The personal is political

Readers of this ten-something-year-old column have likely observed that the essays I write are mostly political in nature; an outcome of my being a social activist from way back when. But once in a rare while yet for good reason, the theme becomes more personal. Then again as the feminists of the late sixties phrased it so elegantly — the personal is political. And so here goes.

Someone once asked me, intrigued by the last part of the blurb accompanying this column that describes me as a “doctor by training, activist by choice, columnist by accident, proud mother of two and happy partner to a liberated spouse“ what that meant.

I wish today, on the 70th birthday of the “liberated spouse” to expound on what that means for a radical reformer such as myself. In the process I wish to publicly give credit where it is due, something that has truly been a long time coming.

I met my future husband, Miguel “Mike” Araullo, as I entered the State University, a wide-eyed and eager ex-colegiala. He was on his way out, prolonging his stay in Delaney Hall (DH), the hang-out of members of the UP Student Catholic Action, only because he was reviewing for the engineering board exams. As an old Filipino adage goes, a bit paraphrased, “Papunta pa lang ako, pabalik na siya.” (I had just embarked on this journey; he was on his way back.)

Having been born “old” – I was given the moniker “granny” for having an over-sized super-ego and constantly reminding all the kids to behave – I didn’t mind the age gap at all. Of course his being good-looking caught my eye; more than that he struck me as a mature, kind-hearted person with a straightforward, even mockingly honest manner, that I found refreshing compared to the self-conscious cockiness of the younger males at the DH.

In time his perseverance in courtship paid off despite the physical distance (by then he had started to work in Laguna) and my growing involvement in radical student politics (which meant interminable discussion groups, non-stop teach-ins, and a constant stream of protest rallies and marches on and off campus).

Our relationship withstood the sudden separation from my going underground when martial law was declared and my arrest upon re-enrollment at UP. Still he did not join the revolutionary movement just to be closer to me; he knew that decision had to come from one’s own conviction and commitment. But he respected me enough and was sufficiently progressive politically himself not to dissuade me from acting in accord with my beliefs.

After release from detention, he patiently waited for me to finish an extended Bachelor of Arts course, then another four years of medicine (with summer vacations spent in “social immersion” among peasants in the countryside) while he continued to seek economic stability, first as an employee then an independent, small-scale entrepreneur.

At last upon graduation we agreed to get married although I managed to irk him by a sudden attack of panic that neither of us knew how to cook so how could we embark on our own away from his and my mother’s reliable kitchens. But that was to be the least of our problems. He readily assumed the role of breadwinner while taking up the slack from the untalented and perfunctory homemaker that I turned out to be.

Mike’s progressiveness was certainly tempered by his determination to have a viable family life amidst the trials and tribulations of an economy in doldrums and a spouse whose promising professional career wasn’t meant to be; more so, of a politically repressive martial law environment and even more terror and harassment under the supposedly liberal democratic regime that followed forcing me to once again go underground for a time leaving behind two bewildered young children.

Many times he was mother and father to our kids especially when I was wont to be hard pressed by the demands of being a full-time activist through the ups and downs, ebbs and flows of the movement. Through his dedication and perseverance (and to be fair, my wholehearted cooperation) our two children grew up to be well-rounded, self-assured and disciplined individuals with athletic, theatrical and other extra-curricular accomplishments to boot.

Mike has largely been the “invisible” partner, quietly in the background while wife and kids drew some kind of limelight for achievements or, in some people’s eyes, notoriety. A couple of years ago, our daughter surprised him with a text message on his birthday saying “you are the wind beneath my wings”. And he is affirmed each time he reads in published interviews of our son that the latter credits his father for the solid values he imbibed as he grew up and the opportunities to develop whatever God-given talents he had.

We had tried not to be defensive about our being “economically challenged” especially when hard times hit his fledgling business and our kids had to wear their cousins’ hand-me-downs. A proletarian lifestyle, while not being philosophically averse, was still a source of tension and instability in the family. Happily, we never really quarreled about money or the lack of it.

Mike suffered silently through my mother’s harangues about why he would let his wife pursue risky even dangerous, time-consuming and time-away-from-kids kind of “work”, instead of hunkering down to a respectable medical practice but he never actually pressured me to stop my activism. He not only resigned himself to the fact that a large part of what defines me as a person is my activism, he grew to love and respect me all the more for it.

Mike is a spouse who is most of all a dear friend, and always will be. He is great to have light, silly chats with in early morning jogs and late night telenovela-watching bonding time; as well serious conversations whenever this activist needs a sounding board, especially a contrary but nonetheless thoughtful and honest view about controversial issues of the day.

What is so much clearer to me now, as we grow mellow in our senior years, I would never have been able to pursue a life of dedicated activism and somehow still manage to have happy, healthy and level-headed progeny and a reasonably functioning home were it not for a partner who has been supporting me through thick and thin, good times and bad.

He has been the more mature, the more understanding, the more forgiving, the more accommodating, the less bull-headed of the life partnership and for that I am most blessed, a truly “happy partner to a liberated spouse”. #

Published in Business World
6 April 2015