Single Parenting an American

The author and his daughter (Photo courtesy of Patricio N. Abinales)

The author and his daughter (Photo courtesy of Patricio N. Abinales)

We are a strange family. My 12-year-old is Filipina by birth, but her connection to the “old country” is provincial. She was born and spent the first two years of her life in Mati, Davao del Norte (not exactly the metropolis) and whatever exposure she had in the national capital was superficial. Her mother was Italian-American from New Jersey, who studied Malaysian history, while I am a Filipino from northwestern Mindanao. I met my wife in an Ivy League school located in the middle of nowhere in upstate New York, where we were both studying Southeast Asia.

We stayed for five years in southern Ohio after getting our degrees, before moving to Kyoto, Japan where we stayed for 10 years. After eight years, and as we approached middle age, we decided to adopt, met our daughter in Davao, and then went back to Japan now a family of three. We stayed there for another four years before going to D.C. My wife passed away there, and the kid and I moved to where I work now.

To the question as to what has it been like raising this child, three answers come to mind. First, you are perennially tired, and you will be in this state until she turns 18. The fatigue originates from the illusion that you can be both mother and father and that the kid will understand and appreciate the effort. She may at the start, but at 12 she begins to distinguish the father’s inability to fulfill the role of mother. Your reaction is to double the effort to be Mom/Dad, only to fail. You do it again and fail again. And on and on.

Second, it is infinitely easier to raise a kid in your 30s or 40s, than in your late 50s and 60s, when you are supposed to retire and smell the roses. And this is not just a question of physique; it is also a fact that the age gap makes understanding each other’s mentalities difficult because of the disparate contexts in which father and daughter grew up in.

Which brings me to the third answer. Filipino parents who move to this place with their kids face the dilemma of their being Pinoy clashing with their children growing up as Americans. To what extent should the kid be taught the values of the new place, and how much must one insist that they also learn how to be a child of Filipinos? I’ve been pulling hairs with the Filipino parents I’ve met so far over the “loss” of our children’s Filipino-ness.

(Photo courtesy of Patricio N. Abinales)

(Photo courtesy of Patricio N. Abinales)

At the other end, I had students complaining, “When my parents scold me for not behaving like a Filipino, I just scratch my head because I do not know what it means. I grew up here, for heaven’s sake!” I tell them that by studying Philippine history they might be able to formulate a better response, only to realize that this is not their history anymore. They have their own story to tell, and that as American Filipinos.

Am I exempt from all these because of my vocation as a historian? Unlikely. The level of our exchange may be different for my kid, and I share a common interest in American history, but I am sure it does not resolve the above predicament between a Pinoy parent and an American daughter. The signs are there. As we move into the Age of the ‘Tween, our conversations have become battles of wits that often leave the two of us emotionally drained.

To what extent should the kid be taught the values of the new place, and how much must one insist that they also learn how to be a child of Filipinos?

That said, it is not all that bad. Our rootlessness and the multiplicity of our identities, ethnicities and nationalities – all these farragoes -- have made us doubly curious about life in general.

At five, the kid was already was at home with the world, and happily discussing Barack Obama’s significance with baffled classmates in her Yokohama kindergarten school. At six, she became fascinated by religion when she found out her father was an ex-Catholic atheist, while her non-religious mother thought she should be raised a Catholic.

After her mother passed away I tried to prepare her for her first communion. The Jesuit whom I thought could give her the proper advice, however, was stumped when she asked him, “If God made Man, then who made God?” As the reverend father almost choked on his meatballs, she laid unto him her coup de grace: “Why are there no women priests in your Church?” She has, since then, refused to take the sacred wafer until someone answers her questions, and not in a patronizing way.

Then at 10, she turned to me once and declared how she could not respect boys because “they have nothing between their ears.” The budding feminist.

And the learning continues. My wife is laughing at me somewhere out there.  

Patricio N. Abinales

Patricio N. Abinales

Patricio N. Abinales grew up in Ozamiz City, northern Mindanao, but now lives with his daughter in Honolulu. In his day job, he is Professor of Asian Studies at the School of Pacific and Asian Studies, University of Hawai`i-Manoa, and Director of the Center for Philippine Studies.

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