My parents’ pursuit of happiness

MARK SMITH EVERYDAY I wake up knowing that I have more people to love and receive love from. PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF UNSPLASH/JOHN

If someone told me that I could talk about my parents without choking up, bursting into tears or feeling weird about it, I would have laughed until my stomach hurt and called it impossible. Just the thought of talking about them, their separation and the events that followed, so open to other people (and here, in this column), is just ridiculous.

Family talk has never been my thing. Maybe having separated parents had something to do with it.

Whenever someone pushed me enough to open up, say, the school’s guidance counselor, I always ended up trying to explain the situation in the most garbled and incomprehensible way that no one could ever possibly understand. Memories of uncontrollable shaking and numbing fingers while some of my classmates watched on the sidelines are tattooed on my mind.

To be honest, it’s not like I understood it either. I was young and knew little of things. What I knew was my parents were separated.

I remember having trouble with family tree projects and presenting it in class or explaining to other kids why both my parents couldn’t come to our school like theirs often did during card-giving days, parent-teacher conferences or school activities. It was always just my mom there. I would always wonder what it felt like to find both of them in the crowd, puff out my chest in pride and tell the world, “Hey, both my parents came to support me!”

And when my mother remarried, there were questions like: “Why aren’t yours and your mom’s surnames similar?” or “Whose last name are you using?” Because I don’t use my dad’s last name, either.

Imagine how much I had to struggle explaining why I had two dads and a mom to same-age kids. I knew they were genuinely curious and confused, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t any less painful (or annoying, as the years passed) for me, who also had no idea why it happened in the first place.

I also had a friend who shared the same experiences as I did, and we used to joke about it and why we were not enough.

Until now, I haven’t asked my parents why. I don’t think I ever will. As a kid, I just assumed that I was the reason and the “guilt” ate me alive and haunted me into most of my teenage years, affecting my state of mind and the way I handled my thoughts and emotions.

Research says that separation and divorce, even the constant fighting of parents, cause psychological, emotional and behavioral problems in children — and suppressing these problems and emotions became one of the skills I developed over the years. I was good at it, too.

The next best thing to a legal separation in the country is through annulment. Next to the Vatican, the Philippines is the only country in the world that does not allow divorce. But on 4 February last year, the House Committee on Population and Family Relations approved three measures seeking to legalize divorce in the Philippines.

My parents weren’t even married. In my previous column about my precious mama, I wrote that I was the result of teenage pregnancy. Both Mom and Dad were students at the time and heavily relied on their parents, as well as their brothers and sisters for support (cue more guilt feelings). It went downhill from there.

Despite having genuinely moved on, the past still hits me like a truck. And the constant thoughts of not being good enough for my parents to stay together lingers, worming its way through every crevice of my mind, a hundred times as slowly as it came. I always end up thinking about it until the sun rises, leaving me alone and tear-stricken.

Recently, it has made me wonder how far I have come.

I remember talking about how my parents’ separation had made it difficult for me to breathe — and how it made me feel angry, neglected and guilty all at the same time — in school recollections, retreat trips and even in church confessions.

Then I realized that I had never put their feelings or their needs into the equation. I was thinking too much about myself that I never considered their own happiness. Seeing them freer and happier over time made me realize that they made the right choice.

It was in my last year in college that I was able to let go of the past and forgive them…and myself. I have not cried about it since then.

Instead, I have focused on the good their separation brought me. From another dad whom I can share a laugh or two and a drink with almost every week, two sisters whom I would do anything for, two brothers whom I don’t get the chance to see often but I both adore, and an aunt who is like another mom-figure who looks out for me whenever she can. Thanks to what had happened before, I met other people who have made my life 10 times greater and happier. Maybe that is how it is meant to be.

What I thought was broken turned out into something more. More love to give, more support to receive. I would not want to change the past despite everything. If someone had asked if I wanted to change anything five, 10 years ago, I would have had a different answer.

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