Dad Taught Me How to Love Mom
I had to have been about 6 or 7 when I saw my dad cry for the first time. We were watching the movie Imitation of Life. Set in the early 1900's, it’s the story of a black mother with a daughter who can pass for white, and so she does. When her mother tries to convince her otherwise, she coldly resists and runs away. Though her mother seeks her out time and time again, each time she merely flees. In the end, the mother dies; and the daughter claws her way through the crowd, thrusts open the carriage carrying her mother's body, throws herself on the casket and calls out to the mother she had long ago disowned. As my father tried to quickly wipe away the tears, I looked on as he grieved not for the woman in the movie but for himself. I imagine my father was grieving from the loss of my mother, his wife, and his own mother, both had died within about two or three years of one another. On that night and subsequent nights, I fell more and more in love with my mother, a woman I never knew; because through my father I understood that she was a woman worthy of my tears and thus my love.
The Last Time She Sees Her Mother Alive
I was three when she died, so my memories of her are fleeting at best. Vaguely, I recall a birthday party at a local restaurant, her in a wheelchair and another memory of her lying in a hospital room. But with a heavy heart I must admit, I don’t really remember her. I can’t recall her voice, her laughter, her walk. I can’t recall what it felt like to lie in her arms or to simply call her ‘Mom’. Throughout my youth, I tried desperately to piece together an image of her beyond those three photos sitting on the end table covered with a black veil blurring the physical image of her. In my mind, I needed to know her, in order to know me. So I would listen to her vinyl records, rifle through her extensive western books collection, read her obituary time and time again. Secretly I would search through my father's things to find any details that would lead me to knowing her just a little more. And oh how I cherished that single cream colored silk gown that hang in the closet- that gown that some day vanished.
But the mystery of that gown compares little to the mystery surrounding my mother’s life and even death. Older sister, older brother, cousins, aunts, uncles...practically no one spoke of her. And no one invited us to speak of her. This made me feel helpless. It made me feel like I should simply give up on knowing her. I couldn't rightfully say I loved her. She was like a complete stranger to me. But when I felt like giving up the hope of ever knowing her, my dad would have one too many drinks, or feel so overcome with grief, or feel so overcome with joy. I never knew what prompted those moments, but those were the moments I fell in love with my mother.
In those moments it was clear that he had moved on physically, but a piece of his heart would forever belong to my mother. He would glow just to mention her pot roast. He made it sound as if, if he were on his dying bed to have that meal would be all he needed. He called her by her pet name in those moments. And though he loved another, he professed with all certainty that my mother was the best thing that ever happened to him. When he talked about her not liking to clean, though he was as tidy as it comes, he said it as if he loved to be the one to clean up behind her. He promised to her to keep her children together, so when I got in my mind that I was going to run away and live with my aunt, he left his job and literally drug me back home.If you go in his home now, her picture still hangs on the wall. I have never truly seen a man love another the way my father loves my mother. And that is why through him I have fallen in love with her too.
FATHER'S DAY 2013: Thank you Dad for teaching me how to love my mother- your forever wife.