My mother wasn’t a single mother, in that she was married to my father for the entirety of my childhood and well into my twenties. When father’s day came around every year, as it does, we gave that man cards and bought him presents and celebrated him as if he was the attentive, engaged and loving parent he occasionally portrayed.
My brother and I knew better.
While we experienced fleeting moments of a thoughtful father who enjoyed family camping trips and fishing excursions and material gift-giving, we had grown accustomed to the prevalent, abusive father; the man who hit my brother and choked me during a football game and threw our mother down our stairs, breaking her ankle.
The man who would erupt over cold meals and petty disagreements and infrequent sex was the man who inexplicably received heartfelt tokens, all to perpetuate an illusion of a healthy, god-fearing and relatively normal family.
I vividly recall a card that seemed even more deceitful than the rest. The inscription praised him for affectionately teaching me things a daughter should learn from her father; dedication and love and respect. I signed my name next to an oversized heart as I shook my head, knowing it was all a lie. I knew the card shouldn’t end up in his hateful, hurtful and unforgiving hands.
It should have ended up in my mother’s.
My mother, through violent nights and lonely days, taught me more about fathers than her husband ever did. I looked to her – trapped in a cycle that made her feel too worthless or powerless or insignificant to leave – and admired all the things a father should be, even though my father was living in the same house, eating at the same table and sleeping in their shared bed.
My mother taught me about true dedication. I learned that fathers shouldn’t receive permission to be complacent, simply because they did not give birth. Their responsibility shouldn’t end with financial stability, discipline or sport spectating. While my father sat on the couch, aimlessly flipping through channels and complaining about the state of the world, it was my mother who cleaned the house and cooked the meals and asked about homework. My mother planned and decorated and facilitated memorable birthday parties, going above any reasonable expectation so that her children could feel as special as she believed them to be. She was there through break-ups and bad grades and important losses, understanding and attentive instead of dismissive and annoyed.
My father existed, but only as a shadow. It was my mother who taught me father’s should be present, as she was present enough for the both of them.
My mother taught me about true love. While scripture preached, she embodied the patience, kindness and fail-proof characteristics of actual love. There were no caveats or limitations or criteria we had to adhere to in order to earn it. She never told us were weren’t worthy of her presence or hard work or admiration, even when we messed up in epic teenage fashion. Even at her angriest, or her most disappointed, she reminded us that her love was endless and forgiving. There wasn’t anything we could do to lose it, and there wasn’t anything she wouldn’t do to prove it.
My father loved, but in a manipulative and controlling way that made us feel inconsequential. It was my mother who taught me a father’s love should be constant, for hers was constant enough for the both of them.
My mother taught me about true respect. She showed me that it cannot be forced or fought for or taken; it is earned through a subtle kindness and pure sincerity. The seemingly insignificant sacrifices my mother made for her family were often over-looked and unappreciated, but she did them anyway. While my father expected, even required, recognition and praise for his efforts, my mother silently supported us on bruised shoulders and a broken will. More often than not her contributions were verbally diminished or physically destroyed, yet she continued to make them without hesitation.
My father demand respect. My mother survived without it.
So when I found out I was pregnant, I was able to look into the eyes of the man who would be my son’s dad and know he would be a good father. I knew he would teach our son about dedication and love and respect, because I had them taught to me. I knew what to look for in a parenting partner, because my mother had embodied the qualities that both a mother and a father should exude.
When my mother felt like nothing, she showed me she could be everything.
Happy Father’s Day mom.