Kay Misis ang hanapbuhay; Si Mister sa bahay
In the first and second parts of this article, we examined the socio-economic milieu surrounding the concept of a trailing husband through the perspective of the husband and the wife. In this final piece to our three-part maiden feature for the Global Filipino, we are going to look at the greater umbrella to the concept of a trailing husband, that is, migration; and we are going to view it through the children’s eyes.
As intimated by Mister Atty, although he was last to move, the decision to migrate was arrived at collectively by the family as a solid unit. It being a life altering decision, the husband-and-wife team thought it best to make sure that everyone is onboard. But like Mister Atty, there was also a timing issue for the children. When they found out about the overseas assignment in July, school has just begun. Achi was moving up to high school at that time. There were friends and everything else that will be left behind. Naturally, the children were quite hesitant.
Luckily, Misis Atty’s employer was generous enough to provide a one-week exploratory trip for the family prior to the move. “It took a little bit of convincing, but in the end, everyone agreed that it was good for us. I think it was that exploratory trip that made them more open to the idea that it might be good to go,” says Misis Atty.
But saying goodbye rarely comes easy. Some may dwell on the goodbye while others are more excited with the prospects of new hellos. And still others may see it plain and simple. It is what it is.
“When I found out that I had to move, I didn’t tell all my friends. I had to wait until they let me tell people and then I told a few of them. And then I had my friends cover for me when I went on the exploratory trip saying like I was in Cebu or something. I didn’t want people to find out yet because I wasn’t really sure then if it was actually gonna happen. But I was excited to go. I was excited to travel. And it went too fast, I mean saying goodbye, that I don’t remember the goodbyes,” recounts Achi.
For Shobe, who was much younger then, the reality of it all did not sink in at once. “When I first found out that we had to move, I thought it was a joke. I thought it was just like a possibility. I didn’t know it was final, until we had the exploratory trip. And then after was when I told my friends… ‘so, yeah, I’m moving.’ I tried to say it relatively casually, more casual, because I didn’t want to make too big a deal out of it. I didn’t think it was too big of a deal,” Shobe confesses.
Migration: Reinventing through a process of self-discovery and rediscovery
Managing change may have come relatively easier for this Filipino family, much to their relief. But surely the move brought major changes to their lives.
Missing the friends they left behind is a major change. But in this aspect, technology and (oddly enough) the Covid pandemic, has helped bridge the distance. Achi and Shobe realized that they have been more connected with their friends than before. Thanks to the lockdown, quarantine, and home-schooling policy in Manila during the two-year pandemic, video call times have become flexible and that enabled the long-distance friends to navigate through the challenge that time zone difference brings.
They are also not used to having a share in the household chores. Back in Manila, they grew up with a lot of ‘kasambahay’ (house-helpers) or their ‘ates and kuyas’ as they call them. Surprisingly, it was Shobe (the youngest) who declared, “I don’t think anyone would want to bring it back though.” And everyone readily agreed to this brave declaration.
While it is common to find Filipino migrants as domestic helpers, professional migrants who are used to having the help of ‘kasambahays’ back in the Philippines are wont to not having them abroad. It could be that, as what this family has discovered, having house-help is a privilege in Manila but one that they can really live without; or the realization that it was a necessity that has lost its relevance in the discovery of the new self in a new life—able, capable, and willing to get their hands dirty, not only in a manner of speaking.
“We were talking about household helpers [as if] it was something that we initially miss. Since we were both working in the Philippines, we cannot afford not to have a house-helper because walang kakainin yung kids mo kasi pareho kayong na-traffic (your kids will not have anything to eat because you and your spouse are both stuck in traffic). So you really need them whether you like it or not. Here, because it’s convenient. The kids can take the bus home or we can pick them up easily because there is no traffic so we can get to them in time. No one is tired from the traffic,” says Misis Atty.
For Mister Atty, “it was just staying together and being with the family—that was the priority. All else can be managed. We don’t want to bring having house-helps back because we realize we can do it. I think the kids have learned life skills. And for them to be independent that way, that they don’t have to rely on helpers to survive out here, comforts us.”
Raising the next generation of gender equals
Because Mister Atty has shared that his brother also became a trailing husband to his own wife who was the first to find a better job opportunity in the United States some 15 years ago (both were medical practitioners in the Philippines), we wonder if there was some kind of family training to raise a “trailing househusband.” Mister Atty thinks that there is none, or at least that was not the case for them. It was not their parents that ‘groomed’ him and his brother to become “trailing husbands” to their wives. To the contrary, he confirms that the family model they grew up in was still highly patriarchal, with their dad in full time government service while their mom stayed at home with the children.
In the same vein we wonder, while Mister and Misis Atty do not have boys to raise into becoming “trailing husbands,” if this freedom of choice that their daughters are witnessing now would lead them to see family roles as gender-neutrals? Maybe. Possibly.
But definitely, with this freedom (of movement, of speech, of thought), the biggest challenge for the children was finding themselves. As for their parents, it was the flipside of that same coin—how to stop themselves from sheltering their children from the heat of the sun and unwittingly casting their parental shadow over them, so much that it prevents their children’s self-identities to blossom.
Perhaps, other Filipino families abroad would agree, that finding strength in their unity (a value ingrained in the Filipino family system) but as individuals (a concept most foreign to them as they are to their newfound land) is a tricky balancing act.
“One thing that I realized living here, the identities of our kids are totally separate. They are their own person, and their independence is respected. It takes some time for us to get used to the concept; of them having their own voices, their own decisions. Because in the Philippines, we simply say: ‘Listen to your parents. Follow what they say. Respect your elders by just following them.’ But we learn that that is also not always a good thing. The elders also have to listen to what their kids are trying to say, and what they feel about certain things because their positions about certain things are also very important. So, mutual respect. I think we’ve learned that here,” confides Mister Atty.
Both Shobe and Achi agree: “The move gave us so much freedom. It gave us true independence.”
*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.