The author's parents on their wedding day. She made her own wedding dress and lost it.
Culture Spotlight

I was living in a man’s world and was okay with it—until my mother came along

The thing about strong women, they always choose the hard path. Celine Lopez writes about her complicated relationship with her mother—a model who left a glamorous life to run a home and her husband’s political career.
Celine Lopez | Mar 08 2019

Let’s be honest. Women’s Month is just a glaring reminder that in this Jetson-era of 2019, we haven’t fully bopped out of the glass ceiling yet. As we celebrate women, we are also still fighting for our rights in the best way women know how to—an iron fist in a velvet mitten.

The day Women’s Month ceases to exist, is the day we truly rejoice.

I grew up with men. My grandfather raised me from my first moment of consciousness. He was a man’s man. He was the full embodiment of the patriarchy. At that time the world I lived in was ok with that, until my mother came along.

 

My mother

She was a model who made her name in Europe. She was engaged to a German industrialist when she met my father in Manila. She went home to pack her things and move to Germany, and she never flew back. She married my dad a little shy of two years later. I asked once what possessed her to leave her dashing German beau (who by the way never ever got married because of heartbreak over my mother). “He would straighten up my toothbrush. I knew that was trouble,” she said. She wouldn’t let a man control her.

When my Lolo passed, I moved on to become an avowed Daddy’s girl. My dad was all fun. He never punished me. He never made me do chores. He let me eat chocolate for dinner. He always winked at me when I told my mom a lie to get out of trouble. He would always tell me to stop growing up. I now figure it was probably all he could handle. Amusing a docile ten year old was his limit for parenting. Yes, as a child I was docile.

My mom worked hard. She gave up a glamorous life in Europe and became the breadwinner for the family. My father worked for my grandfather but he earned something called—I’m not kidding—a milk allowance. It was enough to get our small family by. But my mother wanted more. She wanted more out of life. She wanted more for me and my brother. She wanted more for my father. She sold real estate, ran canteens in my grandfather’s buildings, and did the odd deal here and there.

When she saved up enough money, she funded my father’s first run for congress. My grandfather was gobsmacked. My dad has been known to be a party boy. My grandfather decided to sit this one out unconvinced of victory. Then daddy won.

 

Mother of all rows

Life changed. Suddenly dad got in the best committees and became my grandfather’s new favorite son. My mother was always in the background, wheeling and dealing. She encouraged my father to flourish at 50. It was the first time in his life where he felt purpose. My grandfather became more involved—I was still a Koala by his side. My mother who was a perennial bad cop to us kids, enjoyed a strained relationship with me. I had not seen or fully appreciated what she had sacrificed for us. For me she was always angry. It would take decades later for me to see what she had done for us. A hero. That’s what she was.

She was running our home and my father’s career, and for 20 years she only always had four hours of sleep. When we would go on holiday, she would be up all night cleaning or working. It was the only way she knew how to live.

On my dad’s third campaign my grandfather and my mom got into the mother of all rows. I don’t really remember what they fought about. All I remember was seeing my mother scream at my grandfather, “None of you can make Albertito win except for me.”

I immediately resented her. My dad just froze. She marched to her room and started packing. My grandfather tried to play it cool but he did know the truth: Dad wouldn’t win without my mother by his side. Despite his incredible influence, he knew my mother also walked with a big stick.

My grandfather made me spy and I reported that she was packing to leave for the States. He asked me to take him to her room and there he said sorry.

A lot of jaws dropped that day. My grandfather then and there saw her worth. Not only for my dad’s career in office, but for the dignity of his own family’s legacy. He had a son in politics. It was his greatest dream come true. He died a happy man largely because of this.

 

She wanted me to have the best life

When my grandfather died, I had to fully move back to my parents’ house, which was torture. There were the three of them: my mother, my father and my brother. I didn’t know how to catch up. I think I was also slightly being punished for leaving the nest. I know they tried not to but it’s hard to love a child reared by someone else.

My mother decided to send me to Switzerland for boarding school. I was kicking and screaming. I thought she just wanted to get rid of the bag of tension in the house. I still had my dad on my side though. Eventually they sent me to an all-girl’s Catholic school that I hated. I was so out of place that I had put on this fake persona just to fit in. Though I did make friends who I admire and respect up to this day, not a day goes by that I don’t regret going to Switzerland. I was a brooding and emotional teenager who came in very late into puberty; anything my mother tried to do for me was met with an anarchic response. I coudn’t see what she was trying to do for me. She wanted me to have the best life ever but I only saw all her efforts as punishment.

My parents ran their last campaign with both of them running for different districts. My mom won by a landslide, while my dad lost in his father’s turf. My father was heartbroken. My mother told everyone that she would finish all her projects and will retire from politics after. She chose her marriage.

To this day, my mother is the most devoted woman to my father. She was incredible in politics, she was feared and admired, but as a wife she is magnificent.

 

I am my mother

As I got older, my mother and I became the same person. We fought all the time. We never really hugged or said I love you. One time, after a huge argument I sent a psychologist to her house. ‘You’re crazy!’ I always thought.

I do now realize I was a brat.

I moved out as soon as I could afford to. We then started talking on the phone. Then I moved away, living in and out of the country in my 20s up to my early 30s. The distance made us closer to one another. It was only when I became a woman when I saw her as a formidable and extraordinary human being. 

She never breathed down my neck to get married. She tried to understand my life, one so far away and out of touch from hers. A few years ago she told me that she’s not sorry for being strict with me. She was proud of who I was, warts and all. I realized it wasn’t easy on her to be tough. It was a choice she consciously made everyday.

That’s the thing about strong women. The world can be hard on them. It’s not easy being boss. My mother chose the harder path to make life easier for the rest of us.