I believe that there are times when the best father is a mother.
My mother raised six children on her own, and she did so in an era when women were taught that marriage, a sprawling colonial home full of children, and attendance at Sunday Mass was itself a kind of Holy Trinity. Smart and pretty, my mother left college early, married my father, and sacrificed with him while he obtained his law degree. My parents separated when I was ten, and from then on, my mother raised my five siblings and me. As is sometimes still the case today, in the mid 1970s, divorce often meant a precipitous drop in family income. There were times when we ran out of heating oil; there were moments when food was scarce; there were years of barely eking it out.
Yet as significant as it was, financial instability was only one hurdle. When I consider it now, I think most difficult of all must have been her role as both mother and father. I’m not talking about gender, but rather I’m saying that two people make the job easier. There was no Mike Brady to my mother’s Carol, no Pa Walton to her Ma, and no Dick Van Dyke to my mom’s Mary Tyler Moore. Instead, she had to make all the decisions, do all the work, and shoulder all the responsibility.
My mother made a special dinner because my sister couldn’t go to her school’s father-daughter dance. She took my brother, the youngest and the only boy, out to get his first jock strap. When we became teenagers, my mother was both trusted parent and stern disciplinarian. In one seven day period, she might hold our hand after a crushing rejection, celebrate our good grades, and wait up for us on a Saturday night.
A feminist in her own way, my mother nevertheless maintained that women could not have it all. She couldn’t have a career and raise the six of us, so she took a job. She couldn’t buy a new car and send us to school; so used cars became the norm. She couldn’t travel and send me abroad after college, so I went first and she followed later. In the strictest sense, I have never had it all either: I had a mother, but no accessible father. And while there were times when I lamented this loss, I can say that I made out more than all right, which is why my siblings and I celebrate our mother on May 13th and June 17th. I think this June I’ll send my mother a card addressed to Carol and Mike Brady, Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore, Pa and Ma Walton. Then again, perhaps I’ll simply say the following: Happy Father’s Day, Mom. You are the best father I could have every had.
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