Lucky is the man who has women in his life with the title “mother”.  I am one such man.  We honor the mothers in our lives on mother’s day when we should honor them every day of their lives.  For the impact that women have, especially on their sons, is immeasurable.  It can be subtle; it can be overlooked.  But when a man has no woman in his life to teach him how to interact with and respect the opposite sex, the results are painfully obvious too.  It takes a woman to make a man.

My mother figured quite prominently in my life.  She was a strong woman, married to a man who may have loved her at one time, but I can’t claim to be a witness to that fact.  She worked most of my childhood, at times on the late shifts in a chemical plant in industrial Holyoke Massachusetts.  She followed her husband from air base to air base around the country, with her six children packed tightly in the family’s impala wagon.   Wherever we went, she made it clear that we were a family, that we would always have each other to rely upon, that nothing mattered more than each other.

I’m sure she longed for more than we had, as most people do.  She never let a Christmas tree go empty, always showed up at the school when we ran a fever and made sure that whatever we could afford for dinner was plentiful enough for eight.

She always sent me to school in clothes that were clean, not often new.  Up in the morning to pack us fresh lunches, homemade cookies for us when we trickled home from school, just to start our dinner before she left for 8 hours in the paper mill.

She was a friend to all of my friends who found her welcoming, many calling her ma.  She never let my friends leave hungry and usually had the best off-color jokes around.  She was just as likely to sit and play cards with us as jump in the middle of a two-on-two pickup game in the driveway.  She wasn’t much at ball handling, but she had a quick release and was hell in the paint.  If you wanted the rebound, you paid, usually her hip in your thigh or her elbow in your chest.  There’s no foul if there’s no ref to call it.

She followed me from town to town, from pee-wee sports through high school, usually cheering the loudest for a son who hardly ever got his uniform dirty, let alone sweaty.  It made no difference, she’d wash it white again just so she could sit in the cold rain on the next Friday night’s away game and cheer me on as if I were the team franchise.

Time, disease and years of abuse have taken their toll on her.  Her face wears the lines of empathy so many mothers have earned, as well as the wrinkles from an internal sadness I would never wish on anyone.   Conversations with her now are heart breaking, careening from current events and heartwarming memories to anger and bitterness, clouded with tales of events that never were.  Sometimes the conversations repeat themselves, over and over, slightly changing in fact and details, sometimes changing her role from an observer to protagonist of the tale.

She taught me how to be self sufficient and strong willed.  She taught me to cook and clean.  She taught me to be honest and responsible and to work hard to be a man I would be proud to be.  And she taught me to treat women with respect, and to earn their respect in return.  She taught me to be a man.  She gave me the gift of life.   I cannot repay that debt.

Gifts from the mind and hands of a 10 year old

My wife has figured prominently in my life.  She is a strong woman married to a weak man.  We worked hard together to save up for our first house, planning our way through our wedding and then the birth of our kids.  She pushed me when I was working long days, to continue my education, encouraging and cajoling me as a mother would her son.  She believed in me and let me know it.  She taught me that failure was indeed an option, sometimes a necessary part of life but was never an end in and of itself.  It was just another life lesson.  All the while she was working just as hard, commuting two hours a day in the opposite direction as I.

The memories are still in my mind’s eye, as clear as the day they were created.  The moonlight filtering through the sheer curtains of the bedroom window, bathing her and our firstborn in a soothing diffused yellow glow as they slowly rocked in the glider during a late night feeding.  The stillness of the room hardly noticed the hushed tones of her nursery rhyme and the aggressive suckle of a newborn at breast.  Her touch was deliberate; slow and gentle, a caress I would never be able to master with the clumsy hands of a father.  Mesmerized, I sat motionless in the room while she silently moved her from breast to shoulder and started the gentle rhythmic patting on the back that soothed us all.  It couldn’t have been more than five minutes later when I heard the low rhythmic breathing telling me that both mother and daughter had drifted off to sleep, an episode of bonding that left me in tears.

I couldn’t walk by her while she was pregnant without being magically drawn to her ever-expanding belly.  It was a source of amazing power and a magnet to my hands and lips.  I possess the intelligence to know in full detail what was transpiring within her body, but could never control the child-like awe and curiosity it engendered within me.  I was both intellectually and emotionally overcome.  I wished it could go on and on forever.

Not yet a day old, welcomed into the world by her big sister. How do I repay this debt?

Every day, she’s up before the house, breakfast and school lunches, never missing a beat.  Homemade cookies or brownies the reward for their long bus ride home.  She’s the last to sit for dinner, the first to get up from the table.  The night time ritual is her lying on the bed with them in turn, a series of giggles or soft murmuring coming from behind the bedroom door.  Her jewelry box only half as full as theirs; they get new clothes first.  She could use new shoes.  It’ll wait until the kids get theirs.

She handles them now with the same gentle touch; only she touches them more frequently with words.  She still has bonding moments with them that I as a father, can only share from a distance, but I share them just the same.   She has taught them respect for themselves, to be strong willed young girls, to be hard working, responsible and to believe in themselves.   They are daddy’s girls and always will be.  But a father needs to accept that if something’s broken, daddy will fix it.  If something hurts, only mommy can fix it.

She has taught me how to be a better man.  She is teaching me patience and selflessness.  I struggle with the lessons.  She has made me who I am today.  And though I often fall short, I am still more than I was yesterday.

She has given me the only things I would ever sacrifice my mother’s gift for; she has made me a father.

And that is a debt I can never repay.

I love you Diane. Happy Mothers day.

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