Unless Love Builds the House

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

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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.

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13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. pauldaviescartoons
    May 10, 2015 @ 17:31:10

    This a very sad posting, I think that there should be a button where one can approve of a posting instead of liking it, in which case I’d approve of this. It’s a posting to approve of rather than to like. Sounds like a tough growing up after the wheels came off.

    Reply

  2. Dawne Webber
    May 10, 2015 @ 22:39:12

    Wow. Everything I want to say sounds trite after such a powerful post.

    Reply

  3. patrickhawthorne01
    May 11, 2015 @ 20:59:12

    The reason you wrote it is because you felt the need to open your heart. That is the beginning of the healing process. My dad’s story is very similar to yours. And, like you, he made a vow that he would never be to his kids what his mom was to him. He’s almost eighty years old and, with the help of Jesus, has kept that promise.

    Reply

  4. Carol B Sessums
    May 12, 2015 @ 13:40:33

    I do know how you feel. Similar happened to me. My father was the abuser (physical, mental, verbal, emotional) and my mother was the neglecter. I soon realized she was just as scared as I was. She was like a child, herself, never having been taught to speak her own mind, only doing what she’s told. That’s not an excuse for being a bad mother, though, and I punished them both for years. Thankfully, my bio father left us for his mistress when I was 10, so my body was saved from bruising and bashing. Long, long story short, I ‘divorced’ my father and haven’t seen him since ’92. I forgave my mother for all the things she fell short, mostly because I witnessed my daughter forgive someone so easily who terribly wronged her and that’s the first time I’d witnessed actual forgiveness, when I was roughly 39, so it’s never too late. And partly, because my mother grew up and wanted forgiveness. It took many years, but now, the 3 of us (Mama, my daughter and me) are very close and the best of friends. A very, very long story, though. Took miracles and a long road to get here. I understand where you’re coming from.

    Reply

    • MJ Belko
      May 12, 2015 @ 13:47:47

      Thanks. I can look back now and see that my mother has always been an emotionally unstable person. I’ve often wondered if the fact that I look just like her made her hate me. I decided a long time ago that I wouldn’t mistreat her. A good relationship, however, just isn’t possible, especially with senility creeping in. My father has been dead for 15 years. I hate to say it, but I was relieved when he died. Not happy, but relieved. Being a parent is the toughest thing in the world and the easiest thing to screw up. I am in awe of those who get it right most of the time.

      Reply

      • Carol B Sessums
        May 12, 2015 @ 13:58:33

        Funny enough, I learned how to be a good parent from television. I watched the wholesome family shows growing up, because I wanted that to be my family. Plus, having my daughter is all I ever wanted from the age of 2 and with her being born with all the qualities I spent 31 years praying for, she’s just what I needed to heal. Watching her compassion and love and forgiveness for others has taught me the same so I forgave my father for his torture. Had nothing to do with him also since he is actually poison, but forgiving released poison from me and released a lot of pressure. Trying to understand where they are coming from and how they were raised or the way life has left them undone, is one step in learning to forgive such deeds. Both my parents had very hard lives — enough to write some novels, so it helped me in the forgiveness process. Some people are able to give gallons while others are only able to give a teaspoon-full and then nothing more. I understand the inability for a good relationship. Forgiveness is not necessarily a gift you give to someone else. My bio father will never know I’ve forgiven him. It’s more of a gift you give to release yourself. It’s hard and a lengthy process. I too will feel relief when my bio father dies, if he hasn’t already. I have no idea. Not glad but sort of relieved. And a bit sad. Sad that he will never truly know what love is. My heart hurts for all people who don’t allow themselves that experience. Life is meaningless without it. And as far as parenting your children, we do the best we can. It can be a hard road. The most important thing you can do for those babes is to make sure they really do know that you love them. Tell them, hug them, dance with them, laugh with them. Give them some fond memories of laughter with you that they can hold onto.

      • MJ Belko
        May 12, 2015 @ 14:15:53

        My boys are grown now (I’m a little older than I look); they’re 25 and 30 this year. We hug and say, “I love you,” every time we see each other. We have managed to build some good memories, even though we went through some pretty tough times. I once heard someone say, with regard to parenthood, “Do your best and leave the rest with God.”

      • Carol B Sessums
        May 12, 2015 @ 14:27:21

        I’m so glad. Sounds like you did okay. There are always tough times when it comes to parenting. No one can be spared in that department. That is the best quote and advice when it comes to parenting, hands down — or hands in prayer. 😉

  5. D.R.Sylvester
    May 21, 2015 @ 13:53:22

    Damn. Them feels. Sorry to hear that your mothers days are a bit hard like that. Sticking to the positives: – you know that you’ve done a good job if your mid-twenties / early-thirties sons both still meet, speak with, and say they love you. Happy late mother’s day to you

    Reply

  6. kinginascent
    May 28, 2015 @ 12:37:38

    There’s a market for ‘honest’ cards.
    Here are some suggestions –

    ‘I inherited dad’s nose and your contempt for him.’

    ‘I chose the worst home imaginable for when you’re old.’

    I’m fortunate in that my mum is amazing, but I understand that not everyone is that fortunate. Remember that none of us are defined by anyone or anything but ourselves.

    Reply

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