The trailing Filipino husband (Part 1)

Published April 18, 2022, 3:56 PM

by Itchie Yap

Kay Misis ang hanapbuhay, si Mister sa bahay

In the highly patriarchal society we live in—where husbands are generally regarded as the pillars of the home (“haligi ng tahanan“), a recognition of strength to keep a roof over the family, while the wives are depicted as the light of the home (“ilaw ng tahanan“), generally understood to be one that shines from within, alluding to her “traditional” role as keeper of the household—the idea of a husband giving up his professional career to support that of his wife is quite unheard of. When we see a woman in the limelight with her man in the background performing a supporting role, it shakes the fabric of a long-accepted norm. Some of us would celebrate it as an isolated triumph over machismo culture. Others would deride it as an uncomfortable aberration.

But is it really a rather isolated case, an aberration? Or has society really gone through an evolution? Is the transformation one that calls for reversal of roles? Or has the definition or the very existence of so-called traditional roles been abolished altogether?

A Filipino lawyer couple makes a case for role reversal in Switzerland

I had the pleasure of interviewing this Filipino family residing in Lausanne: Mister Atty, Misis Atty, Achi, and Shobe. Mister Atty has been in the legal profession since 2003, spending nearly six years in private practice at a law firm in Manila and a little over a decade in government service. Misis Atty, who is just a year younger than her husband, was a litigation lawyer in the Philippines before going into corporate practice as an in-house counsel for a multinational company. Their eldest daughter, Achi (in year 11), has already been scouting for a university of the arts, while their youngest, Shobe (in year 7), is preparing to be a professional writer. If I wasn’t occupying their time, they would most likely be playing some music together, with Mister Atty as the leader of the band.

The Filipino family at their home in Switzerland

But the rhythm that brought their dragon boat to this foreign land was, you could say, drummed up by Misis Atty. In 2015, Misis Atty was given her first overseas assignment. She had to work in Mexico for nine months. It was during this period that she realized how the opportunity of international travel would be really good for their children. She was convinced that it will broaden their horizons with new perspectives and open doors of opportunities for them in the future which they may never have if they were to remain where they are. So, in 2017, when an offer for a new assignment with a posting in Switzerland landed on Misis Atty’s table, she braved a heart-to-heart talk with Mister Atty. To her surprise, Mister Atty’s only reaction was “but I just got promoted.”

He was not fazed at all by the prospect of leaving his career behind. “It was simply just bad timing, that’s all. I was embarrassed to tell my new boss, after getting the promotion, that I was leaving,” confided Mister Atty. But there was not a doubt in his mind that should his wife decide to take the assignment, he will support it. They just need to sort out the timing. It was simply a timing issue for him. This wind of change may have come unexpectedly and quite strongly against the assuring stability of his career, but he knew deep down that when the winds pick up, they must ride it.

Breaking the machismo culture and letting love win

Misis Atty first flew to Switzerland in September 2017. She set everything up: rented an apartment, arranged for the kids’ schooling, then went back to the Philippines to pick up the children and took flight again in January 2018, leaving Mister Atty behind.

“In the beginning, we thought that the separation wouldn’t be too bad. But when they left in January, it hit me really hard; it was very, very hard. Even with the daily video calls, you feel that loneliness,” Mister Atty painfully recalls.

Fortunately, in March that same year, Mister Atty had an opportunity to visit his family. It was then that he realized what the three-to-four-month cycle could mean for them. The prospect of that long distance relationship with his wife and “virtual” parenting for his children was not good for him. So, when he came back to Manila sometime April, he threw the towel on his career.

“The kids were growing up and they are growing up without me. That is time lost. I realized that my opportunity to be with them would be lost forever. For me to not be around for all of them was simply not an option,” Mr. Atty declares.

There was no job waiting for him in Switzerland, not even a prospect. This troubled him for sure. But without even needing to put his career with a new promotion on one end of the scale and their chance of staying together as a family on the other, his heart knew their intrinsic weights. Misis Atty’s confirmation—that even if Mister Atty would not be able to get a job in Switzerland, her new compensation package (salary, benefits, and all) would cover their needs as a family and keep them afloat—was simply that, just a confirmation of what he already knew he must do.

In August 2018, Mister Atty then officially became the trailing husband. As the family was reunited, the children were most happy to finally eat better meals. Mister Atty was undoubtedly the better cook of the two, for which fact Misis Atty is most grateful. It afforded her great relief knowing that the quiet sacrifice her children were making—enduring her single-recipe-per-day mode of cooking which played on repeat week after week—finally ended. Mister Atty is there now to help serve better choices at the family table.

Asked what message or advice they could share with other couples who may be contemplating to make a similar move for the family, this is what they have to say.

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Mister Atty, using sports analogy and paraphrasing athlete Wayne Gretzky, calls on fellow Filipino husbands to take a chance. He confirms their fears that change is really scary, that it will be very hard in the beginning, that it will entail a lot of sacrifice on all fronts. He was not masking it. He declares that it is going to be difficult, but he also gave the assurance that “they are all worth it, so why not take a shot.”

Misis Atty, quoting her Philosophy teacher, Father Ferriols, says: “Lundagin mo, Baby!” She advises fellow Filipina wives and their husbands as well, that “when the opportunity arises, take a leap of faith, because life is too short to pass off on the rare opportunities it presents.”

[to be continued…]


*The family interviewed for this feature has requested not to be personally identified by their real names but have granted permission for the publication of their story and likeness.

Itchie Yap, the time travelling storyteller, is a creative writer based in Europe. You can follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Join her advocacy in supporting the Global Filipino community and share her stories.

 
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