Last week I cheated my readers a little when I edited out a section in my column on single parenting. Midway through it, thinking I was Dennis Miller on a “rant”, I transgressed on a tangent. My column was intended to prove what a whiner I was as a single parent for the two weeks my hubby was out of town.
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In a rush of emotion I had started to write about how my own upbringing had colored my view. Later, when I saw that my column would require the full Opinion page, I deleted it all.
You see my mother WAS a single mother. Of course, it didn’t start out that way, how could it? But for the most part, like my formative years from say five on, she was it. Sole survivor of dueling hearts. I was afraid that it would take my column from a slight jab at myself to a harder one. So, now you can suffer through new ranting this week. Let’s see if we can both take it.
The only personal memory I have of my dad when I was a child was of him combing his long hair in the dining room. Everything else, and I mean everything, I recall from family photographs and one family film. I’m not even positive what age I was when he left. Or what age I was when she found him again, not on a trip back to her home in New York, but in a Hollywood market less than thirty minutes from where we still lived.
The first hurdle we had to jump back then was growing up in East Los Angeles. The Mexican American families that lived in our neighborhood all had dads in the house. I looked for excuses to hang out with Lourdes or Rosa trying, in earnest, to learn Spanish. I loved it when their dads called me “Wedita”. (Which I understood to mean “little white girl”.) It was so much better than not being called anything at all. And so much better to be noticed than not at all.
My mom, not unlike other mothers of her time, didn’t complain about him to us. Chin up, yapper tightly clenched. We simply knew that they hadn’t gotten along. My mother worked full time and we, through several years, had different sitters to take care of us when we got home from school. Mom took us camping at Harwood Lodge, to visit her dad and brother in New York every August when it was cheap, to live plays at the local junior college, made sure we visited the library and dragged us to a Unitarian Church on random Sundays. She filled the gaps by joining an “extended family” group at that church. We met other kids that were minus one parent like a lost limb, forever hobbling around, hoping no one would notice that they might be missing a necessary appendage.
My father went on to raise other children, for even shorter periods, with two other women. I have a well-worn list of names, addresses and occupations of my half brothers and sisters. This list came from my father, rather reluctantly, when I was working on a novel a few years back. I held a fantasy for awhile of running into someone a little younger than I that bore a slight resemblance to my brother or talked like my sister, but beyond that I wanted to understand the man that had been my father. Understand what it felt like to be on the other side of a family.
When I finally had the opportunity to “interview” him he didn’t remember much. He tried to make up for his lack of memory by telling me what a great job my mother did with her three children than his other wives had with theirs. (How big of him I thought.) I probed deeper. He told me about his new friends and his life now. His new religion and his diet. His job and his video collection. I figured he’d never give me anything useful about our family so I tried asking him about his childhood. About his own father. In an attempt, again, at understanding.
“Paps”, as he called his father, had loved his first wife and her two children (My dad and Aunt Betty) until their early divorce. My dad didn’t know the reason for his own parent’s break-up, only that his father had quickly remarried afterward. He would have loved to live with his dad, especially when his mother had to send he and his baby sister to live in a boarding school/orphanage run by nuns. He said that he fought the nuns daily. Constantly being beaten, in particular, while being held off the ground by his hair. My dad married the first woman he met when he was turned out at eighteen.
Okay. Enough reasons why the man didn’t know how to parent. Enough reasons why his idea of family was slightly warped. But what about my own mother? Didn’t she have her own share you may ask? She certainly did. A father she fought tooth and nail with and a mother she…adored that died too young.
We are the indelible ink of our parent’s squiggly-lined heritage. What was done to them wreaks havoc on what is done to us. And so on. But why is “mother” a definitively warmer title while “father”, more oft than naught, simply isn’t?
For all you single fathers out there, former Signal reporter Chris Dickerson notwithstanding, I apologize for my rants. But my mom did do a good job. I wasn’t beaten down figuratively or literally. I was prodded up. And I’ll do my damndest to prod up my own. With or without help from my partner, thank you. It’s my right. Single mother or not, I’m still mother. Hear me roar.
On a lighter note, I survived Valentines Day because Samantha was home sick. So I got to cuddle all day with the female of my choice. Ed, on the other hand, took quite a ribbing by the twenty-five other members at his Fire Academy course in Maryland. Apparently someone e-mailed my column so that day’s message on the chalkboard included a personal note to Captain Bushman to call home or else!