I assume I speak for many when I say not everyone loves Mom. I didn’t love mine. In fact there was much about my mother that repulsed me.
When she died in Amarillo, Texas, in 1998, I stormed back from the nursing home to my motel room and screamed at the walls, “What was the matter with you, mom? What was the matter with you?” An exact quote.
Over the years I tried my best to understand her. Why was she so manipulative and mean? To the world outside our little home, she was noted for her sweetness. She was shy. Her friends seemed to love her. But at home, behind the closed blinds, she was hell on wheels. She ran the household with an iron grip. My father — a successful businessman, city mayor and civic leader — proved no match for her.
On this Mother’s Day, I’m looking back to those days of so long ago trying to find a bit of charity in my heart. Very little emerges.
This is what I’m left with. My mother grew up an only child on a wooded farm in Oklahoma. Her beloved father was a traveling salesman and returned home only briefly. She was raised by a stern mother, a taskmaster who switched her legs when she was rebellious and wouldn’t practice her piano lessons. Even though she had a college degree, Mom lived with her parents until age 26 when she married my father, Bill, after one date. It smacked of an arranged marriage. Mom’s father set Bill up in business as manager of his auto supply store in a small Kansas town. It was during The Great Depression and Bill was jobless at the time. Was there ever any real love between my parents? I don’t know.
I do know that my mother tried to raise me as a mama’s boy. It became an issue in my family. After Bill’s mother shouted at her during a family get-together when I was 4, that she did not know how to raise a boy, Mom turned bitter and never forgave her mother-in-law. In sixth grade, I re-invented myself. I dived into athletics to relieve the tensions at home.
In all those years, even as she mellowed in old age, not once did my mother say with tenderness, “I love you.” Nor did she hug me as a child or try to encourage me to be all I could be. I felt unloved, not only by my mother but by an aloof father who told me in his last years,”The happiest days of my life were watching you play sports.” Sad, I thought. I was just entertainment for him.
My sister, Barbara, had a symbiotic relationship with her mother. While the symbiosis continued into Barbara’s middle age, the relationship turned into one of love and hate. My sister developed schizophrenia in her early 30s, and died of an epilepsy seizure in 1996, two years before mom’s death. I felt it a blessing, that had Barbara outlived her mother she may have done horrible things to herself. I’m no psychiatrist, but I believe any tendency to mental illness was exacerbated by that abnormal relationship.
When I got married to my high school girlfriend, my mother fought it with every weapon she could muster. Snide and cruel remarks were hurled at me. There was a period of a half-dozen years or more, I wouldn’t take my wife and son to see my parents at all. Communication after high school was as minimal as I could make it.
Going back to visit my parents in Texas was always stressful and depressing. One year I spent a week on the beaches of San Diego prepping my mind for the trip. It didn’t help. I was miserable, and left Amarillo as soon as I could.
Not long before he died in 1993 I offered to drive Dad to a family reunion near Waco. Unlike Mom, he was a gregarious person, who as a friend once put it, “Bill just loves people.” We were standing in the garage as I was packing to leave, and Mom came to the door and yelled at him, “Go ahead and go. I’ll just lay here and die.” Of course Dad never attended the reunion.
I actually liked my dad, even though he inflicted serious beatings on me with his belt, all at Mom’s instigation. I can still see the smirk on her face as I emerged from the beating room.
There is no doubt in my mind that I am partly responsible for the bad feelings I harbor now on Mother’s Day. Guilt is a part of who I am. Maybe if I had tried, I could’ve been a more forgiving person. But I could never do that. I felt betrayed, that mothers are not supposed to be like mine was. And to think now only a few sincere words from her could’ve changed all the anger and disgust I feel. If only she had said at any point in her life, “I was wrong. I’m sorry. I love you.” But she was unrepentant until the end, and even into her late 80s I could occasionally see in her eyes the mean fires of yesteryear. “The Pat-Pat look,” Barbara’s children called it, referring to Mom’s given name, Patricia.
Time heals all wounds, they say. But it hasn’t for me. I’m as angry as ever. I feel cheated out of a mother’s nurturing that should have been my due. And so another Mother’s Day can not pass soon enough.