Raising a Son Without a Father Image
Benjie, my husband of ten years, died of lung cancer on June 23, 2005. He was 49, I was 42, and our son Joseph was 9.
My husband’s illness came unexpectedly. We discovered it only three months before his death, and by then, it had metastasized.
At his funeral, I remained calm and serene, as I had already psyched myself up to face his demise. I recall how in that occasion, Joseph had expressed no sorrow. I didn’t see him wail as I expected he would. He just ran around the funeral parlor with his friends, like he were in some children’s party.
It made me ponder - “Doesn’t he realize his dad is gone! What’s he feeling?”
When Benjie was finally laid to rest, Joseph, his faithful nanny (who still lives with us) and I returned home to our apartment. Thus began our life of moving on.
On supporting my son’s education
In the first couple of months after the burial, I kept a close watch on Joseph to see if he were manifesting feelings of depression over his father’s death. To ensure that he wouldn’t fall into fits of misery which would surely affect his focus on his studies, I contacted his school’s guidance counselor to check on how he was coping. I figured that if my young son wouldn’t open up to me, he would likely do it to an adult he felt comfortable with at school. (Besides, I trusted the professional help of the counselor.)
Prior to Joseph’s appointment with the counselor, I made sure to feed her with information about Benjie’s death and a little about our home environment.
When I decided to see her after a week, I was pleased to hear that Joseph was fine and that I needn’t worry. She even showed me a manuscript of a short story he had written. What consoled me all the more was her telling me that Joseph’s teachers – upon reading his story – would put him in a special class for gifted kids with advanced artistic abilities.
On the financial aspect, I continue to enjoy the support of my siblings and in-laws. Joseph was in the third grade when his father passed away, and he was studying at the Ateneo de Manila (one of the Philippines’ top schools with soaring tuition fees!).
Initially, I availed of the school’s financial aid which was granted only to deserving students. But the amount was only about a fourth of the total tuition.
Thanks be to God, my older unmarried sister - a lawyer by profession - promised Benjie at his deathbed that she would assist me in the payment. Until Joseph’s last year in high school, this was the arrangement she and I had. I paid only a fraction of the fee. Yet, I took care of all other expenses like the school supplies, shuttle service, and meal allowance.
For me to go on availing of the school’s financial aid, I had to ensure that Joseph was excelling in his academics.
Fortunately, it wasn’t difficult for me to guide him, as he is an intelligent boy. In fact, he was at the top of his class, eventually graduating with second honors.
More blessings came my way when Joseph entered college. Luckily, he passed the entrance exams at the University of the Philippines (U.P.) where many Filipino students find it difficult to enter. U.P. has a cheap tuition, but its quality of education is as good as Ateneo's.
While still alive, Benjie was working for a company that granted scholarships to bright children of the employees. When Joseph was still in pre-school, they had promised us that they would support our son’s education once he reached college. Happy for me, they fulfilled this even after Benjie’s passing.
In 2019, Joseph graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in creative writing.
On helping him hone his talents
When Joseph was a toddler, I made it a habit to make him sit on my lap and read him books for children.
At 9, he started writing fiction. His first two short stories were published in his school’s literary magazine when he was 12. At 14, he penned his popular story New Toy which was published in a yearly anthology series where he continues to write. Since then, he has been writing and publishing his works.
Although I tried to discourage him from taking up a creative writing course in college, he pursued it just the same. Having studied in a journalism school and later taking on a career along this line, I was worried that Joseph may also face the problem that I encountered – limited job prospects. (Besides, a writing career – at least in the Philippines – is not financially rewarding, unless, of course, you’re a famous writer.)
Thus, I advised him to consider screenplay writing and business writing, if he wanted to make more money later on. He had somewhat agreed, but didn’t show much interest.
Joseph loves to sing and rap. He’s a stand-up comedian and a radio station disc jockey. For so long as he enjoys these activities, I show him that I support him. But being the concerned mother that I am, I always remind him about being with good company and staying away from drugs, alcohol and smoking. He’s been a good boy, so far.
Joseph as a stand-up comedian
On developing his character
My anxiety when Joseph was a pre-teen was how to enhance his masculinity. I worried that he would become gay growing up in a home with only two women – me and his nanny. There was a time when as a little boy, he was fond of playing with toy cooking sets. But as soon as he took a fancy to building skyscrapers using LEGO blocks – and later on scale models of ships after being awed by James Cameron’s Titanic which prompted him to buy books about the ill-fated ship – my anxiety soon subsided.
As he was growing, he then became interested in World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), and it would amuse me to hear him mimic “Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s “Sometimes I drink a little beer / Sometimes I make a little mess / Sometimes I get a little angry / Sometimes I kick a little… aaasssss!!!”
Apart from buying two toy WWE championship belts, he would even wrestle with a big stuffed toy crocodile which Benjie once won in a raffle and brought home.
Being an artist, Joseph is obviously a passionate person. Many times, he would answer me back sharply when provoked. Thus, whenever I need to admonish him, I do it gently, lest I do harm to his male psyche.
Naturally, as a teen, Joseph spent most of his time hanging out with his peers. On this, I made sure to teach him some manners and etiquette when dealing with girls. He has had two girlfriends so far.
Being with family and relatives
Since I wanted Joseph to experience family life again, I decided to move back to my parental home where I grew up. Joseph and the nanny, of course, came with me.
This was also due to the prodding of my older siblings who – with our parents now gone – thought it best for us to move out of our apartment to spare me the rental which I could no longer pay. It was a good decision.
On weekends and special occasions, my son and I get together with my siblings and their families for bonding time. Likewise, we make it a point to see my in-laws every Christmastime.
I am blessed to have a caring mother-in-law who once asked Joseph – then 11 – if I already had a boyfriend. When he angrily denied that I had one, she gently explained that it would be good for me to remarry so that my new partner could support us. But Joseph was not convinced!
Here are other scenes of Joseph’s life :
Today, Joseph is an achiever with a healthy outlook in life. He’s smart, funny and sociable, and I am truly happy for how he has grown.
For his sake, I have decided to forego remarrying (even if people have been advising me to do so!).
And if Joseph should marry and start a family later on, I’ll be content with helping him raise his kids the way I did with him. That’s enough gratification for me.
Ah, yes…if only Benjie could see him now.
I guess the secret to raising a son with his father gone is simply to love him – and to be there until he has fully matured.