When the Kids Leave Home
When our daughter was born, I watched her for hours as she slept. She had a million different facial expressions changing from minute to minute as if she was recalling memories she couldn’t possibly have yet. I guess her body was instinctively rehearsing her face muscles for the life she couldn’t possibly know she was going to live.
When our son learned to walk, we would take him to the mall and he would always run ahead, actually just fall forward and put one stiff leg in front of the other at breakneck speed. I would rush after him in short bursts to make sure he didn’t get lost or fall on his face, but I don’t think I was really helping, only holding him back.
Last week our son flew back to Washington, D.C. where he works with an international financial institution, and this week our daughter flies off with a one-way ticket to Singapore where she has a job with a multinational corporation. I’m not going to say I don’t know where the time went because I do. Getting to this point didn’t just happen. But somehow it still feels sudden.
Back when the children were in elementary and high school, we had a rule: on Wednesday nights we had family dinner at home. No school project, outing with friends or office meeting was allowed to get in the way. Wednesday nights were sacred. (My boss at the time knew of the rule and never asked me to do anything on Wednesday night that would keep me away from my family. In fact, he’d make me go home when I was lingering at the office.) Then, at some point—I think it was when the kids began college—mandatory family time was reduced to Sunday lunches out, with the privilege of choosing the restaurant rotating to every family member. When it was someone else’s turn to choose, the challenge was to try to manipulate him or her into selecting the restaurant you wanted. Call it management training. Hahaha. Yesterday, my wife and I realized that it will be just the two of us from here on, on Wednesdays, on Sundays, every day. I’m terrified that she will get tired of assholey me and decide to leave me, too.
We’ve heard all the tragic stories of families irreparably broken up when a parent becomes an overseas Filipino worker; but what happens when it’s the children who leave to live abroad?
Growing up in the 1970’s I made the conscious decision to stay in the Philippines. We had neighbors and relatives whose singular objective seemed to be to seek better lives in the United States, but I deliberately chose a path that would keep me here. I was no activist or great patriot. I simply thought that, rather than abandoning our home, some of us ought to work to make our lives better here by making our country better. I naively believed we only had to work hard and do our part.
Today, however, I feel guilty that my generation failed to provide our children with a country that is worth living in. I wish I could advise them to make their careers and build their lives here, but I know they’re better off elsewhere. I’m glad they’re escaping the grime, crime, perpetual third world thinking and general stupidity, at least for now, even if it means they will be far away.
They will have to make their own decisions. They will have to learn to cook their own versions of adobo. They will have to manage their own funds, although I wouldn’t mind seeing a charge or two on the supplementary credit cards I gave them. They’ll choose their own friends, many of whom will cause us to have nosebleeds and most of whom won’t know that only Filipinos are allowed to put down fellow Filipinos . . . I know, I know, I know—the kids have been making their own way in the world for some time with very little guidance from me, but for some reason the idea that they have left home seems more real now.
When as teenagers they started driving and drinking and coming home after midnight, I lay awake in bed worrying until I convinced myself that I had been young once, too. They’re intelligent and educated, I told myself, and we raised them to be good and decent, with a healthy sense of humor, which was all anyone can ask. I realized I couldn’t forever watch over them as they slept or run after them as they toddled away; so I forced myself to go to sleep with the hope and prayer that when I woke up the next morning everything would still be all right.
I suppose I have to do the same thing again. Every night.
When my daughter started paying for family meals with her own hard-earned money and when my son began engaging me in adult conversations and forcing me to relearn a few things here and there about macroeconomics—these and many more were proud moments. Mothers can tell their kids that they will always be her babies and that she will mother them forever. Mothers can cry at that moment at the airport, at the hotel or at the new apartment when they say goodbye. Fathers have to focus on the proud moments and let go.