Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Before You Go

When my father was very ill, at the end of his life, I was shipped out to stay at my cousin’s home. I was sleeping in the top half of his bunk bed when, and I can remember this vividly, almost as though it happened last week, my Aunt saying to me, after receiving a middle of the night phone call that woke me up, “Frankie, your father’s dead. There’s nothing you can do about it. Go back to sleep.” It was early November, about two weeks before my seventh birthday.

I remember being at the funeral home, people getting up to talk. They would walk up to where my father was laid out in the casket, turn and address the gathered. At one point, someone played a zither. That was pretty much all I remember about being seven years old. Not too long ago I re-discovered my elementary school report cards and saw, in one of them, the teacher commenting on how well I’d adjusted since my fathers’ death. I don’t remember the second grade at all.

At nineteen I left home, in the wake of my mother saying, one too many times for my liking, “as long as you live under my roof, you’ll do as I say.” I was angry, but then so was my generation, I thought. We all wanted freedom to do what we wanted. It didn’t occur to me that I had blamed my mother for my father’s death. I didn’t talk to my mother for about 2 years after I left home. I always believed my mother loved me, but I never felt very close to her. There were all these “things” she’d said and done that just ruined our relationship: washing the wool pants to my first suit that I’d bought with my own money; making me make supper after my two sisters had moved out; keeping my summer earnings to give back to me as an allowance during the school year; saying things that embarrassed me, showing just how callous and mis-understanding she was. Who would want a mother like that?

There were at least two Christmases that I didn’t even bother going to see her, much less wish her a happy holiday. Now, of course, I understand that my un-resolved feelings toward her allowed me to punish myself, when I really thought I was getting back at her for not letting me stay out past curfew.

It wasn’t until I had become a father that I resolved my un-resolved feelings about my father. Instead of seeing every adult male as a potential father-figure, when I became a father I came to understand what the phrase “when they’re young they step on your toes and when they’re older they step on your heart” meant. Becoming a father was one of the most significant growth periods in my life. However, I still had all these un-resolved feelings toward my mother.

It was easy, as a result, for my wife to help me to understand that my mother didn’t like her, nor did my sisters like her, and so why should we even go around them. I became convinced that her family was to be paramount in our lives. Why would we want to associate with people who didn’t like us? Nevertheless, we went to visit my family on the requisite holidays; however, it was not without consequence. At some point I decided to just give in; it was easier to just give up seeing my family than it was to try to force the issue. It was just too much of a hassle; besides, we had her family.

When our marriage broke up after fifteen years, I found I wasn’t encouraged to stay around her family; it wasn’t very comfortable. My family, however, was welcoming. It was almost a revelation to re-establish contact with them. Years later, I started asking questions about how my family felt toward my ex-wife. They liked her. They could never understand why she never wanted to be around them.

In the aftermath of my marriage ending, and perhaps out of loneliness, I decided to re-establish contact with my mother and started visiting her regularly. It wasn’t too hard to do since I was not in any relationship, was reeling from the whole experience of the marriage dissolving and was suffering separation anxiety from my children. Being a father had been the most important thing for me to do in my life. Not being in a complete family unit was the last thing I’d ever wanted to do.

It had taken three years for me to come to the conclusion that my marriage wasn’t going to last. During that whole time what was keeping me in it were my children. I didn’t want them to grow up as I did, without a father. I didn’t want them to be the product of a broken home, as I had been. I didn’t want the cycle to repeat itself. On the other hand, I couldn’t stay any longer. I felt like I was being strangled, that I was losing my sense of self. I felt like my spirit was slowly being eked out of me. I felt almost as if I was emotionally dying.

A number of years later I came to understand how important studying karate during the last six years of my marriage was. It became a physical release for all my tension; it became a way for me to re-gain some measure of control over my life. It became a means for me to re-kindle my spirit. Karate became a Way of life. When my life seemed like it was spinning out of control karate gave me a sense of balance. It was a way in which I could center myself physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. It was something that could not be taken away from me. It also gave me the confidence and courage of my conviction that the marriage was over and that it was time for me to move on with my life.

Now that I was an adult and a parent, visiting my mother, after many years of rarely seeing her, gave me an opportunity to be with her as her; I could separate her out from being “my mother.” We sat and had many conversations; however, she didn’t want to talk about the past. We didn’t dredge up past transgressions. There were never any apologies made by either of us. We had no heart-wrenching heart-to-heart’s. We simply shared time and space. As a result, I came to forgive her.

I came to understand that she’d done the best she could with what she’d had at the time she was raising us. What I’d become in my life had really always been up to me. In turn, I understood that what my children become is really up to them. This is the life that’s been dealt and it needs to be dealt with. Saying I’m sorry isn’t really going to change anything if you don’t want to give the anger and feelings up and being sorry doesn’t necessarily make anything better. Being able to say it happened, it’s over, I love you anyway is really all that matters.

Several years later, my mother became very ill. At first, until my other sister moved back to the area, my one sister and I took turns staying with my mother, each of us staying with her for half a week at a time. For about three months I toileted, bathed, dressed, fed, and each night put my mother to bed. And then I did the laundry. It was a time of spending a lot of time thinking I could lose her at any moment. I became grateful for having spent time with her before she was ill. It was during that time that I truly came to learn what it meant to love her, with all her faults, with all my issues around her being my mother, as herself. Eventually, she pretty much recovered but she was clearly at the end of her life.

When she died, I was emotionally able to let go of her. I had resolved the anger and other negative feelings I’d harbored against her all those years. I was at peace with my mother. I think it’s important not to hold grudges against others, since you never know if one day the person will just disappear and you’ll not be able to ever reach any resolution with them. I think that’s especially true for someone who took you from the womb and brought you into life.

Given the circumstances mothers find themselves in while raising children, regardless of how those circumstances occurred, they did the best they could. A person can feel justified to have any feelings they want to have toward their mother.

But remember, no matter how long you’re gone, how far away you go, or how you feel about them, your mother will always take you back. She will always love you. Don’t let anyone ever try to keep you from that.


Post a Comment

<< Home