It’s Summertime!

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE
Philippine Star
March 11, 2007

It’s that time of the year again and I can’t help but smile at the memory of it. At the onset of summer, I can’t help but think of the time-honored rite of passage young boys in the Philippines will be undergoing.

When I was a kid, there was an ad that appeared in the papers as early as March that read, “It’s summertime! We offer painless, bloodless circumcision, tule.” It was posted by Dr. Garma’s Clinic in Cubao and it instilled terror in many young boys who shuddered at the prospect of having their foreskins surgically removed, even if it was supposedly ‘painless and bloodless’, as the ad claimed. After all, circumcision strikes at the heart of manhood and all of its Freudian implications.

I was eight years old. My brother Gabby, who is four years older, grimly announced to me and my younger brother Raffy that we were going to be circumcised that summer. I remember being in the shower and taking a deep breath as I swallowed my fear even as tears flowed down my cheeks. My brother Raffy screamed in terror and tried to bargain for another year before undergoing ‘the cut’. After all, he was only seven years old.

The doctor who was going to do the procedure was a family friend, a genial man named Dr. Jimmy Rivera whom we privately called “Doctor Scissors’ because he had also circumcised two of my older brothers. He was kind and friendly, doing house calls when we were sick and looking after the health of the family. But to Raffy and me, his friendly and reassuring demeanor completely vanished overnight, at least in our eyes. All of a sudden, we feared him. The very mention of his name struck absolute fear in our hearts.

I remember having sleepless nights before the procedure. But on the day itself, I surprised myself when I meekly volunteered to go first, even as I let out a big scream when the first injection penetrated my flesh. That must have hexed Raffy big time since he started yelling even before it was his turn, trying to convince Doctor Scissors to delay the procedure shouting, “Next year na lang, Doc!

That summer stands out in my memory as an important year when I experienced the same rite of passage my kuyas had gone through. Being circumcised was a big deal. I felt big and strong like them and even if I was not yet a man, I felt I was on the way to being one.

It’s funny how the simple cutting of the foreskin can mean so much to a boy. Years later, I discovered why that small procedure has such important significance. Definitely, it is intrinsically linked with being a grown man. Reading Joseph Campbell, I found out that earlier tribes in many cultures established the practice of flagellation of young boys for a logical purpose. Mutilation changed them. The very act changed their appearance and the ritual itself converted them psychologically. It signaled that they were now young men.

But why did they punish their young bodies with piercing (as in tattoos, earrings, wounds, scars and the like)? The reason was so that their own mothers, who were their primary care givers would not ‘recognize’ them, since they now looked different. Gone is the boy. He has become a man and therefore must now look like a man and behave like one. It’s an elaboration on the theme of the death of innocence. The infliction of pain is the gateway to the adult world.

When I had my own son, I made sure he went through the same ritual my brothers and I did. I was lucky that his pediatrician immediately discouraged early circumcision since I had decided to make the event a bonding experience between us when he came of age. And that is exactly how it turned out when he went through it the summer when he was 11. He went through the whole gamut of emotions — anticipation, dread and excitement. After the procedure, which earned him a Playstation from an uncle, there was a noticeable confidence and pride about him, the same feelings I remember having many summers ago.

If you think that I am batting for the late circumcision, you are correct. Whatever medical reasons there may be for circumcision at birth, I believe that it deprives our sons of an important experience when we succumb to the practicality of getting it over with before they can even feel the pain. I suspect that when we deprive them of this rite of passage, they grow up less sure of themselves and their place in the world. At the very least, when boys are circumcised at birth, they and their parents lose a great opportunity to bond later on.

Rituals are important. When I was in grade school, we had to wait till Grade Four before we could wear long pants. In my family, we had to wait to be 18 before we could drive. There were clear markers and delineations that put us in a sure place even before we crossed them. It was clear exactly when we became ‘adults’ – when we ‘earned’ the status. The world itself confirmed it with its rituals.

So much is lost when we make it too easy for our kids by giving them forged licenses to drive, allowing them to take alcohol too early, showering them with too much material goods or becoming overprotective. We undermine their growth when we shortcut the protocols or worse, ignore the rituals they need to assure them of where they are in the world.

The problem lies in the fact that so many rituals have become meaningless and not enough new ones are taking their place. For example, the debut, which announces the coming of age for young women, is fast fading away.
Some old rituals are mutating to new expressions which we can only begin to recognize and make sense of by paying attention.

For example, Joseph Campbell suspects that teenagers are getting their bodies tattooed and pierced for the same age-old reason that earlier tribes and cultures did. They are announcing to the world through self-mutilation that they are no longer children. They are now part of the tribe of people their age. They are letting us know that they no longer want to be part of the safe and innocent cradle of mother and father and childhood. And true to form as the archetypal parents, we are ‘shocked’ since we do not ‘recognize’ our own children when they do it.

If we don’t give our children the opportunity to grow up and find their place through the rituals of entering adulthood, they will go and create their own rituals that mean something to them and their milieu.

So to all my fellow parents, especially fathers, who will be bringing their sons to Doctor Scissors this summer, this is one of those times when it’s all right to make a Big Deal of a small matter. ###

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pen
pen
14 years ago

Hah! Now this reminds me of my share of volunteering in Operation: TULE in our barangay. We did this every year up until 7 years ago [one by one, the doctors in our civic group left for other countries… so what else is new?]

We also gave free dental check-ups and some other doctor consultations on the side. Napaka-overwhelming ng dami ng tao who comes to these programs. Mapapa-isip ka talaga kung gaano kalaki ng pagkukulang natin sa health sector.

MelaCane
MelaCane
14 years ago

Hello Jim,

Since I am a girl I won’t be able to agree or disagree. The only association I have with the matter is when I made a barista turn crimson red when I mentioned the word in front of him (I was discussing it with my younger cousin who told me about my younger brother’s tule.)

bu
bu
14 years ago

.. one of the many reasons why i am glad to be a female! 🙂

cheers, mr jim..

Jim
Jim
14 years ago

Funny. All my commenters are women so far.

uleb
uleb
14 years ago

Naalala ko nung bata tayo, we write/draw on walls to claim them as ours. At 22, I had my navel pierced. Hindi dahil rebelde ako sa mga magulang ko pero may psychological effect siya sakin na tuwing makikita ko siya, I remind myself na I have claimed my life as my own. No one to blame. Btw, para sa mga nagpatule, ano ang nagagawa ng pagnguya ng dahon ng bayabas habang tinutule? I still don’t know how that helps them ease the pain. To keep them busy? hehe.

Lara
Lara
14 years ago

“So much is lost when we make it too easy for our kids by giving them forged licenses to drive, allowing them to take alcohol too early, showering them with too much material goods or becoming overprotective. We undermine their growth when we shortcut the protocols or worse, ignore the rituals they need to assure them of where they are in the world.”

I agree. I think this is why some children “rebel” or, as uleb nicely put it, claim their lives as their own. I’m 25 and have overprotective parents. I’m rarely given the opportunity to truly get out there, bruise myself and make my own mistakes. They probably don’t understand the purpose of that particular “ritual”. As such, I find myself uncertain in many situations, not knowing my place and unsure of my capabilities. I’m still a teenager in an adult’s body, and it’s extremely frustrating! I have little victories, though, like eating isaw haha.

Can’t say much re: tule, girl din ako eh.

Edong
Edong
14 years ago

ok, i’m breaking the silence…

Yes, ‘tule’ is one of the stressful stages of boyhood next to marriage… hehe, it is the borderline between being a lad and an adult, therefore, crossing that borderline is not that easy. Being under a lot of stress and pressure in that early stage of your development is an experience you would not want to miss, as well as you would not want to experience, and that’s the beauty of it all.

I was not surprised when I saw most of the comments here were from girls, who were curious enough to know the details. (Uleb, the chewing of guava leaves during circumcision helps a lot, believe me…). However, I personally think, that guys are not comfortable in sharing their ‘tule’ experience with the other girls whom they hardly knew about.

In the case of Sir Jim, ‘tule’ was not the topic, it was just a profound example to emphasize his point. True enough, he got his audience thinking, imagining and smiling… hehe.

fj7000
fj7000
14 years ago

i witnessed quite a few of these rituals while a young kid in mandaluyong. sa likod namin ay bukid (na puro bahay ngayon) at doon ang tule-an.

i agree it’s a bonding between dad and son. it’s one experience that the son will never forget and he will always remember that his dad was on his side at this unforgetable moment in his life.

in Blacktown (NSW), a Filipino doctor, Dr. Torrevillas did it for my 2 sons and to hundreds of boys for many many years. forget his real name – he’s now the popular Dr. Tule-villas.

Cheers!

Ayi Magno
Ayi Magno
14 years ago

Yes, you’re so correct. It’s a very important rite of passage for boys and an event that dads look forward to with their sons. I was ten when the Dr. Garma you mentioned was the one who did the procedure to my twin brother and me. It was the same summer too when most of the boys my age in our neighborhood underwent the same ritual and acquired the same bragging rights. I can’t say the same with my own son but if we were living in the Philippines, there is no doubt he would have that experience. It’s just that convenience won over tradition.

Re. my experience, I guess the most painful thing is when the nurse started peeling and pulling the bandage away for re-dressing some days after the ‘tule’ without holding down my ‘thing’. I thought I’m going to lose my manhood and all will turn into naught.

Nicholas
Nicholas
14 years ago

Sorry Jim, can’t relate with this one. I was circumcised after undergoing surgery, so I was out like a rock…

but, I understand that there are certainly rites of passage that are important.

The most important, I would assume is that of gradually taking on more responsibilities..

Fear not ladies, a rite of passage can be anything that has been passed down through the years, or you can even start your very own… As long as it’s important, and is truly a celebration of that moment…

Something that each generation has added to.. it’s the moment, the experience, and the close bonding of generations that is important..

Gretch
Gretch
14 years ago

sya din kaya yung Dr. Garma na laging may ad sa tabloid specializing in STD? hehehe

Doranne
Doranne
14 years ago

Phew!
So glad to have a vagina!:)

kat
kat
14 years ago

I remember the summer when my brother (the first of three) underwent circumsicion. It was also about the same time my cousin first got her period, so the family was busy looking after the both of them. Double rites of passage, you could say. My dad took care of my brother, while my mom took care of my cousin. Me? I just stood there grinning like an idiot at the turn of events. 😀

GREG
GREG
14 years ago

Hi,Jim,

I’m a huge fan!

Now, you must have heard that a million times, and hey, you will probably hit a zillion tomorrow during your coffee break! Youbetyourcincongduling, it’s not going to stop with me, dawg!

You must love those furry and hairy friend of ours! I mean, the dogs, askals. You love dogs, di ba?

Here’s shooting for the star. Maybe you’d like to visit my organization’s website: http://www.animalkingdomfounddation.org and while you’re at it you can give a worthwhile glance my BLOG: allaskalsgotoheaven.blogspot.com.

Ha! Maybe next time? You sure love those hairy and furry-friend of ours, di ba? I mean the SOBs in the government who are doing nothing to strop the evil dog-trade in this doggone country of ours. Man, i’m cool,dawg…

Thanks for making yourself accessible, mon!

By the way, you love Earl Klugh, right? When are you going to turn jazzy to all of us, Jim? I mean, you can play jazz with your classical guitar, right? Who has done that here?

You’re d’ man!

Bow-wow-wow!

Greg

Anonymous
Anonymous
14 years ago

Hello Jim,
My son wont be able to experience that, since he was just circumcised last year, even if he was just 3 years old, because he is phimotic.
In the future,maybe his dad and I can think of something that could be similar to your experience, that would give him the opportunity to feel that he has grown up already.
-c-

Jim
Jim
14 years ago

uleb–They chew on bayabas and use it as an antiseptic down there together with salt water from the sea.

lara–A psychiatrist I know once out it simplistically but powerfully when she said that, ‘for young boy to become a man, he must break his mother’s heart.’ Everyone eventually has to come into his/her own regardless of how the world thinks if one is to matter at all, di ba?

edong–True. The whole idea of rituals was the point.Nothing like using ‘sex’ to get everyone interested. ha ha.

fj7000–that’s funny.

ayi magno–at last! a real live Garma graduate. Was it really painless and bloodless? Yes, the bandage thing really sucks!

nicholas–absolutely! But even if you were asleep, you still had to deal with it later on since it does not heal instantly, di ba?

gretch–yes, he is THE ONE.

Doranne–ha ha. believe me you look better with it.

kat– That’s how my sisters felt too.

greg– actually I’m not an animal lover, not in the sense that I like to pet and care for them. I do care though about their humane treatment.

anonymous–make sure Dad finds a substitute later on fort the loss of bonding opportunity, Believe me, it is important.

orangebloom
orangebloom
14 years ago

thanks for this very enlightening article. as a mom of a 9 yr old who’s soon to undergo this ritual, i now better understand my husband’s insistence that he be with his son when that event happens. he is an ofw and i simply thought it impractical that we have to time it when he’s around (which is never during summertime, the “tule” season). it never dawned on insensitive me that i would rob the 2 of them of this most precious bonding opportunity. this is such an eye-opener.

JT of Dural
JT of Dural
14 years ago

Sir Jim,

This is where I will agree to disagree. I’ve done some research and in some I read, modern society “invented” circumcisions to reduce sexual pleasure for men. May nabasa ako na 20x ang sexual pleasure sa mga “intact.”

In this light, I’m supporting a movement which is finding ways and means to get our foreskin back. That’s right, folks, someday we will invent a FORESKIN IMPLANT!

Sa mga nais sumali sa amin, flick me an email on JohnnyThor at Hotmail dot com and I will give you links to the movement. Don’t worry, folks, this movement is still a bit in the underground kasi natatakot ang mga miembro na baka pagtawanan o tuligsain sila ng mga pro-tuli! Your details will be treated with utmost confidentiality!

Iyon lang, sir! 🙂

-JT of Dural
City.boy.na.ngayon

Jim
Jim
14 years ago

jt–There’s a doctor in the Philippines who specializes in circumcision who opened a line of bags. You can purchase a wallet made of foreskin but if you rub it, it becomes a maleta. ha ha

orangebloom–I hope your son and his dad enjoy their bonding.

Von
Von
14 years ago

Hi Jim,

Tungkol sa tule…there’s bragging rights and then there’s bragging rights. Sa probinsiya namin, a boy who has it done by a doctor, with anaesthesia and “full cut” style – walang bragging rights. Ang tunay na tule (daw), pupunta ka sa ilog at magbababad ng madaling araw hanggang mamanhid ka (or so you hope). Then the tule man comes with his labaha, spreads the foreskin over an L-shaped piece of wood that you have previously prepared and with a few taps on the blunt edge of the labaha, you are done! Tapos iluluwa mo na yong bayabas para hindi ma-infect. What remains after that is several days of wearing a “saya” and being “nangangamatis”. Masaya!

Jim
Jim
14 years ago

von–ganoon nga daw sa probinsiya. If one goes through that, dapat lang may bragging rights siya. Parang rites to being a warrior di ba? No pain, no gain talaga!

Von
Von
14 years ago

Jim, napag-uusapan na rin lang ang rituals…Another aspect of the probinsiya-style of tule (compared to Dr Garma) is that it is actually done in public. All the other boys who are having tule on that day, and anybody else who cares to come to the ilog, are there to witness your agony. So meron din pasikatan kung sino ang mau-unang maglakas-loob. And if others are done before you, you actually see how painful it was for them…he-he lalo kang kakabahan.

meannlim
meannlim
14 years ago

hi Jim!
i am a fan and i grew up listening to your music! and now my son listens to your music with a twist..thanks to the new bands that popped out! believe me i love your version!
well just to let you know..i have an 11 year old son and we really scheduled his “tule” right after school and that was last wednesday. we were already at CGH with my cousin-in-law/surgeon (as dr. scissors) as early as 7 am. it was fast and it only took about 30 minutes for the whole procedure. but yes the bonding is really good..sadly the dad cannot go with us for he dreads the sight of blood..but he is there for him most of the time and talks about THE rite of passage…
i had to tell my son to talk to classmates to tell him how painless or painful it will be. i cannot sugar coat the procedure..i want him to face this with a brave heart. and yes i believe they have to learn the hard way now to make it easy for them later on…there should be no short cuts!
well now my son is now on his way to recovery…and will soon be having his try outs for the school varsity and i would always be there to cheer for him on the sidelines…
your blog is just so fun to read!!

me ann parungao-lim

krangsquared
krangsquared
14 years ago

Wow, hindi ako maka-relate. Mainly because there are a helluva lot of other ways that father and son can bond together, ways that don’t involve cutting into their penis.

And I just had to shake my head when you said “it deprives our sons of an important experience when we succumb to the practicality of getting it over with before they can even feel the pain” I thought that was the whole point of having doctors, medicine and stuff – avoiding pain!

“The infliction of pain is the gateway to the adult world.” – if that is the case, then all university graduates should undergo at least one serious hazing or torture incident, just in case they haven’t yet undergone any rape/ beating/ stabbing by the time they’re twenty. That’ll ensure we get mature, “real” adults! None of these softie, softie iPod-toting dorks that have never felt the joy of police brutality or military interrogation.

Maybe I’ve been away from Philippine society for too long, and don’t really have any more appreciation on the so-called advantages the “tuli” have over the “supots”. I remember we used to make fun of our classmates in grade school who were “supot”, but years later I started to change my views, as I couldn’t find a reason WHY it was so important. It’s a cultural practice, that’s all, and in most parts of the world it’s already in decline. (not that I’m saying we should do it less just to follow the rest of the world)

Really, if you think about it, isn’t it just a milder form of genital mutilation? We proclaim shock and horror when girls have their clitoris forcibly removed in Africa, but in the Philippines, we have no such qualms over boys getting their foreskins cut solely for the sake of tradition.

I see your point about the possible need for rituals in general, and how they signify to us the transition through different stages of life, but please, let us have rituals that actually make sense, and don’t involve inflicting unnecessary pain upon the human body. I would like to think we have moved on from the practices of flagellating young boys into manhood.

Jim
Jim
14 years ago

Hazing, oddly enough is a ritual to manhood as well although the problem is excess. That’s why it needs to be regulated. And for the record, I never was for hazing, although some people I have met who have gone through it tell me that there is a big psychological achievement they felt.

Certain rituals such as circumcision (for boys) are pfrecisely ritualized with the help of medicine so that it does not become excessive.

And I do believe dealing with pain (which is something we must do all throughout life) is a life skill. We can’t shield our kids from it.And rituals help us deal with it.

While a lot of the rituals are primitive and savage in the eyes of modern people who strive for an ideal life that is as painless as possible, people need pain and do look for it. In fact, if we shield our children from it, they will look for it themselves. Look at all the kids with tattoos, nose, nipple, belly rings and other forms of mutilation. Deep down, we do need that tribal bonding, and for many cultures circumcision still has a place.

I am aghast at female circumcision, as I am aghast at American football and the need for Americans to own guns and kill innocent animals. They are all forms of violence. But if a culture feels they need it, who am I to say otherwise. The best we can do is convince them to do something else but that’s entirely their call. Each to his own level of development. Hopefully, something ‘benign’ takes its place.

You are right. It is not the only way to bond between father and son. But it works. If you can find me a ritual that is as ‘freudianly’ basic that ‘introduces’ a boy to manhood better than this, let me know. Taking a kid to whorehouse does not count. heh heh

Gay
Gay
14 years ago

This reminds me of my male cousins talking about the ritual of circumcision, sharing what happened when they were younger. The last time we talked about that in the family was a few years ago,for the last batch of the younger generation. It will be another few years before we have that again

Glad I found your blog. I missed reading the Philippine Star for a several weeks. Need some catching up!

krangsquared
krangsquared
14 years ago

If you can find me a ritual that is as ‘freudianly’ basic that ‘introduces’ a boy to manhood better than this, let me know. Taking a kid to whorehouse does not count. heh heh

Hey, no fair! I would say that is a more pleasurable form of initiation. No, I’m sorry, that’s wrong. Exploitation yon, especially in the Philippine context. And can you imagine father and son doing the same… ugh!

I would suggest a replacement ritual called “Fight Club”. But of course, the first rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club! =)

I guess this begets the question – what makes a man? Or generally, when do you become an adult? The first tax return? The first relationship? The pain of breaking up?

(My god, I sound like Kevin Arnold from The Wonder Years!)

Jim
Jim
14 years ago

gay–it was a joke.

But another ritual worth mentioning is joining the boy scouts. Too bad it’s not ‘hip’ anymore. But for me, it helped in building character as a young person.

Dr. Walter Villanueva
Dr. Walter Villanueva
14 years ago

I know I am really late at making this comment, but i do hope it wont fall into deaf ears. personally, i am an advocate of stopping altogether circumcision in this country. radical, i know, especially in this catholic country. but think about this: with most circumcisions done by Hilots and the like, without sutures, antiseptics, etc, the incidence of tetanus is very high (of course, this is undereported, as is the case of most things in out country). and for what? social acceptance? cleanliness is achieved by proper hygiene. Ok, so circumcision decreases your chance of getting penile cancer by 1 percent, but only if you have it done at birth.

DaveLock
DaveLock
14 years ago

Jim, your comments here on the bonding value of circumcision have interested me greatly.

I too missed out on the bonding element of it having been “done” at a few weeks old, as my son was also “done” at a few weeks old. But my comments here revolve around my step-son.

The story I wish to tell is a little different, so to fully understand my story, I have to explain a bit about our family.

My wife is a provincial Ilongga, the youngest of a family of 2 boys & 2 girls. Both of her brothers went through the provincial version of the tula as it has been explained here, & she was/is well aware of what it was all about. This is our 2nd marriage for both of us, & our oldest son is hers, our middle son is mine, & our youngest daughter is ours.

From when we 1st started living together, I suggested to my wife that her son was not circumcised (as mentioned my son was already “done” at a few weeks old) & that I thought it a good idea to do so – my wife hit the roof. She accused me outright of being a barbarian, wanting to cause “her son” pain, & even said that she would never have children with me because if I was in favour of male circumcision I must also be in favour of inhumane female circumcision (nothing like a bit of Visayan passion in an argument, huh). That hurt me, so I dropped the subject immediately, assuming circumcision wasn’t the done thing in the Philippines.

Then her Nanay & Tatay came to stay with us here in Brisbane when we got married. And to my surprise, the very 1st thing her Nanay said to my wife was to scold her for not already having her son circumcised. I couldn’t believe it, because then my wife was so in favour of it that she was almost impatient to get it done. A 100% backflip. To cut a long story short, I was there for my step-son when he was “done”, so I guess the closest I’ve come to a bonding ritual is with my step-son.

The point I wish to make though Jim, is that I urge you to be aware (if you’re not already) that circumcision has become almost a dirty word here in Aus, so if you’re discussing the topic in public here, be aware you may encounter a hostile reaction. I have been on the receiving end of many nasty words for being in favour of it. It seems to me by my experience that Filipinas that leave the Philippines young (as my wife did at 17), must also become influenced by our “it is evil” mentality here in Aus.

If you are to ask my wife now though, it’s likely she’ll tell you it was all her idea to have her son done. 🙂

To tell you a funny (but embarrassing) side story. Because I have always been in favour of circumcision, over the years some friends have come to me to get the details of where they can get their sons “done”. One time, I wasn’t sure of the doctor’s name, so I said to this particular friend that I’d call into the doctor’s surgery & get the name to be able to pass the details on. Well, I was in a rush that day, & I walked into the doctors surgery & said to the receptionist “excuse me, does the doctor here still perform circumcision?” The receptionist went as red as a ripe kamatis & said “but sir, this is a dentist, the doctor is around the corner” (it seems the doctor & the dentist had swapped premises). I felt about 3 inches tall & very embarassed. 🙂