Bernardo M. Villegas
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Conjugal Fidelity and Children Welfare (Part 1)

          During the Christmas break in December 2017, I was highly entertained by a film produced by ABS-CBN Film Productions and directed by award-winning Cathy Garcia-Molina. “Seven Sundays”, which earned P180 million in 18 days when it opened in October 2017, was a hilarious comedy drama film starring Ronaldo Valdez, Aga Mulach, Dingdong Dantes, Cristine Reyes and Enrique Gil.  The film story centers on the joys and travails in a family in which the father is a widower who feels emotionally abandoned by his four children who are too busy with their respective individual concerns that they cannot even attend his birthday celebration.  One day, the lonely parent—still pining for his late wife—reveals to his children that he has been diagnosed with cancer and has only seven weeks to live.  This sad news convinced the four children to reunite and help each other in order to spend their father’s remaining days with him, agreeing to visit their father for all the remaining Sundays of his life.

         Beside the good acting and directing, what attracted me to the film was the perennial theme of a family adversely affected by a parent spending some years as an overseas worker with the consequent psychological impact on the children left behind.  The father spent several years in the Middle East during the time that his children were growing up.  The youngest, Dex (played by Enrique Gil) was the one who suffered most from the absence of the father (played by Ronaldo Valdez).  Missing parental guidance and supervision, he drifted in his studies and never obtained a college degree.  He got into trouble with the law because of imprudent business decisions he made.

     There is a flash back to the time the father worked as an OFW.  Realizing that his children were missing him, the father did cut short his years working abroad and decided to come home and invested part of his savings in a neighborhood store run by his eldest son (played by Aga Mulach).  This decision was secretly resented by the second eldest son (played by Dindong Dantes) who decided to pursue his own career separately from the family business and succeeded so well that he became a top corporate executive. The family situation was complicated by the early demise of the mother.  Upon his return to the Philippines, the father had to be both father and mother to his children.  There are important lessons here for the millions of parents who are forced to work abroad for economic reasons as well as for parents who are fortunate enough to stay home to take care of their children.  Whatever the situation, parents must make time to be the closest friends of their children so that they are able to address in a timely manner any inner hurt or depressive mood that young people feel as a result of feeling neglected, marginalized or discriminated against by their own parents and siblings.  Many of the confrontations towards the end of this family drama could have been avoided if the siblings had an opportunity to unburden themselves to their father and to one another when they were younger instead of keeping their inner resentment to themselves, as they did in the story.

         There is, however, a part of the plot that I found unrealistic.  It is the case of the only daughter Cha (played by Cristine Reyes) who married a philanderer, despite the early warnings of the siblings.  According to the plot, she continues to tolerate her unfaithful husband because “he is a good father to the children.”  This is highly improbable in real life.  A spouse who is habitually unfaithful can never be a good parent.  The greatest need of children is to see the mutual love that exists between their parents.   From my many decades of mentoring adolescents and yuppies, I have realized that one of the greatest sources of psychological or mental instability among the youth is lack of unity between the mother and the father, made even worse by the actual breakdown of the marriage.  Cha was kidding herself about the positive influence of her unfaithful husband on their children.  Fortunately, at the end she was finally convinced by her siblings to send  the scoundrel  out of their conjugal home. 

         Children are very sensitive to how they perceive the relations between their parents.  There is a cardinal rule in marital relations that parents should never fight in front of their children if they know what is good for their psychological stability.  I can never forget watching a video of St. Josemaria Escriva, Founder of Opus Dei, who spent much time giving doctrinal and spiritual guidance to married couples.  He advised them to avoid like the plague quarrelling before their children.  He further added that if, because of human weakness, marital spats cannot be entirely avoided, the parents should at least make an effort to postpone venting their anger at one another when they are alone.  Then he added that they should not let the day end without making up and asking forgiveness from one another.  (To be continued).