Saturday, May 10, 2008

Can fathers become mothers?

AMONG my favorite mothers are the bearded ones.

My friend Roylu recently emailed about being a parent the second time around. Months ago, with silver already streaking his shaggy mane and eternal stubble, he passed by my table at the university to drop off some of his books for adoption, as well as the news that he and wife Anne were leaving for Quebec, Canada.

Then a few days ago, his post to the kulturnatibist group was a lengthy meditation on “hilots,” home births and the Canadian midwives that are regarded as “sage femme,” French for “wise woman.”

Decidedly less scholarly but more effusive, Roylu’s friends zeroed in on a tiny but telling detail of that post. “Congratulations Roy and Anne and unnamed newborn” wrote Mons, Roylu’s other half in performance art.

Days later, the second-time newbie father (first-born Rosa is now an adult) emailed that he, Anne and baby were still in deep conference with a midwife, a breastfeeding specialist and a lactation consultant. The topic: synchronizing the “wiring for the breastfeeding subsystem” that was messed up by Anne’s C-section.

So, seven years after my last nursing, I emailed my friend—artist of lost causes, old but still seething passions and the nearly lost art of surrogate parenting of books—tips for inducing milk despite the odds of surgical interventions (for Anne’s benefit) and wrong gender (Roylu’s).

Was it? Is there really a right gender for parenting? These questions floated near the surface of my thoughts as I gazed at the photo of bawling Baby Luz and Tatay. Except for that giveaway fuzz above his lips and on his chin, Roylu and Luz may as well have posed for a classic portrait of “Madonna and child.”

While it may be biologically impossible for any man to express milk from his own breasts for his child, the pathways of bonding are limitless and deep. “We are just also getting into the rhythm of getting milk ready at the oddest hours since we have to give formula milk as supplement to breast milk,” this Tatay emailed. “Hopefully, we will be on our way to having a 100-percent breast milk-fed, fertilizer- and pesticide-free, organic child.”

More than anything that he wrote in that email—not the length and details, though they are certainly prodigious as he emailed after another nursing episode must have blurred night into dawn—his use of “we” in those bleary-eyed but optimistic closing lines moved me.

Only one pair of breasts may prick and flow in answer to the hunger of this child but it will not only be her mother’s embrace that will soothe Luz back into slumber (and I was not thinking of a battalion of lactation experts).

Children do need both parents, as traditionalists are fond of saying. But neither male fathers nor female mothers have exclusive domain on the nurturing, healing and freeing love that any child needs to grow into becoming his own person.

I’ve lost track of the parents I admire: their number, gender and creative configurations. There is the single parent explaining to his child that their family picture has one adult less compared to the families portrayed in the photographs submitted by his child’s classmates: I’m your mother and father at the same time so there’s only one of me, not two of us.

There is the insomniac writer who spun poetry, trawled the blogs, and threatened to beat Nick Joaquin at being Nick Joaquin with the bottles until the arrival of his sons. Then my friend used his sleeplessness to change every soaked nappy and bring his sons to his wife’s side for nursing so she could drowse on and wake in time for her morning classes.

Psychologists and sociologists have long debated whether one sex is naturally better at parenting than the other. How does fathering fare against mothering? Should fathers just stick to being masculine role models and leave the nurturing to the women?

To many children, these debates hold no interest. It is not my cooking but their father’s that sends the boys into ecstasy. On this day honoring mothers, I thank the women who’ve nurtured generations—as well as the men whose bosoms have been no less bountiful.

May men continue to face fearlessly a night of nursing and nappy-changing. May they teach their sons to cry and their daughters to dare. May all children honor their mothers and father-mothers. May this circle of love renew itself forever. 09173226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s May 11, 2008 issue

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