There is this inevitable sense of contradiction in the way most people live. It was true then, and remains true to this very day.
My own childhood was pretty much riddled with such contradictions, and this was particularly true in the way society treats its women. Most men are protective of their mothers and sisters, I would assume, but hardly the women outside of familial lines.
I’m sure that I am not the only one with memories of women being beaten black and blue, harassed, violated, and made to look pointless, if not altogether useless. As if their very existence in society hardly matters.
To give birth to a son was every Filipino family’s hope for a bright future. At least that was what I had heard. These are the same sons who were taught, directly or indirectly, that possessing several women was a testament to their triumphant conquest, and having a tinge of hostility in their veins against women was everything an “alpha male” should aspire for.
Birthing a daughter was mere restitution for a father’s largely guilty conscience. That was the world I was born into.
I was in my late twenties when I told myself the buck stops with me. This means that if God ever decides to give me daughters, they will have to acquire a specific resonance, a particular sparkle in the darkness, one so far removed from society’s expectations of women that at the very least, they would be starkly different.
In my mind, my would-be daughters must be strong, outspoken should the chance present itself. What about intelligent? Check mark. Iron-willed, why not? Inflexible in the things that matter. Kind, but would not hesitate to stand her ground when push comes to shove. Compassionate, but never at the expense of justice. Patient, but never as a lamb to the slaughter.
Easier said than done. To pull this off, I will have to break all of society’s rules as regards familial authority. I will also have to tell them the truth about love. That for love to be true love, it should never take BS from anyone. That includes me, the first man they will ever know.
Ergo, I will have to give my daughters ample breathing space to be who they are in the presence of their dad, to be free to say “no” to my instructions. They must have the freedom to argue their case should disagreements arise between us. My only rule is for them to argue intelligently, and when possible, wisely beyond their age.
This requires a massive balancing act on my part. As a working journalist and writer, I will have to steal time from my working hours to keep this experiment going without a hitch.
I will also have to trample underfoot whatever ego comes with being an authority figure without my daughters thinking it is okay to be disrespectful. For that to work, I will have to first earn their respect.
It is crucial to raise daughters with a strong sense of freedom by whatever means possible.
My eldest daughter Rei, my in-house visual artist, is now the mother of my grandson, Trevor. Her capacity for steering her own ship is first-rate, knowing to push beyond the limits of her womanhood in ways even I did not expect to see. Outspoken in nearly everything that matters, she seizes her place freely as only a strong and brilliant woman can, never surrendering an inch of her domain at the slightest hint of authoritarian opinion. She quotes William Shakespeare, Sylvia Plath, and Federico Garcia Lorca with ease, and would argue her case with the eloquence of literary restraint.
She is a testament to the success of my little experiment.
My other daughter, my eight-year-old darling Likha, is now taking my masterclass on how to be a Salud woman. At eight, she neither flinches nor hesitates to call me and her mother out when we are wrong, and shows us love when we despair. At three, her sense of independence was already fully formed, not once asking us for assistance if she can help it. No sooner I would jokingly lie to her that she would catch me, and correct my “mistake.” She’s not one to be dragged by the nose—believe me, her classmates tried.
I’m aware that such an experiment is not for everyone. I consider myself lucky that I could steal time from my busy schedule to raise my children. Others may not be as fortunate. Be that as it may, it is crucial to raise daughters with a strong sense of freedom by whatever means possible.
Misogyny has no hold over a woman who knows full well she is free.