Saturday, November 15, 2008

Utang Na Loob Huramentado

In my native language, we have a phrase "Utang Na Loob." This is similar to the concept in English of a "debt of gratitude" (as opposed to a "Quantum of Solace") - where an act of voluntary assistance. Often, Utang Na Loob is used in reference to the parent/child relationship - a child, when fully grown, is often expected to take care of her elderly parents, just as the parent (hopefully) did when the child was growing up.

Now I understand the concept of "respect your elderly," and I appreciate all of the love and assistance my mother gave me when I was growing up, but at some point, "Utang na Loob" becomes ridiculous. At some point it simple becomes unfair to spout out "Utang Na Loob" and expect to get whatever you want. It's like our fine feathered and soon to be departing leader spouting out, "How can my rich buddies expect to pay any taxes after 9/11?"

I recently encountered a dose of Utang Na Loob run amok:

Having so much time off from work, I mentioned to my husband that I would like to go back to Philippines for few weeks. It's been a long time since I've been home and seem by family (we're talking pre 9/11) and I miss them very much. My husband said that he thought it was a great idea, but he can't go with me because he is busy at work (apparently litigators are doing well despite of shitty economy) and he can't take any time off. Truth to be told, it's been a long time since I've been home that I am a little scared to go alone. I wouldn't really know how to get from Manila to the province where I grew up, and it is not always the safest for a woman (especially one from America who is presumed to have money) to travel alone. So I decided to ask my mom if she wanted to go home with me (she goes home every year).

When I asked my mom she quickly responded. "sure, why not?" Then she added, "Would you pay for my fare?" Ummm, no! What are you thinking? The economy sucks and we need to tighten our belts a bit. But to be polite, I smiled at her and said no.

The next day I got a disturbing call from a family member; apparently the conversation with my mom was brought to his attention. After some stilted small talk, he get to the crux of why he called - why won't I pay for my mom's airfare to go back home. He explained to me that, without my mother I wouldn't be - either in America or this world at home. Utang Na Loob! I ended the phone all without saying anything.

Now, this is hardly the first time that he or my family had used this on me. Every time they need something and I say no, the first thing they do is make us feel guilty and reminding us of Utang Na Loob. Its as if, because I am marriend to an attorney who makes a pretty comfortable living (we're not wealthy by any stretch), that I should be expected to pay for everything.

I know this concept is not unique to my country, but it is especially strong in Asian countries. After children reach a certain age, parents always makes demands on their children for the same of Utang Na Loob. I understand children should to be appreciative for all the things that their parent have done for them. But are we really expected to subsidize our parents? Why is it MY obligation for my parents' expenses now that I'm grown up and successful. I understand that, but why isn't it the parents' responsibility for ensuring that their children become successful and productive members of society.

Shouldn't the parent WANT the child to be successful, so the child will not be relying on them for the rest of their lives? Or shouldn't you want your children to be successful because that reflects on the way you raised them? Or because you don't want your children to have to suffer? Isn't the unconditional love a parent feels for his child ingrained because of the basic life need to continuing the species?

It can't really be that my parents had me to secure a stream of income for when they were older? Surely the cost of raising children far outweighs the expected return, and it's not like the tax benefits are not THAT favorable. As an accountant, I would have to strongly advise anyone out there against investing in children.

Yet, that's what Utang Na Loob would have you believe.

Now, don't get me wrong, I try helping my family as much as I can but I refuse to make it my responsibility. It's not like I grew up in the lap of luxury. When I came to America, I learned how to work for everything I need and want. When we first came here, my mother wanted me to become a nurse. She said she would pay for my schooling if I did, so I went to nursing school (talk about the living stereotype!) I took 2 years of nursing classes at Iona College but when it came time to get to actual work (training) I hated it. I couldn't make it more than half a day at the hospital when I was training.....I knew I would be miserable if I continued in nursing. I told my mom that I had decided to switch to accounting. She wasn't happy that I had strayed from the path that she took, and she told me that if I wanted to go to school for accounting, I would have to pay for it myself. FINE... Determined to be successful, I went to school at night and worked three jobs. I was a clerk, a cashier and babysitter. It was a hard work, especially fitting in with all my schoolwork, but I did it. I graduated from Fordham University, and I can now proudly admit that I'm successful.

I don't rely on my folks for any financial assistance (although my computer obsessed older brother is pretty generous when it come to giving me his cast-off computers and other hi-tech stuff). All I want is for them to be supportive of me. But sometimes even that is too much to ask. Last year, when I got married, we and my husband's family footed the bill. I had asked my mom to chip in a nominal amount of money. It wasn't the financial support that I wanted, but rather, the symbolic gesture that my mom was invested in my relationships with my husband that the money represented. Getting that was worse than pulling teeth out of a newborn's mouth (that's a whole other story.) Then, without chipping in a penny, my mom had the audacity to invite 40 of her close friends and family. A $75k wedding is pretty expensive in my world, and if were going to pay for 40 of my mom's guest (you never make up the cost of wedding through gifts, not that you should expect to), then I would expect my mom to chip even a little.

Fine...that's the past. But for mom to now condition taking trip home together upon paying for her...well that is simply too much. I still love my mom, and I appreciate her bringing me to this country, but at some point the statue of limitations on Utang Na Loob runs out.

So, it looks like it will be some time longer before I get to go back home. That is a bummer.... when is the next time I will have length of time off from work. But that's just the way it is sometimes, I suppose.

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