CEBU CITY, Philippines — Father’s Day has always been an eagerly anticipated celebration, cherished by fathers around the world. It serves as a time for recognition, paying tribute to the “haligi ng tahanan,” for their selfless sacrifices that shape the very foundation of their families.
However, while Father’s Day traditionally celebrates the male parents within families, it is important to recognize that this day extends its appreciation to anyone who fulfills the role of a father figure, regardless of gender or biological ties.
‘Ate Bulilit’, polio survivor
An inspiring example of this is Ma. Cristina Maambong. This 50-year-old small and somewhat frail woman is called “Ate Bulilit” due to her size. Aside from that, she is also a polio survivor and is wheelchair-bound.
What makes this woman with a disability from Belgium Street, Barangay Suba, Cebu City stand out is that she defied societal norms by embracing the roles of being a mother and father to her niece, Chiarra Dale Maambong.
Roles that she ably played despite her physical limitations. She carried the burdens of two parents to care for and send her niece to school, who eventually graduated and found a job at present as a call center agent.
Polio survivor’s parenting journey
Looking back, Ate Bulilit and her niece’s journey started when the latter’s parents — Ate Bulilit’s brother and her partner — separated when her niece was still a young child.
Her brother entrusted her niece to Ate Bulilit’s parents to care of her.
Her niece’s mother left for good, while the father started a new family and faced unemployment, leaving him unable to support his daughter.
When Ate Bulilit’s father passed away during her niece’s elementary school years, she witnessed the challenges faced by her elderly mother. And so, she decided to ease the burden of her mother and took on the job of caring for her niece.
“Atong panahona wala gyud ko kahibawo unsaon nako siya pagpadako. Ang akoa lang gyud kay andam ko maningkamot bisan pa man polio ko,” said Ate Bulilit.
(During that time, I really didn’t know how to raise her, but all I knew was that I would do my best to work hard, despite being polio-affected)
Polio survivor’s livelihood
Despite the physical limitations imposed by her condition, Ate Bulilit has found the strength to pursue a livelihood that suits her abilities — selling food. From managing a small sari sari store to offering affordable beverages and fruits priced at just P5 to P10, she worked hard to meet the needs and wants of her niece.
“Sa una maninda ra ko para kalingawan pero sukad naabot siya, tanan nakong pangwartaan para jud niya. Kutob sa akong makaya, akong buhaton kay giila ko niya nga ginikanan” said Ate Bulilit.
(Before, I used to engage in selling as a hobby, but ever since she came, I have dedicated all my earnings for her sake. I will do everything within my capacity for her because she considers me as her parent)
On fulfilling her roles
When asked about how she was able to fulfill the dual roles of mother and father despite lacking prior experience, she humbly credits her success to the examples set by her own parents.
“Ang akong pamaagi sa pagpadako ni Dale susama ra sa giunsa ko pagpadako sa akong mama ug papa. Kung akong mama kay mapalanggaon ug akong papa kay strikto, kana pud akong gipakita niya,” said Ate Bulilit.
(My way of raising Dale is just like how my mother and father raised me. If my mother was loving and my father was strict, that’s what I also showed her)
However, Ate Bulilit, like any other parent, acknowledges that raising a child is far from easy.
As a single, disabled parent, she faces twice the challenges. She expressed that taking on the role of a father presented her with distinct challenges. She emphasized the need to stay strong and strict, serving as a protector and imparting discipline to her niece.
She recalls such hardship from the past when she had to muster strength to shield her niece from bullies, despite her own condition. When it comes to discipline, she also has to remain firm and strict, even if it means denying her niece’s desires at times.
“Since ako ra man usa bisag lisod dapat lang ipakita nako nga isog ko. Ipakita nako nga bisag way papa si Dale mabuhat ra na nako nga protektahan siya ug madisiplina siya og tarong…ipakita nako nga dili babag ang akong pagkababae ug pagka-polio para di na mabuhat ang mga butang nga mabuhat sa mga amahan sa ilang anak,” said Ate Bulilit.
(Since I am alone, even though it’s difficult, I must show that I am strong. I must show that even without a father, I can protect and discipline Dale properly… I must show that being a woman and having polio does not hinder me from doing the things that a father can do for his children),
Strong, responsible woman
Through her firmness and guidance, Ate Bulilit added that it has shaped her niece into a strong and responsible woman.
Her niece successfully graduated from college, secured a high-paying job in a call center, and now has become her own protector.
This is further affirmed by her niece herself, who credits Ate Bulilit as the main reason for her current success.
“Dako akong pasalamat sa iyaha…siya jud ang nag guide og napadako sa akoa and di ko kaimagine kung unsa akong life if sa lain ko nagdako,” said her niece.
(I am deeply grateful to her… she truly guided and raised me, and I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I had grown up with someone else.)
‘Ginikanan sa tanan’
Indeed, Ate Bulilit’s love and resilience shattered the notion that her own condition as a polio survivor could ever hinder her ability to be an exceptional parent.
According to Ate Bulilit, she considers her mission as a parent to her niece to be the utmost purpose in her life. However, she emphasizes that her role does not end there.
Today, Ate Bulilit continues to have a profound impact on others, which brings her immeasurable joy and satisfaction in life.
According to her neighbor, Anna Marie Odto, she is regarded as the “ginikanan sa tanan (parent to all)” because of her willingness to assist anyone who seeks her help, whether it’s for emotional or financial support.
“Bisag kinsay pangutan-on maduolan ra gyod na si Ate Bulilit sa tanan. Labi na sa mga problema, willing na siya maminaw ug motabang, usahay gani siya pa mismo motunol kung naa lang na siyay kwarta,” said Odto.
(No matter who you ask, Ate Bulilit is very approachable to everyone, especially in problems, she is willing to listen and help, sometimes even offering her own financial assistance if she has the means.)
With Ate Bulilit, one can see that the true essence of fatherhood is not defined merely by bloodlines or gender, but instead resides within the depths of our genuine hearts.