How I learned to take my own advice

Art by Maine Manansalan

My earliest memory of disobeying my parents was when I was four years old. It was my first time meeting my godparents who had just arrived from the US and they brought me a Little Mermaid doll as a present. They told me to say thank you but I couldn’t, not because I intentionally wanted to be rude, but because I was a painfully shy kid. How could I possibly start a conversation with people I’d never met before? My punishment was that I had to stay in my room by myself that night without my trusted yaya to keep me company.

I never really had any more acts of disobedience growing up — I got good grades, I was part of the varsity, I took classes in Kumon, I was home on time, I didn’t smoke, I didn’t get a tattoo and I didn’t have any boyfriends (ha!). I was an only child and I didn’t want to disappoint my parents. I was one of those kids who never really got a thrill from doing illegal things.

All this changed when it was time to choose which college I wanted to attend. I remember having decided on the University of the Philippines very early on. I would spend every single day studying for the UP College Admission Test (UPCAT), determined to leave my sheltered private all-girls school upbringing behind.

Parents may know best, but you’re always gonna know yourself better.

I will never forget the day my parents tried to convince me not to go to UP. They took me out to dinner at my favorite restaurant and after the plates were cleared, my dad took out his laptop and proceeded to present to me a list of reasons why I should go to Ateneo de Manila University instead. I felt betrayed. I felt like they should have told me about this early on — before all the wasted summer days, late nights, not to mention emotional stress I had to go through to get into my dream university. Determined to be the obedient child I always was, I went to Ateneo with P5,000 in hand to reserve my slot. I went as far as to stand in front of the cashier’s window when I realized that this wasn’t where I was supposed to be. Disobeying my parents, going to UP and taking up film was the first adult decision I ever had to make in my life.

In his scriptwriting manual called Trip to Quiapo, Ricky Lee compares writing and life to a trip to the old part of the city. He says that there are many ways to get to Quiapo. The first is the safest, fastest and most conventional way. The second takes a lot of time, with lots of twists and turns, but possibly results in a new path leading to Quiapo. The third eschews the idea of getting to Quiapo altogether and creates a new Quiapo instead.

If we asked our parents how to get to Quiapo, they would probably tell us to take the safest, fastest and easiest route. The problem with going down this path is that we will never get to carve out our own way to Quiapo. We will be walking down roads that have been used by countless others before us. It won’t teach us to be stronger, to make better decisions, or even have fun along the way. We will get to Quiapo and that’s it.

I often hear parents telling their children to avoid making their mistakes; it’s almost like we’re all in a Black Mirror episode where our parents get to relive their lives through us. But let’s face it, advice is a form of vanity and, oftentimes, advice is about the advice-giver more than the advice-receiver. Baz Luhrman says it well: “Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of wishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than its worth.”

Our parents give us the cheat sheet, the “get out of jail free” card, the episode spoilers when what we really need is to max out our lives, lose a turn here and there, and wait until we finish our homework before we find out what happens in this week’s episode. They give us all the answers even before we’ve even lived through the important questions: “This is what you should do for a living”; “This is the kind of person you should marry”; “This is the god you should believe in.”

Don’t get me wrong: I appreciate the little bits of wisdom my parents have bestowed upon me over the years; I appreciate all the effort they exerted to try to keep me on the easy path, the safe path, the tried-and-tested path. However, I feel like it’s a lot like a tennis player teaching me how to play basketball. The fundamentals are the same: discipline, focus, hard work, respect; but how you play the game is completely different. But what I’ve come to realize now, 11 years after I made my first adult decision, is that I didn’t want to go to Quiapo in the first place. I’m still in the process of figuring out where I want to go but I know my parents have given me the tools to help me get there.

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