By David Haldane
March 29, 2018
I spent most of yesterday typing.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a job to which I am fairly accustomed. As a newspaper reporter for more than three decades, typing was my daily bread and butter. And even now, working for a radio station in Southern California, it is something I do with a fair amount of frequency and speed. Typing and I, it could be said, are old acquaintances of many long miles and years.
Fairly new, however, is the kind of typing I did yesterday, namely the typing of lists. Specifically, very long lists. More specifically, the lists of participants in our upcoming renewal of nuptials in the Philippines. For readers with limited patience and time, let me quickly summarize; what we’re talking about here is more than 90 names divided into no fewer than fourteen categories.
A partial list of the categories involved might be instructive. There are, of course, the usual and familiar ones such as best man, maid of honor, groomsmen and bridesmaids. Add to that, however, a few categories less familiar to those of us unschooled in Philippine marital culture, to wit: primary and secondary sponsors; to lay our symbol of love and commitment; to light our path; to clothe us as one, to bind us as one; to carry our symbol of love; to carry the Holy Bible; to carry our treasure; and to carry the cord. Perhaps you can begin to appreciate my consternation and concern.
And that’s not even the guest list, which I haven’t yet seen.
Certainly, I don’t presume to understand what all those functions mean, nor the significance they play in a wedding. What I will say is this; that you haven’t really experienced a wedding until you’ve been to a Filipino one. Or, in our case, the mere renewal of a wedding. I’ve been thinking a lot about what all that means, and the best I’ve come up with is this; that in a land where divorce is illegal, well, the damn wedding just better impress.
I’ve heard all the arguments, of course, regarding the alleged backwardness of the fact that the Philippines is virtually the world’s only remaining country still banning divorce. It’s oppressive to people – especially women – stuck in intolerable relationships. It enables bad men to abandon their families and bad women to stay with theirs. And, perhaps most damningly, it enshrines the power of the Church in a Third World country taking halting steps into First World modernity.
At the risk of being labeled hopelessly reactionary, however, let me just say this; I find all that refreshing. In a universe increasingly bereft of lifelong commitments to anything, let alone another person, I am comforted by even the symbology of a stance against divorce. And, even while recognizing that such a stance is likely to eventually crumble in the face of the seemingly rational arguments against it, well, the coming of that day is not one I celebrate.
All that said, I am by no means the poster boy for lifelong fidelity to marriage. Truth be told, the decade-long union soon to be commemorated before that grand mass of well-wishers on Siargao Island is not my first, but my third such union. Predictably, it will also be my last. And therein lies the irony; that, like so many of us, only by walking across the fiery coals of divorce have I finally come to fully value the cool embrace of marriage.
None of which, naturally, makes any difference to the Catholic priest who recently informed us that, because of my sordid marital history, he will not be able to officiate at our upcoming renewal of vows. More specifically, because my second marriage (to a Filipina in the Philippines, no less) was sanctified by the Church but undone only by a civil court in California, said Church still considers me married to my second wife.
We are appealing that decision on the grounds that next month’s ceremony will not be an actual wedding, but the renewal of one already long consummated and fully sanctioned. If that doesn’t work, well, there’s always the mayor.
Perhaps he will be the one to finally carry the cord that will bind us as one.
A former Los Angeles Times staff writer and winner of a 2018 Golden Mike award in radio broadcast journalism, David Haldane fell in love with the Philippines on his first visit there in 2003. A few visits later, he also fell in love with the beautiful young Filipina to whom he is now married and, with whom, he has returned many times. David has written extensively about his experiences in the Philippines for several publications including Orange Coast and Islands Magazine. Today he and Ivy, along with their eight-year-old son, Isaac, divide their time between homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Surigao City, Philippines. His award-winning memoir, Nazis & Nudists, recounts, among other things, the courtship of Ivy and finding a place to call home. For David that turned out to be at the tip of a peninsula marking the gateway to Mindanao where he and Ivy are building their dream home next to a lighthouse overlooking the sea. This blog is the ongoing chronicle of that adventure.