Unless Love Builds the House

Found an old photo of yours truly with the stuffed dog I discussed in this blog post.


Each year, I stand before the rack of Mother’s Day cards, searching for one that doesn’t make me want to projectile vomit. I don’t know who writes these things, but their concept of motherhood is somewhere north of the rainbow.  Father’s Day cards aren’t quite as bad, but they still promote the image of a very good father.

I’m not a sentimental person, by nature.  I grew up in a family that didn’t show affection.  Nobody hugged.  Nobody said, “I love you.”  Good grades were expected.  Bad behavior (real or imagined) was brutally punished.  You got by with what you had and didn’t ask why you did without the things other families had.  My parents didn’t speak to one another or to us unless they found something to yell about.

It wasn’t always that way.  I can remember things being quite different up until I reached the age of five.  We used to wait in front of the apartment every evening for my father to walk down from the subway station so we could all give him a hug.  I remember the smell of cigarettes and the feeling of the winter cold clinging to his black overcoat.  Before I went to kindergarten, I would wake up early in the morning while my father was in the kitchen drinking his coffee and listening to the radio.  I had a little white toy dog that was stuffed with sawdust that I carried everywhere.  Eventually, a small hole opened in the bottom and left a little trail of sawdust wherever I carried him.  Sitting on my father’s lap, he would pretend to be horrified by the dog “pooping” all over the kitchen table.  It was the same routine each time and I always laughed. I remember sitting on his lap in his recliner and falling asleep with him.  There are old home movies of him feeding me ice cream.

Sometime in the mid to late sixties, my parents’ marriage came unhinged.  They never spoke unless they were arguing.  He took to sleeping in the recliner most nights.  I don’t know what happened, but I think my father got caught having an affair.  He became a very angry and abusive person.  He drank a lot.

I have no warm memories of my mother, not even in those early years before she and my father decided they hated each other.  She doted on the boys, tolerated my oldest sister for her housekeeping skills, and lavished affection on my other sister.  She reserved her hostility for me.  Everything was my fault.  Things would be so much better if I weren’t around.  No one would ever love me and I would die alone. The words were more damaging than the routine beatings.  In later years, my oldest sister would say I took the brunt of the abuse because I was the strongest of the six of us.  I was the one she couldn’t break.  The result is that I have no emotional connection to my mother.  Even worse, my father joined her in taking his anger out on me.  He’s the reason I never wear yellow, but that’s another story.

For about ten years, I had no contact with my mother at all.  About two years ago, I attempted mending fences and managed to get most of the siblings in one room with our mother.  She’s old now and doesn’t remember much.  Even so, I only see her about once a year and never go over there unless another sibling is with me.  I guess I still expect her to unleash one of her ugly tirades on me and want a witness there so she can’t call me a liar later on.

While we weren’t on speaking terms, I didn’t bother with the charade of sending her a Mother’s Day card.  This is the second year since I have resumed the practice.  You see now why the gushing sentimentality of those cards makes me feel sick.  I go through card after card, looking for one that is respectful but not full of praise for a job well done.  It’s hard.

Why am I telling you this?  I don’t know.  I guess I want you to realize that this is a tough day for some of us.  I read Facebook posts today offering sympathy to those who have lost their mothers; but nobody talks about having had a bad mother on Mother’s Day.  It’s sort of taboo.

I have tried to be a good mother to my sons, though my short fuse has made it difficult at times.  I’m very close to them both and I know Mother’s Day doesn’t hold the dread for them that it does for me.  Still, I wonder if all of our lives would be better if things had been different in my family.

It’s tough to build a house without the right tools.