November 26, 2006

Reflections on being a godmother

You know you are undeniably getting older, not necessarily richer or wiser, when you find yourself spending more and more time in the beauty parlor, having your hair done for a wedding ceremony that you are marching in as one among the many pairs of godparents.

Some take it as a measure of success, if not respectability; that is, how often one is chosen ninang among so many other qualified and willing candidates. This is especially so among the well-heeled since being a godparent entails gifting the newly-weds with something commensurate to the giver’s station in life, and the esteem with which the couple or their parents are held by the godparent.

Theoretically, the role of a godparent, as surrogate parent, extends long after the wedding bells have stopped ringing. It ranges from helping the couple stabilize financially by helping the husband land a job, or the wife a side occupation to augment the family income. It also includes mediating marital spats, especially when serious, and the couple have no one else to turn to. The godparent, many times, becomes the friendly neighborhood savings and loan bank, the patient marriage counselor and the person who can be relied upon to give aid, comfort and support to the inexperienced married couple.

Some people welcome being asked to be ninang because of the accompanying high regard that is traditionally accorded this particular religio-social position. Some shun the distinction and honor because they feel they cannot fulfill the accompanying responsibilities and obligations, whether financial or moral, of a true godparent.

In truth, what being ninang is a measure of depends, to a large extent, on the couple’s criteria, which in turn, reflects on their priorities, values and general outlook in life. Sometimes, it boils down to “tell me who your ninong and ninang are and I’ll tell you who you are (or want to be, anyway).”

Walking down the wedding aisle as a godparent, one can’t help recall one’s own ceremony, choices for ninong and ninang and reflect on the extent to which one has lived out or fulfilled the dreams, hopes and goals one had at the time.

I got hitched right after medical internship to my loyal boyfriend of nine years. That period spanned carefree years as a member of the apolitical UP Student Catholic Action (UPSCA); the heady years of activism in the state university and urban poor communities of Quezon City; the defining years of martial law, going underground, getting caught, becoming a political prisoner; and, ironically, the sobering years of burning the midnight oil as a medical student cum community health activist.
If a relationship can be likened to a dagger of steel, fashioned and tempered by years of constant trial and a measure of tribulation, ours was more than ready for plunging into the joyful yet painfully complex state of marriage. But how could we responsibly raise a family while struggling to free our country from a brutal dictatorship and working towards the seemingly remote ideals of justice, equality, peace and prosperity?

Our wedding had the trappings of a middle class, romantic affair consciously reined in by a desire to keep things simple yet memorable and meaningful, affordable but acceptable to some fairly conservative kith and kin. The wedding gown was expensive but borrowed from a sister-in-law (for after all, she had only worn it once). There was no wedding cake, no doves and no tokens but there was a string ensemble from the UP College of Music that included a venerable music professor playing the violin.

We were one of the first to use the inner garden of the San Agustin church for the wedding reception, predating what would become the de rigueur arrangement for weddings in the ‘80s and ‘90s when traffic hassles made a long commute to the reception venue a thing of the past. There was a decidedly sweet and convivial atmosphere to the garden with its old stone fountain strewn with deep red roses from Baguio courtesy of a brother-in-law who made the trip on the old Kennon Road to get the blooms fresh and cheap. But we also scrimped on the “official photographer” ending up with a friend who had to leave early and another dear friend who stayed but had a limited roll of film.

The mass and wedding rites had enough passages to suggest that the couple tying the knot were nationalists and progressives who integrated the vow of “serve the people” with that of “love one another… for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do you part.” My classmates in medical school sang the old ballads about love and commitment while the Augustinian friars provided the soprano who did the arias for the solemn mass.

The godparents were an interesting mix of people who we looked up to and who shared, or at least respected, our progressive outlook and politics to one degree or another. They included veteran journalist and UP Dean Armando Malay and his wife, writer and human rights advocate par excellence Carolina Malay; the visionary and affable UP College of Medicine Dean Florentino Herrera Jr., and my academic and real life mentors, obstetrician-gynecologist Dr. Natividad Puertollano and pathologist Dr. Jaime Zamuco; and last but not least, a solicitous mother of a fellow UPSCAn who doted on us, Mrs. Alice Lejano.

If our godparents harbored any lingering doubt about whether we would live happily ever after -- what with my strong headedness and radical politics vis-a vis my spouse’s more mature outlook though more moderate political views – they never raised it. Like all good-hearted, discreet godparents, they wished us luck and prayed for the best. One ninang forecast that we would raise beautiful children while another advised me to hold my clinic in my residence so as not to “sacrifice” the kids while I spent all my time with a busy medical practice not to mention a busier activist involvement.

I wonder now what they would say, 26 years, two grown-up kids, four presidents and two “people power” uprisings later.

Two days ago, I marched down the aisle to be a ninang at the wonderful wedding of two dedicated activists who sang their vows to each other. Apart from me, the entourage of godparents included a former vice president, now leader of the broad movement calling for the ouster of the Arroyo regime; a former cabinet secretary-turned-fiery-orator at protest rallies; a national artist for literature and ex-political detainee; a former peace negotiator for the revolutionary movement-turned-legislator; a successful business woman-turned-feisty government critic; and an urban poor mother of 11 leading a local community-based health program.

The line-up said a lot about the couple and the challenging times we are in. I was happy and proud to be a ninang in that sweet, romantic wedding ceremony that was the happy newlywed’s political and personal statement.###

*Published in Business World
24-25 November 2006


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