February, cheesy as it may sound, is the month of love. This is especially true for me because a lot of the significant relationships in my life have their roots in February.
My parents’ anniversary is on February 10. It would have been their 37th year of marriage. Moe and I will be celebrating our 4rth wedding anniversary a week before that as well.
Having our anniversary on the same month as my parents’ isn’t a coincidence. We really planned our wedding as close to theirs as possible because my mom and dad’s marriage gives me major #relationshipgoals.
The thing is, I don’t think they were even consciously trying to be great at marriage. They were pretty old school and didn’t really subscribe to this psychology business – so they were never the type to actively work on relationships. In fact, when it came to raising my brother and I, they always half-jokingly stated that they basically just coasted through this parenting thing and before they knew it, we were law-abiding adults.
Despite this however, my parents achieved something I think all couples want to achieve: They were happy.
Although they never really went out of their way to give us relationship advice, there were certain things that I learned just by observing their marriage:
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS BEING TOO DIFFERENT
My parents had totally disparate hobbies and personalities. Mom was high-strung but vivacious,; she was a fashionista and loved her high-end brands; she also cared about the people in her life so much that she had the tendency to spoil them and get over-involved in their lives. My dad, on the other hand, was pragmatic and stoic; he was practical to the point of kuripot and would brag about surviving on company t-shirt giveaways; although he was caring, he believed in tough love and letting people figure out things on their own.
Mom liked telenovelas and romantic comedies, dad liked documentaries, Home TV shopping and sports. Time well-spent for my mom involved shopping and hanging out with family and friends. Dad, in contrast, would rather spend time alone at home in his workroom, tinkering, repurposing and inventing crap.
The differences would create tension sometimes. In fact, fighting over the remote control is a pretty common occurrence in our household. (They did not seem to care that there were other TV’s in the house. That would be giving away their “stake” to the room. Real mature, my parents.)
My dad would sometimes complain about my mom spoiling us, and my mom would worry that my dad was creating unnecessary conflict by being too strict.
But these arguments and differences did not deter them from wanting to hang out with each other anyway. They subscribed to the old adage: ‘Walang basagan ng trip’. Aside from the petty squabbles, they basically just let each other be. More importantly, I think they secretly found the other’s personality quirks cute.
Dad would overtly show signs of disapproval whenever mom came home with new shopping bags. But he would chuckle whenever she immediately tried on her loot and strutted around in them. Mom in turn, would complain that my dad never liked to go anywhere, but she would proudly brag about my dad’s “works of art”, and would encourage him to show them to guests.
They also learned to support each other’s interests. My dad, who retired way before my mom closed her company, would watch her telenovelas so he could tell her about it when she got home from work. My mom, in turn, would “ooh” and “aah” over my dad’s latest Home TV shopping contraption even though she never really figured out how to use any of them.
My parents’ dynamics lead me to believe that having not common interests isn’t exactly a deal-breaker. Differences actually make things more interesting. As long as you learn to respect or even like (no matter how begrudgingly) these differences, then it makes for a good marriage.
LAUGHING TOGETHER IS THE KEY
If there’s one thing my parents did have in common, it’s that they both have a robust sense of humor. Dad’s wit was dry and occasionally silly, playful and teasing. Mom on the other hand, was animated and self-deprecating.
My parents did not live particularly exciting lives. Dad was in the same company for 30+ years, mom ran her own business for more than a decade. Both of them admit that they weren’t in their dream jobs – and they did find their work mundane and routine (more my dad than my mom actually. Mom was just happy to get out of the house and wear her new clothes. Life was just one big fashion show for her). But, they took turns regaling each other with stories about their day anyway; finding ways to narrate the most boring things in the most entertaining way possible.
A common nightly routine for our family included hanging out in my parents’ terrace after dinner until way past midnight, making hilarious but mindless observations about daily events and the people that we’ve encountered.
And everything is fair game too. Our family is simultaneously blessed and cursed with an irreverent sense of humor. No insecurity is off limits. No tragedy heartbreaking enough for us not to make light of. We literally laugh about everything.
My dad suffered his first major heart attack when I was in my mid-twenties. It was a nerve-wracking time for us, and he spent a few weeks in the ICU. Upon doctor’s advise, we literally had to take turns camping outside for days on end. We had no idea if he would make a turn for the worse, and somebody had to be present to make the hard decisions. My mom, brother and I entertained ourselves by making funny observations about the people who came in and out the hospital. When guests would visit, we would pepper our what-happened-to-dad story with comical bloopers on how we dealt with the situation.
The day my dad was in the clear, I was on ICU watch along with a couple of cousins. The nurse neglected to inform us that they had already wheeled him in the private room. Long story short, my dad was in the room alone for a good hour or so. So we rushed down, expecting my poor dad to be totally forlorn- only to find him sitting up calmly in bed while being fussed over by a nurse. He looked at us and wryly stated “haba naman nyo mag lunch.” He then cheerfully sent the nurse off saying “bonding ulit tayo pag iniwan ako ulit ng pamilya ko!”
I called my mom and my brother, and we had a heartwarming reunion. And then, when the pleasantries were over, we started teasing my dad about wearing diapers.
Our sense of humor is borderline dysfunctional, I know. Some would even argue that it masked deeper issues. But who cares? It kept my parents’ marriage strong. Instead of stewing on the little imperfections they found annoying, they would tease each other and have a good laugh about it. The quirk then became endearing. During the times when tragic, unfortunate situations struck our family, my parents’ differences could have very well wreaked havoc on their marriage, but laughing about things always united them and made their relationship stronger.
ROMANCE CAN BE DEAD BUT AFFECTION LIVES FOREVER
My parents discovered the term MU long before the milennials made it a thing. When asked how they first got together, my dad would jokingly state, “Ewan ko ba. Nanood lang kami ng sine, pag labas ko kami na.”
Ok, whatevs. My dad can be a dork sometimes. The truth is though, they did not go through this whole traditional courtship thingy. They just started hanging out: At first with friends, and then before they knew it, they were going out alone. They weren’t exactly dating, they just enjoyed each other’s company. The hang- outs became more and more frequent until they naturally just became a couple.
As a married couple, romantic gestures were also practically nonexistent. They did not go out on date nights. They hardly celebrated their anniversary. They never surprised each other with presents (Mom usually bought dad clothes for every occasion, whether he liked it or not, so it was pretty predictable. Dad usually gave my mom money to buy her own presents. Don’t feel sorry for her though. I think she preferred it that way. There was one Christmas that she was hinting that she wanted a purse. My dad, proudly presented her with a practical waterproof bag that had ‘lots of pockets.’ Not exactly what she had in mind. She gladly took the cash after that.)
Come to think of it, I have never even heard them say “I love you” to each other.
But, you felt their affection in the little gestures. My dad, every morning, would try to cajole my mom to stay home and skip work with him. He always had a slightly amused, warm tone whenever he talked about her. He knew that mom loved helping out her family, so despite his reservations and his need for privacy, he never complained when relatives would come and live with us for indefinite periods of time.
My mother, in turn, always acted like some giddy schoolgirl when talking about my father. She literally felt he was Rico Yan to her Claudine Barretto. When he fell ill, she came to all his checkups and every single one of dyalisis sessions (this was 4 hours a day, thrice a week) despite her phobia-like fear of hospitals.
My parents may not have had that “spark” or the excitement in their marriage but they had something even better; they had a genuine, long-lasting affection for each other.
They started as friends. Fell in love. But never fell out of like. There was no need to look for grand romantic gestures because they found spending time with each other enough.
The day my dad died, I was on hospital watch (again). Because of the toxins in his body, my dad was barely lucid. He was particularly excitable that day and he couldn’t keep still. He asked me to call his brother (my uncle) and then my mother and my brother. He was awake and aware of everything that was happening, but he couldn’t express himself anymore and his words would come out indiscernible and jumbled. But he sat there and listened to my mom on the phone, nodding.
My mom didn’t say anything particularly poignant – she just urged him to rest; for some reason though, it calmed him down and he finally fell asleep. He passed away a few hours after.
I’d like to think that even on his last day, the words that that passed between them didn’t matter to him. He just needed to feel her presence. That was enough.
My mom passed away 5 years later. I don’t think she ever got over losing my dad. I miss her everyday but I know she is much happier now that she’s reunited with her forever crush.
Whenever I think of my parents marriage, I have a hard time thinking of pivotal incidents that proved their undying passion for each other. But what lingers on for me is the feeling of contentment and happiness that was so strong that it outlived them and affected the lives of their children.
Theirs was definitely not the most romantic story, but it definitely is the one that I aspire for.