I am in my 50s, recently divorced, starting life over from scratch, courageous as hell, and defiant as can be. I go against every grain I have lived by and been raised on for the past half century, and this is very liberating.
My family (from both my parents sides) consists of incredibly strong women, and it has been a daunting task to live up to the heritage, expectations, and the wisdom passed down over the ages. In my mind, if I disgrace their memories by becoming a weak, indecisive woman utterly dependent on a man, I will have failed them in every respect. Lola Floring (paternal grandmother) got the family through the war with her frugality, housekeeping skills, sewing, hard work and a sharp eye for a good bargain in the market. Most, if not all, my aunts have always been strong women who defied the odds in other countries, were unafraid of change and starting over, and never allowed themselves to be pulled down by difficult family situations. They made it, and lived to tell the tales. My cousins in the USA, Canada, and Australia, have remained true to their Filipino heritage but have also integrated brilliantly into their host countries. They made it. So who am I to whine about going through a difficult time when I have these fantastic women to look up to? I love them all, and more importantly, respect their courage.
And here comes the “but…” along with courage and a staunch refusal to fail and be coward, there has been rather peculiar advice passed on down the line for the past four generations, which I struggle with from time to time, or refuse to follow:
* when travelling, always wear matching underwear, preferably new, so that if the train / bus / plane crashes and they have to identify your body, at least you were wearing presentable undergarments. I laughed my head off at this at 14, but it is so deeply ingrained in me that I instinctively travel only with black underwear these days (wearing and packed).
* never pack the most valuable items in your hand carry or suitcase – wear them. This is something I follow to a tee and rarely sway from. I don´t trust airlines 100% to deliver me to my destination together with my luggage.
* Pin your valuables to your bra. OK, this may have worked for jewellery and cash in the days before electronic security checks, but how the devil do you pin a child or spouse to you? And many women refuse to wear a bra these days to begin with. At least my cat I carry in a backpack.
* Your husband’s pleasure is all that matters and it is the motivation for all your work. Your own needs, wants, and dreams come only after those of your husbands and children. Hell no!
* Be a whore in the bedroom, a diplomat in at the table, and a chef in the kitchen to make him happy – hmmmm, and what about me?
My father was very keen on appearance, and my mother more on braving all the strange new things in the world. Imagine my confusion (and frustration) when trying to reconcile the two worlds – conservative values and pristine appearance vs. hit them with your best shot. I tried Daddy´s way for years and it brought me nothing but aggravation. Mommy´s was too adventurous and lacked practicality, but was infinitely more appealing. She was also the one who taught me how to cut my own hair. If you mess up, it will grow back, and in the meantime, make sure you always have hairspray. Spoken like a true woman of the 50s and 60s who lived through the beehive hairdo…
This morning I looked at myself in the mirror, thought of Mommy, and proceeded to take out the scissors again, just as I have been doing the last two years. There was not much need for hairspray afterwards. The lesson here is more of courage, defiance, and independence, adapting to the awkward (but temporary) situation. I have lived far too long under someone else´s standards.