Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Happy Belated Father's Day....Mom!

Last year was my first father's day since my biological father passed away. I spent the day mourning less the loss of the human being whom I had little connection to, but more the loss of hope that I would ever have a dad. I felt semi orphaned. I always hoped things would get better with my father, even when we were estranged and in difficult times. Sadly, that will never be. Today marks the two year anniversary of his death. I have been trying to give meaning to the loss since this past father’s day and I was a bit surprised with what I came to.

I am a very proud and dedicated stay at home dad. I would say the first word I would use to describe my 'self' is "father." It is the most important role in my life. My three children are the most remarkable and amazing universes. I am the domestic-half of the partnership that is their air traffic control guiding them through their journeys towards the beautiful tomorrows that await them. My three girls each amazed me at first sight, and continue to leave me baffled and breathless with each step as they toddle forward (and much too quickly).

I understood relatively soon after becoming a dad that a lot of who I am as a father is because of who my father was not. I am actually grateful for that realization. It gives credit to a man I love without justification. I love my father and always will; however, he does not, and never did, deserve it. I believe he now knows that, freed of the limitations his life provided. This second "fatherless" father's day and second anniversary of his death have left me pondering: what were the 'positives' that led me to become the man/father I am and am becoming?

I grew up in an impoverished matriarchy. There were simply no men in the world I grew up in, aside from television, teachers, preachers, etc. My biological father left my six-months-pregnant mother with a six year old daughter, a one year old son, and no skills, no money and no hope. We were living in the other side of my father's parents' duplex when she was told to leave, pregnant. Her family of origin had moved 500 miles away the year prior. Proud as she was, she turned to public assistance, packed up what she could, and transferred her brood to what she could afford: a roach (and once rat) infested third floor apartment on the "bad" side of town.

It is interesting to define detail here, because that is not how it felt. Somehow, I always felt SAFE. I was that kid that brushed his teeth and, in horror, found wings and legs from a roach both on my brush and in my teeth. I was that kid who woke up to pee in the middle of the night and watched the roaches scurry in the light. I was that kid who had to sift through his cereal to make sure I wasn't consuming any of those diseased demons (I loathe roaches, in case I did not get that across ). Yet, somehow, I felt SAFE. We lived in squalor and walked on streets that were drug laden, crime infested, and dangerous. Home. In the center of so much horror was home.

My mother could not afford a car, so we walked everywhere. Once a week we had the luxury of paying $5.00 for a cab which lugged our young family and four giant, thin green garbage bags that would always tear whilst being carried down three flights of stairs, off to the Laundromat. My mother somehow saved up enough money to buy a luxurious used Pinto!! It may not have smelled fresh and clean, but could take us to more than just a place to wash our clothes...the PARK! The grocery store! Anywhere!!! The possibilities were ENDLESS!! That Pinto was my first limousine!

My younger brother and I were beaten up daily by bullies. Our mother grew tired of black eyes and bloody noses and eventually told us to never throw the first punch, but defend ourselves. She told us to be brave and fight back (if we had the internet back then, she would have said: “MAN UP!” LOL).

I will never forget the day that her advice came into play. We had typically tried every possible route to avoid conflict, but this day was different: It was a sunny warm June day on one of the last days of school. The scent of summer and freedom was in the air, and I still smell a specific scent from time to time that brings me back to that day. I was having a particularly good moment (so good I remember it over 30 years later), and we arrived at our street we typically scurried across, and saw the usual gang. They were playing stick ball in the road, and blocked the path to our front door as usual. I had a choice: Do we walk around the entire block, up the huge hill, across the road with the dogs that are always loose to go the other way, or walk forward? I remember making the choice: we are going to walk directly to our home, ‘I am walking on air,’ ‘life is good,’ ‘I got this!’

The softball that was whipped at my head was not unexpected, nor was the fight that ensued. We were kicked, punched, and my hair was literally torn out of my head-- you know, a typical Friday. There was something different about this day. I heard my mother's voice, and I stood up, scared shitless, yet empowered. I lunged back for the first time. I punched, I body slammed, clearly I “broke.” I “won.”

We were given warning the next day from the bullies’ older brothers that we were "going to be sorry." Two days later, our luxurious Pinto was stolen and we were forced to revert back to our once a week cab rides and endless walks. My mother embraced me and prided me on the fact that I stood up for myself. I was sorry. I felt guilty. If I had not taken the bullies down, we would still have a car!! My mother would have none of that. She made it clear to me that standing up to them, and fighting back was more important than that car that meant so much to our struggling family.

It would be five years before we would own another vehicle. My mother walked us to our school to drop us off. She would then walk to work and put in overtime. She walked to work on Saturdays to earn time and a half. She came home and conducted her second shift of raising us…making sure we were empowered and making sure we felt safe. She succeeded beyond her expectations, I think. Where did I learn to become a man and a father? I learned from a warrior who chose to be selfless so that her children could become. I learned from a champion who rose above impossible to make things possible for her children. I learned from a soldier who braved hell and made things safe when they weren't and she did not feel safe so her children would. I learned from a soul with so much love that she loves others truly so much that her self does not matter. I learned from a woman who accepted her plight was to "do it all," and did more. And most.

I am the man and the father I am because of the ‘man’ and the father that my mother chose to be when called upon by my father choosing to be nothing. My mom put herself through school and got off welfare. She moved up, step by step, and has a cute condo and a "brand new" car (when she bought it a few years ago, but it was a MOMENT).

My mother is retired, now, and lives comfortably. She remembers her plight, but doesn't comprehend it or understand the importance of what she has done. She knows not the amazing human being she is or how much she has accomplished. She doesn't know her own strength or resilience or influence.

My mother sleeps at my house once a week to help me with my three young girls and to allow me to work on my art. My mother tells me almost daily how proud she is of me. My father once uttered, right before his death, that he was proud of the father I am. I suppose since that is the most important role for me, I should take that as him being proud of "me." I struggle. My mother is proud of every single word I've said, even in times of the most chaotic chaos. And I know it. She reads every word I write, listens to every song I've written and recorded, and eats every recipe I cook. I mock my mom in my work, but it is a tribute. I am being ironic because she is my hero and does not comprehend why. Sometimes she gets upset by the things I say and the extent to which I publicly share our history. Mostly, she laughs as I mock her, lightheartedly, and supports my every move.

In my experience admining on different pages, I encounter MANY others like my mom: those who do it all, brave the second shift with non-involved partners, those who “lean in.” I am a full time stay at home dad whose tenure is just about up. It has been an arduous, wondrous, amazing, demanding, rewarding experience. I have help and support. I will never comprehend how my mother, or those like her, play both roles and so well.

I am a very proud, brave, strong, wise man and I now understand wholeheartedly that I learned it ALL from my mother and I celebrate her and those in the place she bravely pioneered. Happy Belated Father's Day, Mom. xoxoxoxo

This post originally appeared on the blog  Reposted with permission.