The silent treatment

Published May 7, 2021, 5:00 PM

by Ginggay Joven de la Merced

Something could be said about being raised by a working mother like Susan Joven. To this daughter, it was like ‘getting a Ph.D. even before I was old enough to enter college’

BUSY MOM The author Ginggay Joven-dela Merced (top) and her mother Susan Joven

As a child of the ’80s, I belong to what is conventionally known as the latchkey generation.

I’ve read and seen the adverse psychological effects to people brought up this way. Perhaps, I just opt to see the better side. For me, it’s the best gift my parents could’ve ever given. I attribute my independence, resilience, resourcefulness, self-reliance, and profound sense of responsibility to this, which I wouldn’t have otherwise developed had my parents been more extremely hands-on, omnipresent, and God forbid, smothering.

Both my parents worked hard to provide the best they could for the family. In so doing, I received the best education they could afford, enjoyed creature comforts and modest indulgences, and opened countless doors of opportunities for me and my older brother, Lloyd.

Back then, my father Roland owned a humble construction firm, which my brother now runs. My mother Susan, on the other hand, was fast carving a name for herself in advertising and public relations as she helmed the marketing communications department for Rustan’s Department Store.

ROOTS AND WINGS Susan Joven (center) with children Lloyd and Ginggay (right)

Work for Susan Joven knew no hours. She labored through late nights and most weekends. And I understood completely, even as a child. She never had to explain. I was the same in school. Whether or not it was due to her influence, I really don’t know. Perhaps it’s genetic. No way would I ever bring her a report card lower than a straight A. I’d beat myself up and get consumed otherwise. My parents worked so hard, it was the least I could do in return.

Yes, she was always very busy and preoccupied. She brought home stacks of documents to read. She was always on the phone. But never did I feel overlooked or abandoned. Not once. In fact, I relished the Saturdays she would bring me along to the store, waiting for her for hours in the toys section. If I got bored, she would allow me to watch her fashion show rehearsals and ad campaign shoots so long as I behaved.

She was a marvel to watch in action. To my innocent eyes, the glamour of her profession was so  cinematic. It didn’t matter that she never helped me with homework or never read me a bedtime story. Seeing her at work was a much better experience. Even at a young age, I knew the exposure would prove priceless.

TRAVEL COMPANION The author and her mom at the iconic Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany

I was barely in my teens when my mother left Rustan’s to put up her own public relations firm, Visions & Expressions. Of course, back then, I didn’t know the difference, except her office got smaller, and far fewer people hovered around her to do clerical stuff. So on weekends, she gave me the task of helping her print and assemble press kits and pack giveaways. My mother relied on me to accomplish the work, and I was determined to do well. One time I made a labeling mistake. My mom quietly took it, without anger or explanation, and corrected it herself. It was as if she knew she didn’t have to express her disappointment because I was already sufficiently disappointed in myself.

The weekends and summers of my teens were spent this way, in her office, helping her with work. Then came a bigger office, more staff, more fashion show rehearsals to observe, press conferences to witness, and fashion shoots to watch. In hindsight, it was like getting a Ph.D. in public relations even before I was old enough to enter college.

Through my mom, I was afforded something hardly any teenager got—a newspaper column of my own. It was lifestyle editor Millet Mananquil who discovered my potential after my mother had shown her some of my written works, unbeknownst to me. I wrote this weekly youth-section column throughout my college years. And when it was time for me to formally enter the workforce as an adult, I chose to forward my journalism career instead of joining my mom’s thriving PR practice. Though she never categorically pronounced her desire for me to join her company, I knew back then I had broken her heart. Without words, I knew.

NURTURING THE NEW GENERATION Susan Joven with grandchildren Noey and Chloe dela Merced

She knew, however, how strong-willed and individualistic I had become. She never attempted to argue with my choice and just let me be.

After over a decade in journalism, she finally asked me to help in her PR practice. I always knew I would end up joining her company. It was just a matter of time. By then, I had matured, gotten married, and had become a mother myself. I was ready. I had managed to gain a bit of a name for myself and an adequate respectable reputation for my own brand of professionalism. Whether due to an abundance of confidence, bullish determination, or plain and simple naivete, I forged on without a tinge of insecurity or doubt in my ability to manage her company.

Work for Susan Joven knew no hours. She labored through late nights and most weekends. But never did I feel overlooked or abandoned. Not once.

I can only imagine how intimidating it must be to follow in the footsteps of an industry stalwart. More so if she’s your very own mother. Some daughters could hardly shake that burden off. Thankfully, I had none of those issues. I never viewed my mother’s success as a source of insecurity. To me, it was a great blessing, like a gift that kept on giving.

BESTFRIENDS BONDING The author and her mom at a restaurant in Europe

As I worked alongside my mom, I discovered more about her imperfections and all-too-human side. She was no longer the fascinating marvel I used to view her as in my younger years. I discovered her more vulnerable side—her misgivings, frustrations, fears, and worries. I realized that even on her level, there would be some days, she’d be confronted with challenges she didn’t know what do with. But every single day, she got them done anyway, with or without my help.

With the pandemic, I saw her star dim a little. She shines when she’s around people. She is fueled by being around colleagues and friends. The isolation profoundly affected her otherwise enthusiastic spirit. So on some days, I bring her to meetings and online events just to jolt her back into her usual bubbly self. Ironically, I am now the one bringing her to event rehearsals and media conferences, albeit online. The tables have turned. How poignant is that?

German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said, “There are only two last bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these, roots, the other, wings.” My mother gave me both. And for that, I am eternally grateful. I can only hope that one day, my own daughter would regard me the same way.