Saturday, October 22, 2005

A rant on work ethics

One thing has become so very personal for me, so very personally hateful to me is a perception of my uselessness. I guess it is the only part of me that I can describe as unrepentantly machismo. But I hate it with all of my heart when people think that I am of no help.

I am not a particularly obsessive compulsive person, but I have to admit that I am a perfectionist. I like getting things done not only the right way but a certain measure of embellishment. But, although I am not a pwede-na-'yan type (the philosophy of which I particularly dislike), I am also not the sort that will continue to futz (definition here) something to death. However, this credo has gotten me in a number of rows with my often-times obsessive-compulsive mother.

One thing she loves to accuse me of is that I don't know how to help around the house. She would often harangue me and other people unfortunate enough to be around that I would probably make Ærynn cry because I don't know any household chores. Which is funny, because I know how to cook, clean toilets, fix furniture... well, fix almost anything around the house except, perhaps, electronic appliances. I also know how to clean a house very efficiently and effectively. One would think that my mother so blind not to see any of this; but she doesn't because we share different "cleaning" philosophies.

She sees cleaning as a never-ending battle with dirt. One should always be sweeping up dust, mopping the floor, arranging things around the house, getting rid of clutter... basically, never giving disorderliness a moment's peace. If cleanliness is next to godliness, she would have been Almighty God, or else, Queen of Heaven. Now, this is not bad in itself.

However, she resents us because she thinks that she's fighting the never-ending battle alone. Of course, this isn't true. In fact, it was more untrue when we were younger. For as long as I can remember, we had always forgone normal kid activity like playing out-of-doors when there isn't any school so that we can do our chores. Naturally, this isn't bad in itself, as it was extremely character-building and I personally acquired a lot of skills that other boys don't have. And, as chores go, they weren't so bad. No... that wasn't the problem at all.

The problem is Mom's skewed sense of priorities. There were times when my twin brother and I (never our youngest, because he was always seen as too young to do any household chores, even when we were all in college) would have cleaned the entire house, watered all the plants, tended to the vegetable garden, got all the laundry done, made sure that all the shirts were folded or hung, taken out the trash, fed the dog, de-verminized the kitchen, etc. etc., but for some reason overlooked washing two drinking glasses we had recently drunk water from after a productive day. Our parents (so, not just Mom) would take no notice about everything else that was done, make a big deal over the unwashed glasses, and harangue and nag us not only that day, but for a long time afterward. They have very long memories, remembering those extremely rare times we broke something (believe me, in that household, such occurences were rare) but forgetting the number of times I fixed things for them, even things they have broken. Hair dryers, blenders, food processors, washing machines, ceramic vases... I used to fix them all. But they would rather remember those rare times I would break something. Even now, they would claim that we were always breaking things in our youth. Well, huzzah!

But the most painful parts of that is when they say statements like "These boys don't know how to help" or "They will be useless in the house when they get married; their poor wives will be virtually treated like maids or slaves". It hurts when they mutter those in our presence... it hurts more when they whisper it to people who know us. For some reason, they seem to find joy in getting people to commiserate over our "inability" to help around the house. So very many times have I been surprised and humiliated when a kindly old lady from church would take me aside and tell me to be kind to my mother and help around the house... especially humiliating when I have just then lost a lot of sleep making sure that the house was clean (on Mom's orders, of course) and filling water bottles until four in the morning.

Mom still loves to praise the children of other church members because of how industrious they are, and yet would ignore all the things I have done for them. They have incredible myopia when it comes to the actual help I have done. When I've done it, there is no pat on the back or any acknowledgement... not a whisper... no noise at all.

But even when I am thirty years old, she would still harangue and nag and make sure everybody hears just how "lazy" and unhelpful I am, because it so happens that I couldn't mop the floor (notwithstanding that the mop was broken). It hurts when she thinks more highly of other children my age than me. She has gone so far as to create her personal fiction about me, so that she can engage in that typical Filipino past time of griping. "Buti pa anak ninyo, ganyan... anak ko, late ng gumising, wala pang naitutulong, " she would often be heard saying, obviously enjoying it with some sort of schaden-freude. In her mind's fiction, I hate vegetables, I only eat pork, I gorge myself on sweets, I sleep 18 hours a day, I wake up watching television and go to sleep watching television, I play computer games all day, I have never gone around applying for jobs and I am afraid of dirt. I assure you, it is fiction. But for Mom, it is Gospel truth, and she treats me based on her skewed reality.

One reason why I want to join up with my wife soon. I have always loyally stayed with them and helped them around the house for so long. I cannot stand not being acknowledged. I don't want parties, bells and whistles. I just want it acknowledged that I do help more often than when I don't. I want them to make a deal out of my help, rather than make a really big deal over my failings. There are so many things that I am not able to do that I want to do because I am here, wtih them, helping them. When I am gone, I wish with all my heart, that they will realize how big a help I am; but I must also admit that they didn't see it then when it was staring them in the face, they wouldn't see it when it's no longer there.

This has made me overly sensitive to anybody who even gives a hint of thinking I don't do enough. It has made me the sort who is unable to say "no" to any plea of help, and unnaturally enraged at any intimation that I don't help enough, or do enough. I remember confronting a superior at work, presenting an overblown case to her, documentation and evidence that I was, on the contrary, very helpful and very productive, because I overheard one of them saying "Wala namang ginagawa 'yan, eh." If there is one proof that I have a male ego after all, this is it. Everytime my helpfulness, my capability, my ability or my potency is questioned, I always... always see red.

Hopefully, with years spent with my much more understanding wife, I may gradually heal of these emotional scars. I will be the first to admit now that I help around the house even less than I did previously; for instance, I don't always do the dishes anymore and leave Mom to do most of the laundry. But what can one expect? Good behavious is not reinforced with anything pleasant; bad behaviour maybe nagged and harangued at, but at least now I get to do more of what I want—which is bad.

I will never raise my children to dislike chores and work the way my parents raised me. One reason why their work ethic never held any attraction for me was because, while they were yelling the need for us to do work they were muttering that they, themselves, hate it and wish that they wouldn't have to do it. The conclusion was obvious: work had to be done, they didn't want to do it, so we had to; if we didn't do it (for some or any reason), they had to do it because it had to be done, but it was our fault that they had to do what needs to be done.

I will teach my children that work is something to be enjoyed, a privelege that a person earns a right to do. I will make sure that I will remember their help and accomplishments more than their failings. Someday, work will be a blessing for all of us, and not something people have rows over.