Mostly because you’ve already heard a lot about my dad, with him being dead and all. If you’ve been hanging around a while and pay attention, he and his death have rented quite a bit of space in my head, almost to the point of excluding my mom who is still very much alive and awesome. And because with Father’s Day rolling around and the aforementioned dead dad thing, I’ve been thinking a lot about how my parents did and didn’t shape the person I’ve become, and by extension my whole life as I know it today.
In dad’s last days, his last words to me were about how good it must feel to be able to do things for other people. He also did what I call “self medicating” quite a bit. And he loved animals and nature and books and music – everything from Pink Floyd to Kenny G to Jewel and Nora Jones. He liked simple things and, to me, seemed to be gruffly sentimental, living in the wrong century.
My mom, well…she’s a little the same and a lot different. Thankfully she isn’t a chronic self-medicator (yes, I know – not a word. Roll with it), though we both enjoy a glass of wine. A lot. And coffee. Don’t forget coffee. And chocolate, and shopping…well, you get the picture. We suffer from different substance abuse problems.
My mom has the best smile on earth, and when she laughs you can’t help but laugh with her because together her smile and her laugh are personified joy. She’s a nurse and leads the Neonatal ICU and Pediatrics Department, so of course she’s also sharp as hell and very compassionate. She’s crafty and creative in a sort of MacGyver-Mary Poppins-love-child way, and she bakes really, really well. Sometimes these things collide – the MacGyverness and the cooking – and things can go really well, or really wrong, but either way we all have fun.
So in your head you can picture a tall, gracious, sweet, competent mother with soft brown hair and eyes who worked nights, went to college, raised two girls by herself, and somehow magnificently survived to become a successful, lively, hilarious, and endlessly patient grandmother (who still has soft brown hair and eyes) running the show at work and living a comfortable life at home with husband, horses, and cats.
And you’d be mostly right.
For the longest time I thought my fire and strength and stubbornness came from my dad because he had this raging temper, refused to ask for help, and was the kind of guy who would put an ax through his finger cutting kindling and just let it bleed so he could come pick me up from the airport for Christmas break, or break his neck in a car accident and walk eight miles home only to have a friend discover he needed to be airlifted to the hospital and put in a halo for six months (both true stories, btw).
But the more I’ve gotten to know my mom over the years, the more I think it’s her who blessed me with the indomitable spirit and Mama Bear tendencies. (Notice I didn’t say maternal instincts – there’s a difference.) This is a woman who marched up the street with a handgun following my sister (sneaking out of the house) up the street to meet a boy; the woman who called a boy I was going to sneak out with and made sure he didn’t meet me at the movie theater; the woman who pushed away a baby daddy trying to take the infant she was babysitting out of her arms; who, as I said above, raised two bratty-ass kids while working and going to school; the woman who’s been bucked off horses, broken bones, survived car accidents, given birth to two children (both of whom came in at around nine pounds – and then breast-fed us, God bless her. The horror stories I’ve heard about breast feeding will forever be burned, unwillingly, into my fragile, non-child-bearing brain – ugh!!), sat with her dying father, road a motor cycle to nursing school, fished with a bow and arrow, cleaned up bloody messes after births and C-sections, and is now the primary care-taker of her own mother.
And this is just what I know.
She’s a tough-as-nails, screw-with-me-now-pay-for-it-later, never-say-die thriver (also not a word, continue to roll with it…). She has her weaknesses. I know that because I know I have mine, and despite my enduring believe that there’s a big S branded somewhere on her heart, I know she’s human (although, in truth, neither my sister nor I could ever get a way with a lie, so perhaps she’s actually Wonder Woman with her Lasso of Truth…).
All things said, I think my tender heart and love of the simple things came from my dad. As 50% of my stubbornness, compassion, and work ethic.
My attitude, my Mama Bearness (and we’re rolling with it…), and my armor came from my mom.
My parents divorced when I was six. And I think it was for the best, all things considered. That said, I don’t believe your parents give you everything to make you who you are – your experiences do that. But…at least in my case…they gave me the raw goods to take those experiences, survive them, and turn them into something…meaningful.
So the next time you look at your parents – if you have them, because let’s face it, even with a “broken home” I’m one of the lucky ones – consider for a moment that not everything may be as it has always seemed to you. Look again. And then come here and tell me about it.