do the dishes, she does not even have time to groom, and the house becomes a big mess come afternoon. When her husband comes home, he washes the pile of dishes, he takes over child care, picks up the clutter and frees her hands so she can take a much needed shower.
Sadly, not all dads are like that. There are dads that still think that child care is not a “real job” and shouldn’t be as tiring as working in an office. They come home feeling tired and acting like they deserve to just lie down on the sofa and read the paper or watch the news. I remember getting annoyed at a friend’s husband who went straight to the computer to surf the internet when he came home instead of playing with his daughter. It’s not right to judge based on a single encounter. They might have a different family dynamic without visitors. But just the same I remember getting annoyed.
I have always expected a father to kiss and hug and hold his child once he comes home, to make up for the hours he was away. Perhaps this is so because I had a good dad. In fact I have more good childhood memories with my dad than I have with my mother. I remember climbing up the kitchen counter to reach something on a cupboard and sending all the china crashing down to the floor as I clambered down. But he did not reprimand me. I remember him quietly cleaning up the mess and cautioning me not to step on the broken fragments on the floor. I remember riding the bicycle around town with him. I remember him being a patient audience as I practiced and polished my speeches for school ceremonies. I remember him comforting me when I had a nightmare about papers getting crumpled on their own (strange that the dream scared me so much). I remember the oft-told tale about how I needed a blood transfusion when I was a baby and he could not donate blood because he smoked so he gave up smoking pronto. And recently, my mother recounted that during our babyhood our dad would do the nappy changing and milk preparing at night so she could sleep. They were both working at that time and no doubt both tired and needed sleep at night. But like most traditional dads, he had annoying quirks: he expected his slippers to be ready when he came home, he expected to be served food at the table and he did not ever do the dishes or laundry.
I respect dads who are involved in their child’s health care. During my clerkship, internship and residency years, it was rare to see a dad accompany his child to the clinic. So when I was working at a small group of islands off the coast of Indonesia and Australia, it surprised me that more often than not it was the father who brought the child to the clinic. I would later find out this is because in the Timorese household, it was the mother who served as the family breadwinner. In my private practice now, there is an almost equal distribution of moms and dads who bring their child to the clinic. In better off families, it is often both parents who accompany their child, along with the yaya. This makes me wonder if social class has a direct relationship with a father’s involvement with child care. Perhaps the less he has to worry about his family’s financial needs, the more he has time to devote to child care.
I was able to listen to Winnie Cordero and Ariel Ureta’s radio program when they had two parenting experts for guests. They were talking about how parenting has evolved throughout the years. They advised fathers to drop the old authoritarian way and to get more involved with child rearing. Gone were the days when a dad’s only role is to bring home the bacon. It is unacceptable that a father says “Ikaw ang may kasalanan, ikaw nagpalaki nyan!” (It’s all your fault, you raised him/her!”) when something goes wrong in their child’s life. Not only is it a declaration of apathy. It’s just plain sad.#