During the 2nd quarter of 2015, a cousin from my mother’s side of the family sent me a private message in Facebook, asking me if I would be honored to become her newborn son’s Ninong (Godfather). At first I didn’t really put much thought into it and simply said, “Sure, why not”.
It wasn’t until a couple of months before the baptism ceremony itself, when she sent me a reminder about the auspicious event, that a bolt of reason struck my mind.
“Why am I being chosen in the first place?”, I asked myself.
Let me sidetrack a bit. I left the Philippines together with my parents since I was 4, because my father had a job in Malaysia. I grew up there for most of my life and the Philippines was a place that I visited for short periods of time at least once a year, just to visit relatives. For 25 years (and counting) of my residence abroad, I have not forgotten my roots. I am still fluent in my mother tongue, and I am not alien to the ways of the Filipino people.
As for this cousin of mine, she and I aren’t that close. In fact I have no memory of knowing her in my childhood, due to the fact that she wasn’t even born by the time I left Pinas in 1992. The brevity of our meetups at my mum’s provincial home of Nueva Ecija, the paucity of our social interaction between one another, proves that she felt more like a stranger to me than a family member. I mean can you blame me? I lived abroad for 25 years. Life back home just moves on in your absence.
At times, children would come up to me and ask for a Mano, which I awkwardly gave, only to be told that he/she is a cousin, whom I completely had no idea even existed until that very moment! Same goes for aunts or uncles who I don’t recognize because they are a newer addition to the family, thanks to divorce or whatever circumstances that led to that eventuality. You get the picture.
Anyway back to the exchange with my cousin.
In a tone of respect and reverence, I asked her as to what prompted her to include me into the Ninong-Ninang list? As expected, her response to me was, “Because we see you as an excellent person to become a guide to our child as he grows up”. I wasn’t satisfied with that by-the-book answer.
By definition, as a Godparent, you bear the mantle of responsibility of being a moral guide to the child, to support the child in their needs, and even assume the role of parenthood should anything happen to the parents. Looking at it from a Filipino context, and since this is a Catholic thing, I’m sure you are expected to raise the child in the Catholic way and since I’m not a very devout Catholic myself (Truth be told I’ve pretty much become disillusioned with organized religion), I felt that I would be doing a great disservice to the parents and the child.
In addition, I have never seen her child, nor have I ever even met her husband, and my presence in Pinas are rare at best. I’m pretty sure her son wouldn’t recognize me when he grows up. So why should I acquiesce to a sacrament as sacred as marriage itself? Knowing that my Ninong-ship would only be by name and not from my own heart?
Later on, I explained to her that it would be difficult for me to attend the ceremony, since I’m busy with work, and traveling back to Pinas is not as easy as she think it is (understandable since she has never experienced life abroad), especially now with the current state of the economy. In essence, I was implying that I would like to RESPECTFULLY DECLINE her offer. Because I felt that as much as I am greatly honored by the invitation, I also felt sincerely that I was not worthy of assuming that mantle of responsibility. I cannot for the life of me, be anymore honest than that!
That is how much reverence I give to the sacrament of Godparenthood! I’m not like those Filipinos who take it lightly and make no second thoughts about it. Some parents accumulate Ninongs and Ninangs for their children as if they are some Pokemon collectibles. Sad to say that this tradition has become more of a blind obligation, devoid of any spiritual significance.
Another subtle reason as to why I declined has to do with the fact that I am aware that Filipinos have a tendency to use this as an opportunity to ask for money, especially knowing that I’m living abroad. And true enough, when I told her that couldn’t make it to the ceremony, or that I wouldn’t be back for another year, she unashamedly said the following, “Oh it’s okay, even a donation for my son’s cake would suffice”. Wait what?!
It’s not that I’m being a Kuripot (stingy/miser) for refusing even a meager favor. It’s just that I totally dislike the idea of me being taken for a ride as if I’m a foolish simpleton! I have given money to another younger cousin in the past, to pay for her schoolbooks, but only because she approached me personally and told me honestly that she needed some money. I can accept that.
My mother, being an aunt to that cousin of mine, inquired about the situation much later on, and suffice to say, I made a huge mistake of being honest with her about my decision because it led to a very heated argument between us. She felt ashamed and dishonored over what I had done, which to me is a ridiculous over-exaggeration of such a trivial situation.
She went as far as to say that my decision shows how selfish I am and that I have no concern for family. Well excuse me?! Are Filipinos so shallow that one’s love and devotion for family is measured by blind obligation to tradition?! For me, love and care for family transcends man made rules and traditions. And just because I turned down my cousin today, doesn’t mean I have completely closed myself to her. How erroneous and judgmental of an assessment is that?! I decided that the argument has become too one sided, and decided to end it there to continue with more productive tasks, than waste my time with such trivial drivel.
Honestly I do think that just because someone identify themselves as “family member” doesn’t mean one is unequivocally obligated to that person. And often times, I find that Filipinos abuse this precept by unashamedly asking for one too many favors, without regard to whether it causes inconvenience to the other party.
In my understanding, it’s the common norm that to decline the becoming of a Ninang or Ninong is not only a dishonor and shame to oneself, but also a terrible insult to the family, and some would even say that it’s “Bad Omen” to do so. It is an honor that one cannot back out from once chosen, regardless of whether you agree to it or not, regardless of the circumstances you face in life. Very typical mentality of many Filipinos, like so many other things they believe in, despite the obvious flaws found in their world view.
This is my pet peeve with Filipinos and their idea of tradition. For them, tradition is absolute and should be performed without question! To employ one’s intellect, wisdom, and the ability to use reason and logic to question these norms are immediately met with fierce rejection. And that is what I got for choosing to emancipate myself from the typical Pinoy hive mind, I was dismayed to say the least because I felt like I was viewed as a Pariah for actually using my brain!
Why can’t I have the freedom to choose?! It’s not like I’m doing anything directly harmful. In fact I kindly explained to my cousin as to why it’s hard for me to take up the role, and although I did not blatantly said that I declined, I think she understood my position and chose not to query me any longer. In other words, there’s an implied understanding between us. Or at least so I thought.
For me, I’d rather that my cousin be offended by my honesty and unflinching assertiveness, than to agree to something that I have valid personal reasons for declining, all in the name of pleasing her and everyone else? After all, the truth is the truth. The truth doesn’t care if you’re offended by it. Another concept that Filipinos find it hard to wrap their heads around.
I guess this explains a lot as to why so many Filipinos are in the situation that they are in life. Filipinos spend so much time trying to please other people, often times to their own expense, thanks to their own lack of assertiveness. And when you query them as to why they do the things they do, they’ll simply tell you that’s how it is and choice is out of the question. In fact, many don’t even know the significance of why they do these things. If I can think of one thing North Koreans and Filipinos have in common, this is it.
Indeed, the Spaniards has done a great job in creating generations of people whose blind subservience, disguised as tradition, has rendered them intellectually incapacitated to this very day. Just look at the nation and you’ll know what I mean. Now I’m not lumping Filipinos all in the same basket, because I know there are many forward thinking Filipinos whom are fighting hard to free themselves from the “Pinoy Matrix”. If you’re one of them, you can pat yourself at the back.
I had this thought at how ironic that Filipinos are so unquestioningly devout as Christians, and yet they are doing the very thing that Jesus himself was very critical of. Jesus, in the Gospels criticized the Pharisees for being overly legalistic about their religious traditions, and yet for all their devotion, their hearts are empty. Likewise, Filipino tradition is supposed to impart good values of respect, benevolence, kindness, charity, the concept of companionship and humility, that is supposed to penetrate on the spiritual level. And yet their actions are anything but such.
Have you ever encountered this situation before? Or anything similar? Do share. I would like to hear from you.Published in