That feeling called "anx-cited" overwhelmed me ahead of my first long drive to Bicolandia. I felt both anxious and excited all at once, not only because of the intimidation the lengthy drive brings to a 35-year-old relatively new driver, but I had envisioned riding shotgun on such a road trip with my father. Instead, I found myself behind the wheel, getting ready for the ride to Naga with my wife and son.
See, my father passed away a few months before seeing his eldest son graduate in college. Barely 21, I had felt robbed since then of the many lessons of what it takes to be a man. I had dreamt that one of those learning sessions is when I sit beside him as we chat for hours on a long drive while listening to his mixtape (kids would call it playlist these days) of Eric Clapton, Basil Valdez, Eagles, Marco Sison, James Taylor, and Bread.
At least, that was the dream until my father’s liver cancer served a different reality and delivered the most important lesson I’m afraid to tell my 6-year-old boy on what it takes to be a man: there is no manual to manhood.
Of course, many of us boys who grew and continue to transition as men were conditioned with embedded gender notions in our culture that’s considered machismo dominant in this age of wokeness. Such toxic tendencies are much more apparent the farther you grew up from, say, the well-educated and urbanized areas, like the humble agricultural barangay in southern Mindanao I eternally consider home.
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I am among the fortunate to have a father who never had the macho aura, just the perfect mix of charm, patience, wit, and wisdom with a strict disciplinarian mode unleashed only when needed. He drank, of course, like a fish. But with his extensive experience, he handed down lessons on effectively dealing with hangovers like men. In today’s standards and even in his own generation, he was a man’s man.
To such high standard, I felt a wanting, a feeling that became more intensified given my young experience as a father.
You want to be as hands-on, supportive, and kind as you can to your wife and child, but I’d be the first to admit of my shortcomings in such expectations.
In response to my son’s tantrums and seeming stubbornness, I inexplicably snap at times. Worse, I rationalize my outburst to my wife as one of those lessons needed to harden my boy in becoming a good man. But thanks to the patience of the loving mother of my kid, I eventually realize that my actions may in fact run counter to my intentions. One thing I will never be afraid to tell my son about being a man is that you can learn a lot about manhood from women. But such truth, I fear, is hard to swallow for a lot of fathers my age and older.
Here’s another thing I’m afraid to admit: much of the teachings my father told me about being not just a good man but a decent person are things I can barely remember nearly 15 years after his passing. But what I distinctly recall is the love, the bearhugs, the shared chain of laughter his unique giggle sparks, the ticklish kisses on the nape. The words disappear, the loving acts linger. Life ends, love lives on.
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Another lesson on manhood that goes against the grain is that love should be constant. There’s nothing weak about being kind. And there’s nothing stronger than a man accepting his weaknesses.
Two months before my son was born, I was scared sh*****s. I felt lost on how to raise a man, thinking I never learned to be one and lost my best teacher early on. I was afraid I wouldn’t be half as great a father as my Tatay was.
But something changed a week before I became a father. I was no longer afraid, not worried about what my son will learn from me or what I’ll teach him. I was looking forward to taking on some first-hand manhood lessons fatherhood will show me. I was already eager to find out the many teachings of life with my little boy will impart.
Six years on, fatherhood remains a continuous learning experience on how to be men. Like that 9-hour drive to Naga, the journey is daunting, but it will be smooth if you keep your focus on what you need to do and you enjoy the ride.