When does one become a father? The answer seems obvious and simple. Sire a child. Today we see a lot of “fatherless” children sired from 16-year-old mothers by 16-year-old boys. So is that all there is?
We speak of roles that designate a husband as breadwinner of the family. Although this role no longer fits the times, the mindset seems to stick to our society’s expectations of what a responsible husband should be. Is there a role attached to the label of “father”? What does our society expect from the title holder of “father”? Is there a difference in being “father” to a son or “father” to a daughter?
They say that fathers favor sons. I’ve heard expectant fathers excitedly share their dreams of being fathers to their sons. Their dreams range from teaching their sons to be “tunay na lalaki,” to playing basketball together, and to being their son’s friend and confidant. I didn’t experience these. I prayed for a daughter each time my wife got pregnant. I, at the time, thought that perhaps I’d be an overly strict and demanding father to sons—this would not be good for me, or for my sons. I wanted to be father known to my children as gentle, loving, firm, but kind. I wanted to be a good father.
I was with my wife when each of our two daughters was born. I wanted to welcome our daughters together with their mother. Each delivery is a unique experience, a lesson to attend to, and the newborn the teacher.
My first daughter taught me gratitude. It’s been a little over nine months. She was overdue. I was getting anxious. What could be going on? How was she inside her mother’s womb? In my mind I rehearsed childbirth procedures in case of emergency homebirth. Then, one night at about nine, her mother’s water bag broke and we had to rush to the hospital.
Twelve hours into labor and after 15 internal examinations by incompetent resident doctors, she was classified as a high risk case as her mother was already into dry labor and the baby seemed to have swallowed some feces due to trauma.
The cervical opening would not progress after 3 or 4 centimeters. What could be wrong? This time, they had to induce labor and her mother started to perspire and writhe with pain. I helped her mother focus on her breathing as I worried for the both of them. Finally we went to the delivery room. Nine centimeters!
But then, the labor wouldn’t progress again. What was happening? Why wouldn’t you come out? Earlier on, I talked to the hospital about the possibility of practicing birth without violence. Of having you “swim” in warm water immediately after birth to mimic the warm, soft and peaceful environment of the womb and to counter the trauma of the cold hard steel of the delivery table, the bright spot lights of the delivery room, and the cold impersonal environment of the delivery room. They disagreed as this may “cause infection.” I wanted to shield my daughter from the harsh, cold and hard reality of the world.
This particular childbirth taught me that my protection had its limitations. I learned to surrender with faith and pray in earnest. “God, please make things alright.”
Finally, ten centimeters! But still she wouldn’t come out! What was happening? The nurses started to prepare the necessary instruments for a Caesarian section. On one side was a contract approving of the procedure. In my mind, I asked God the worth of all our preparations for a natural childbirth. The way things were progressing, all seemed for naught.
“One last try,” the doctor declared. She instructed me to put my arm across my wife’s abdomen and had two nurses literally put their weight at the end of the arm. Once positioned, she instructed me to move my arm down towards the navel—an action similar to a rolling pin flattening the dough. Midway, she urgently commanded me to stop and to slowly “roll” back my arm. I remember my heart stopping and waited in anticipation for the next command.
She then informed me that my daughter’s umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck and was getting in the way. Quickly she untangled the cord around your neck and we proceeded thereafter without much ado. What a relief. God is good. From this experience, my first daughter taught me gratitude.
My second daughter’s delivery, taught me understanding and forgiveness. The conditions of her childbirth seemed to have been culled from a movie; dramatic, suspense- filled.
To be a father, for me is to FIRST be a loving husband to my wife. It is this love that drove me to prepare for and accompany her at childbirth. SECOND, listening attentively to my children gave them permission to teach me how best to be a father to them. Each child being unique; each child having different emotional needs; each child to be loved in their own terms.
How about you? Tell me what you think.
• Roderick Marfil, RGC, is a family therapist. He is available on Thursdays by appointment only at the Ilaw Center, Miriam College in Quezon City. For inquiries: (0939) 211-0403; (+632) 520-5400 loc. 1134.