Monday, June 27, 2011

The Perfect Child

(This is the first chapter of my latest book project entitled Blessing or Bane: The Ups and Downs of Being a Pastor's Kid)

Anak ka pa naman ng pastor! These words, perhaps, can never have an accurate translation in English! It is so loaded with meaning in Filipino that English would not be able to fully express all that it connotes. Perhaps the closest would be: You are a pastor’s kid, you should be a perfect child! Of course, translators would agree that this is not how it should be rendered; but that was exactly how it meant to me as I grew up as a pastor’s daughter.

As little girls, my sister Faith and I always looked at our father as Papa—someone who readily played with us during the day and left at night in his barong and big black Bible in hand. To those around us, he was Pastor Ed.

It took us a while before we finally understood that the man in a white long sleeved barong who stood in the pulpit Sunday after Sunday was the same man who rolled on the floor with us on regular days. It took us a while, too, before we understood that Papa’s vocation had as much impact on us as it had on him. And that was, we had to be perfect, at least in the eyes of the members of his congregation.

Every Sunday, before leaving the house, my mom would brief my sister and me. “Remember, when we are in church, you go straight to Sunday school. When you’re class is done, don’t run around the church. Don’t play. And don’t be noisy. Don’t fight. Remember, your Papa is the pastor. You should set an example because you are his kids.” Though my mom didn’t exactly say it, but I had the impression that we aren’t supposed to get our dresses dirty, too. I remember watching other kids in church playing piko[1] and wondering how much fun it could have been to hop like a princess in my pop sleeved balloon dress. The one time I dared to try and enjoy with other kids after Sunday school, a church leader came up to me and reprimanded me for my loud voice. Then I remembered, I wasn’t supposed to play. I was the pastor’s kid.

By the time I was eight years old, I had believed that my role in the church was to be the epitome of perfection for other kids to emulate. The pastor’s kid was not supposed to figure into any trouble. In my eyes, running around the sanctuary was sin. Getting sweaty on a Sunday morning for playing tag was unacceptable. Showing restlessness when my Sunday school teacher was boring was not allowed.

Very soon, I had a fishbowl existence. My every move was dependent on what other people would say. Words that I said had to be carefully chosen lest I be reported to the pastor (my father) and be heavily reprimanded at home. Pastor pa naman si Papa kept repeating in my head. I remember, growing up in a church environment meant not being able to laugh my heart out. It meant not being able to dance like a little ballerina (and I loved to dance!). It meant not being able to do what “ordinary children” could or are allowed to do. I was expected to behave myself. I was a pastor’s kid. And to a certain degree, it meant growing up too soon.

[1] Hop scotch