Often, the voices of Filipino fathers tend to be absent when we want to hear an opinion or two on what it means to be a parent. When we think about what it takes to raise children – its joys and challenges, the natural response is to seek out the mothers. We forget that parenting is a partnership and fathers matter when it comes to a child’s overall happiness and development.
Here we share the stories of 6 different dads and their experience of fatherhood.
Alex, gay parent, 47 years old
“I have always loved children. I started taking care of babies in the family when I was 14 years old. Marami kami, so ako yung nagaalaga sa kanila – sa mga pamangkin ko, sa mga kapatid.”
Maternal instincts come naturally to Alex having helped raise nieces and nephews since he was a teen. He also had a good role model in his mum, who had the impressive task of looking after nine children.
“Ni minsan, hindi ko siya nakitang defeated kahit pagod na pagod na siya. ‘Pag galing siya sa labas, uuwi siya at lalabhan pa niya yung mga damit namin.”
The generosity, kindness, and perseverance he witnessed growing up are things he values and applies to his anak, Miguel. Miguel is now 17 and about to enter university. Alex looked after him from infancy. “He’s the son of my niece, but I raised him like my own. “Ako na talaga from month one.”
“He calls me ‘Dada,’” Alex shares with us. The challenges he faced with Miguel had to do with his academics. “Hindi siya palaaral. Napapagalitan ko when he comes home with bad grades. I just want him to do well.”
“We’re very open with each other, pero alam mo naman, dahil may girlfriend na, ako yung kinakabahan.” Talking about the realities and repercussions of pre-marital sex are not taboo in their relationship. “Siya pa nga yung nagkukuwento tungkol sa nangyayari sa kakilala niya then I just remind him to be mindful.”
We asked Alex what Miguel thought of him as a parent.
“He’ll say that Dada’s cool. His friends have asked him, “Is your dad gay?” and he’ll say, “Yes, he is and I’m proud of him.” Hindi ko tinago kung ano ako, na kunwari sa bahay lalaki, hindi.”
“Being a gay parent gives you the best of both worlds. You’re both father and mother – I’m the dad when I have to be the authority figure, pero pag sa paglalambing, maternal na maternal – yun yung giving side of me.”
“My dream for him was to enter a good school, yung may pangalan. I told him, we dream for that first. Tapos kung na-achieve mo na, let’s dream for the next one. It’s dreaming together for the future step-by-step.”
Ian, single dad, 34 years old
The day he learnt he was going to be a father was a catastrophic one for Ian. Only 24 years old and beginning his career, he was nowhere near ready to have a family.
“I will never forget that day. I was so scared, nervous, hopeless. I puked! And probably smoked a whole pack of cigs to calm me down.”
But his daddy instincts took over and he managed to put his fear aside.
“I remember his birth. I saw him through the glass window of the infirmary and remember saying anak ko talaga yan kasi kamukha ko.”
“He was really little and looked so fragile. I told myself that I would do anything to protect and raise him properly. That was the first time I really felt like a parent.”
Living arrangements however prevented Ian from seeing his son all the time. Having had broken up with his then girlfriend at that time, he wasn’t welcome in the family’s home.
Now, he says they’re civil towards each other and sometimes gets consulted on how to raise Basti. However, Ian claims that his son’s mother just does what she wants and simply asks him for money.
“Sometimes I feel she just sees me as an ATM – dispensing cash whenever she needs it.”
The setup is not ideal according to Ian but he’s happy to see his son and spend time with him. He worries that he doesn’t really know what’s going on with his son most of the time, like if he’s behaving himself in school. Whilst their relationship is okay, he admits that his son is more emotionally attuned to his mother.
“I bought a second hand car para makalabas kami on weekends. It’s easier for me to get him and bring him back home na hindi siya nahihirapa mag-commute.”
Ian feels guilt about not spending enough time with his son, and he knows that whilst Basti’s likely to say that he’s a cool and fun dad, he knows that the child wishes that he’s around more often.
Not able to see his son every day leaves Ian musing a lot about his son’s future who is now ten.
“I’m excited about what kind of career he would have when he graduates from school. I’m also excited about his love life – I can’t wait to meet his would-be first girlfriend. Haha! Tingnan natin kung okay yung taste niya and I can’t wait to guide him in matters of the heart.”
It might be age, but fatherhood has made him more reflective, even with himself.
“When I became a dad, it gave me a feeling of purpose. We often ask ourselves why we were put on this planet – I feel that being a father defined that for me – to protect, love, and mentor my kid.”
“I hope he will grow up to appreciate the simple things in life and not be materialistic; that he becomes someone other people will look up to and follow – to be a leader, an inspiration to others.”
Eric, OFW, 37 years old
“Napakahirap na meron kang teenager na anak kasi hindi mo nasubaybayan yung paglaki niya, kahit sinabi ko na hands-on akong tatay, hindi ko siya na-momonitor nang madalas kaya mahirap.”
Eric works in Cambodia and has been there as an Overseas Filipino Worker for the past 7 years. His wife who has just come home from an overseas stint as an OFW and their 14-year old son, EJ are in Manila.
The distance between him and his family is what makes fatherhood extra challenging for Eric, especially when he so sorely wants to be there to experience a lot of firsts with his son.
“For example, hindi ako yung kasama niya sa first haircut niya, nung na-circumcise siya, yung mga ganung milestones sa buhay ng bata. Yan yung mga regrets ko na hindi ko na maibabalik.”
Even with technology bridging the divide, finding the time to catch up can still pose as a problem. Eric believes that he’s missing out on EJ not being able to share his day-to-day with him. He would simply rely on his son’s Facebook profile to keep up.
His wife makes it a little bit easier to co-parent their son. They keep the lines open and they make sure that they’re both involved in EJ’s life.
“Kinoconsult din namin ang isa’t isa, hindi pwede na isa lang. Dapat kaming dalawa ang nagde-desisyon. Yun ang agreement namin, kunyari may bumabang isang grade, kelangan namin pag-usapan together.”
However, there are times when they don’t always agree on how to approach certain situations. Like when EJ’s mother is angry at him, she wants Eric to do the same.
“Ang sinasabi ko sa kanya hindi dapat ganun, kasi ayokong isipin ng bata na wala siyang kakampi. Pero hindi ko naman siya tino-tolerate. Pag may problemang pinag-uusapan yung mag-ina hahayaan ko lang sila; sinusundutan ko lang ng paliwanag (from him).”
Better financial support is one of the advantages as an OFW. Eric says he is able to provide the things that his son likes but he doesn’t want EJ to feel like that is his only role.
“Ayokong isipin niya tagabigay lang (ako) ng kailangan niya – na ganun yung mindset kaya siya pupunta (sa akin) para manghihingi.”
Eric intends to return home permanently when his son finishes college. He is thankful that they maintain a close relationship despite being apart from each other.
Eric has so much more to share about his son like their secret codes and love for movies. But for now, he has this to say to EJ who recently celebrated his birthday.
“Son, no matter how much you have grown, for me, you are always going to remain my dearest and smartest baby boy.”
Fern, teen dad, 23 years old
“My child is turning 3 next month!” Fern shares pictures of Lucas, the adorable toddler filling his mobile phone screen.
It’s hard to imagine how Fern’s delight over his son now was inescapable fear just a few years ago.
“I was 19 at that time. I was quite scared and I honestly didn’t know what to do. Do I tell my parents right away or do I just keep it to myself for a while… and also, will I keep the kid?”
“[In terms of preparation for Lucas’ arrival] I first Googled, “How to tell your parents you got your girlfriend pregnant.” I mostly Googled.”
Aside from the responsibility of raising Lucas, Fern had to deal with the embarrassment over having become a father at such a young age and of course, disappointing his family and facing the ire of his girlfriend’s.
“People would also ask me ‘what happened?’ I was still in college. I always felt like people were looking at me funny so I laid low for a while.”
“At that time, things were also pretty rough with my girlfriend’s family. I’m not on my kid’s birth certificate. There are benefits (legal ones) I wish I could share with him but I can’t because of that.”
Fern is still finding his place in his young family; his age and inexperience out-voiced by his child’s mother, her parents, and his own.
“Honestly, most of the decisions are made by my girlfriend. Sometimes I feel bad but she’s the boss. I feel like in the Filipino culture, a lot of people will say that (laughs). Honestly right now, we’re still getting support from our parents. I feel like once I’m financially secure, that’s when I can start making the decisions.”
He turns wistful when he reflects on the past. There were decisions that should have been made or not, perhaps things would have been different but all Fern knows is he has to trade adventure for stability for the sake of his family.
There is a side of him that is channeling his missed opportunities through his son, a second chance.
“Growing up, I always wanted to help people and change the world then Lucas happened; now I just have to make sure his world is great and maybe take care of the rest of the world later on.”
Ton, late bloomer dad, 47 years old
“The best thing about being dad is the lifestyle change. Really.”
Before becoming a first time dad at 46, Ton was actively participating in triathlons and marathons.
“Things changed of course. [laughs] I stopped training. Priorities changed – instead of getting up at 4 am in the morning to train, I get up to change a diaper.”
Trading a nappy change for a run isn’t all that bad according to Ton. One of the advantages of being an older parent is that you’ve gone through quite a lot of things in life already.
“You don’t feel like you’re missing out; I do miss racing and travelling but it isn’t an issue.
– It’s [extra activities] that you can always put off to when the child is older .”
Now 11 months old, Ton’s son, Arrigo is the center of their family’s day activities.
“We adjust to his schedule and the good thing also is we take him around. He’s always with us. Parties, weddings, when we do errands, he comes along because we totally believe in attachment parenting.”
Ton’s wife has children from a previous relationship and trusts her experience when it comes to looking after the baby and is truly grateful that the older kids help with Arrigo when they can. However, he doesn’t take fatherhood lightly.
“I still do my own research. So instead of sports sites, I now go to parenting sites. I look at diet, what he can eat, what he can’t.
“We don’t even buy organic stuff for us, but he gets all the best. As much as possible we want to give him the home cooked stuff and a diversity of flavours. But all the junk stuff, later on na lang. All the good things first.”
No TV and no gadgets for our baby until 4 years old. Arrigo’s ninong is one of the top developmental pedias, and that’s what he firmly recommends so we’re sticking to it.”
He consults other dads on parenting styles and activities to do with the children – however, there is no formal group where these discussions happen. Many of them simply go online and talk about it when they get together.
We wondered if Ton has any regrets about discovering fatherhood much later than other dads.
“If knew it was this much fun, I would have become a father much earlier. I wish I could have done it [at a] younger age also because as I get older I hope to still do the active stuff he wants to do and of course you I want to be around longer [for all the kids].”
His dream for Arrigo?
“[He can be] Anything he wants really! But I’m a sports nut so if he became some superstar that would be great!”