Content warning: abuse, domestic violence
A week after Eraserheads guitarist Marcus Adoro’s domestic violence allegations resurfaced amid news of the band reuniting, the musician finally broke his silence. He penned an open letter to his daughter, the singer Syd Hartha, on Instagram.
The message begins with Adoro noting that he’s “lost contact with [his] daughter for years now,” and that he had tried to reach her via her manager but he was “not sure if [his] messages are getting through.” Not a great start.
“I’m far from perfect,” he writes, “kaya normal if you want nothing to do with me.” He then adds a plea to his daughter: “Sana lang magkaroon ng chance for redemption.”
There’s a lot to unpack from the open letter. There’s his self-description of being “far from perfect”—which neither confirms nor denies the domestic violence allegations and instead hints at a vague flawedness. How was he far from perfect, and what does he mean by redemption? When he says “I’m sorry for the ruckus I may have caused,” what exactly does he mean? What “ruckus” did he cause? We don’t know. It’s an admission without admitting to anything concrete.
In this three-paragraph open letter, we only see him address his daughter in the second paragraph. The first is not addressed towards her, but to the people reading it—she presumably already knows that they’ve lost contact. Meanwhile, the last paragraph is dedicated to thanking Eraserhead fans. It gives a sense that the post is not really for her, but for the audience.
Syd, along with Adoro’s ex-partner Barbara Ruaro, had first made the allegations in 2019. She detailed the physical and verbal abuse she allegedly faced at the hands of her father on social media pages. Meanwhile, Ruaro posted bruised photos of herself, though she did not immediately name her abuser.
As of writing, Syd has not responded to the open letter. Meanwhile, Ruaro wrote “an apology shouldn’t cost millions of pesos. Sincerity can’t be bought,” on Twitter.
Adoro has since privated his account.
What do children owe their parents?
Adoro’s plea for redemption and Dennis Padilla’s tirade against his own daughter Julia Barretto last week is making us ask: What do children owe their parents?
If you’re not Filipino, it might be easy to say “not a single thing,” that children don’t owe their parents anything, that in fact we don’t owe anyone anything. But humans are communal beings, and we Filipinos recognize that intuitively. We recognize that we do, actually, owe each other a lot. So when it comes to topics of abuse or neglect, it’s harder for us to draw the line. And even when we do, it’s just as hard to justify doing so. How many people came to Padilla’s defense and chastised Barretto over the years for not respecting her father? Or Marcus to Syd Hartha?
The key concept here is utang ng loob, the idea that we have a debt of gratitude towards the people who’ve supported us. You helped me in my time of need, and I will never forget it and I will work to reciprocate it. In some ways, there’s something beautiful about the concept inasmuch as what it says about how we view community. Giving back is a noble thing.
But it’s different when utang ng loob is enforced and seen as mandatory. It’s no longer something freely given, but contractual: I do this for you, and now you do this for me. Unfortunately, that’s how many Filipino parents view parenthood: I do all these things for my children so that they will repay me later on. It’s more of an investment than anything else.
Merge that with already distorted ideas of respect. The distortion: Respecting your elders is a good and honorable thing, no questions asked. But what about elders who hurt you or the people around you? Why should elders be owed respect if they have not earned it? Respect is not mindless.
When you mix the two together, you get: I am your parent, so you must respect me. By virtue of you being born through me, you owe me. Nothing about what they’ve actually done to their child, or what abuse or neglect the child has suffered because of them.
And so, even when a parent has mostly abandoned their child, or even abused them, they still believe they are owed forgiveness, respect, or even a shot at redemption. And the abused child’s social relationships are more likely than not going to support the parent’s bid for forgiveness exactly because they are the parent. Even after all he’s done, that’s still your father.
But isn’t that asking too much from the victim? Why should the parent be granted the grace of redemption, while the child has to deal with the pain and trauma of abuse as well as the burden of forgiveness? The child should be allowed to say “actually, no thank you, get out of my life,” to deny their parent forgiveness and heal the way they want to. But culture and social pressure and ideas of honor and respect say otherwise.
Of course, this is not exactly a uniquely Filipino thing. Slate, speaking to an American audience, talks about how an abused adult’s social relationships will often urge them to forgive their parental abusers. However, it tends to be framed a little differently—forgive them as self-care. “Loved ones and friends—sometimes even therapists—who urge reconnecting with a parent often speak as if forgiveness will be a psychic aloe vera, a balm that will heal the wounds of the past. They warn of the guilt that will dog the victim if the perpetrator dies estranged.”
That is just as pernicious because it makes the victim believe that forgiving their abuser is essential for their wellbeing. Though framed as self-care, it’s still putting a heavy burden on the victim.
So where do we go from here?
We can start with doing away with enforced respect and utang ng loob. We’re not saying do away with respect and utang ng loob entirely, but stop thinking of it as mandatory. If enforced, it’s a shackle. If not, it can be freely given, a gift.
Because in truth, the answer to the question “do children owe their parents anything?” should be “no,” even with children who didn’t have harmful or neglectful parents. Children didn’t ask to be born, didn’t ask to take on the pain of being alive. You should not be born with debt already in your hands. Filipino babies are already born with a P120,000 debt to the country, do not add more to that child’s already heavy burden.
But many children are grateful to have been born and been raised anyways, even in not wholly positive ways. Many, if they are able to, are willing and happy to pay it back. However, forcing them to pay your investment can turn them away and make them unwilling to show that gratitude. No one wants to feel like they’re a captive animal bred only for what they could give their owner.
This will ultimately help both children in healthy relationships with their parents and those with abusive ones. It will flourish the relationship of the former, while parental abuse survivors will not have to grapple with the people around them forcing them to forgive their abusers, to be silent about the abuse “kasi mapapahiya ’yung magulang mo.”
Ultimately, children, especially children with abusive parents, should be allowed to choose to turn away from their parents, to harbor that resentment, to make them pay. Parental obligation is not a two-way street. A parent is obliged to raise their child with love. A child should not be expected to raise their parent as well.
Art by Ella Lambio
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