I was at the private school my eight-year-old son, Isaac, attends in Surigao City. His second-grade class had just let out and, waiting nearby, I spotted him marching towards me across the grass.
“Hey daddy,” he said, “can you carry my bog?
“Excuse me?” I replied, nonplussed. “Your bog?”
“My lunch bog,” he said without skipping a beat. “I didn’t eat much and it’s feeling kind of heavy.”
I immediately felt my blood rising, as it always does on such occasions. This time, though, I resisted the urge to declare that I didn’t know what he was talking about and demand that he pronounce it correctly. Instead, I just grabbed the lunch bag and motioned him toward the car. Perhaps I’m finally making peace with my son becoming Filipino.
Naw, just kidding; I hate it now as much as ever.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the heritage to which I object. My Filipino wife and I have always taught Isaac to honor both his Filipino and American sides. No, the part that bothers me – makes me crazy, in fact – is my little boy’s persistent and annoying insistence on speaking English with a Filipino accent.
It’s not as if he doesn’t know proper English. Isaac, after all, spent the first seven of his eight years in Southern California, having long conversations with his American father — namely me — and attending an American public school in which English was the only language spoken. He was born in the USA, for heaven’s sake, and though his citizenship is dual, his cultural roots are largely red, white and blue.
Yet, ever since moving to the Philippines eight months ago, my son has been saying mom instead of mam and calling his bag a bog. At first I thought it was just a temporary affectation that would soon disappear. Instead, it seems to be getting worse with each passing day and probably each year.
“Daddy,” he said the other night from his bed, “my tablet is low bot; con you please close the light?”
Initially, I thought I could just intimidate him into submission. “Sorry,” I told him, “but I only respond to requests made in proper English, so please try again.”
His mother who was nearby, however, quickly tucked him in.
To some extent I get it, of course; Isaac is literally the new kid on the block who — not yet fully fluent in Visaya — is trying desperately to fit in. Lately, however, I’ve noticed that, whenever the subject comes up, he immediately embraces his Filipino side while admitting to the other one only when absolutely forced. The inescapable conclusion: that my son thinks being Filipino is way cooler than being from the U.S. of A.
All of which for me, unfortunately, has created a sort of existential crisis. You can believe me when I say that I’ve never been a flag waver. Somehow, though, these recent events – and especially the strong feelings they have engendered in me – have raised a troubling specter; that, despite my claims of multiculturalism, I am at heart a red-blooded American.
Please don’t say that too loudly.
David Haldane, a former Los Angeles Times staff writer, is an award-winning American journalist, author and radio broadcaster who recently moved to Surigao City with his Filipino wife and their eight-year-old son. This column tells the unfolding story of that adventure.