I have always seen “weakness” as a defect and here on this blog I say a lot about what I consider to be my own weaknesses – the narrative playing in my head and here on these pages for years has been a fear that I am too broken and weak to be useful at all.
This story starts with what has been and where I came from.
My mother has suffered most of her life. I know this intellectually and because as her children we hurt alongside her in my father’s home.
For most of my life I thought she was weak to stay with him. I resented her sticking in there with him. Looking back, I hated the way she propped him up, when his fragile ego quaked and he wanted to quit this or that ministry, or when he felt betrayed by someone, or was sure that so and so was out to get him or them. She was the strong woman behind the ministry “leader.” Only back then, she didn’t look strong to me.
After being angry at her for most of my life (and receiving a lot of therapy) I now see that she was strong all those years, and is, today. I can see how much she loved my father and was loyal and faithful and good to him. I see that she thought that she was helping us all by propping up the ego maniacal and abusive man that was my father sometimes.
But you see it wasn’t that simple. He was a beloved man who did many incredibly good and important things. He served well and long, and loyally. He loved his family. He sincerely wanted to please God. He loved his few close friends deeply. I can see this looking back, even though he came home and took out his internal demons on a fragile and devoted woman, his wife and my mom and on his daughters.
Apparently, he was only physically abusive to Mother once. So the restraint he showed to never hit my mother again was … commendable? And yet she lived with that intimidation and threat for forty-five years, knowing what he was capable of doing she was faithful to him.
Today a woman would have packed her bag the night that, in a fit of rage, he put her head through a wall. Here’s the thing. Once you do something like that your household is always terrified, no matter how you promise, regret, or apologize.
And he did often, after a fit of raging, make promises and express sorrowful regret. We experienced his rages. Things “the public” never knew. Things you wouldn’t quite believe possible from a man who could also be tender and gentle, who so often eloquently expressed his faith and devotion to God. Perhaps she should have left him. I used to think so. And I would have, I frequently thought to myself in my twenties and thirties as I was learning about feminism and independence. Though I never did choose to leave him and I even went to work for him for nearly a decade.
She stayed and so did we.
It was complex and codependent. How he longed to be perfected by God but in his lifetime this never happened. This skewed my view of men, of fathers, and especially of a Father God, for a long time.
But this is about my mother, who was loyal and strong; yes strong even though all my life I looked at her and thought of her as weak.
What kind of strength is required to endure the unyielding shouting and frequent berating over years,
Her depression was not obvious to me then but now, of course, palpable and understandable. Frequently in poor health, she stayed in bed and that became her place of refuge from the strain and stress of our home. She internalized his anger and used her illnesses to escape. She had very few if any personal friends. Abused women are often very isolated. And, she withdrew from her children emotionally. We got very little physical comfort growing up, though I’m sure there was much she wanted to say and do. She just didn’t.
She’s apologetic now, at seventy-five and expresses openly her love, physically and emotionally, and her regrets which are many. Now that he’s dead, she has chosen to make her life incredibly simple. She likes her condo, and her health remedies, and baseball or basketball on the television. She plays memory games on her hand-held game.
She’s chosen this unassuming, even guileless life. This makes sense to me considering that my father dragged her all over the world for most of their married life; as it turns out most of the moves we made (two or three dozen) she didn’t even want to make. Today her life consists of getting a message or her nails done. She does energy work. Much of it I don’t understand completely, but I respect the obvious need for self-care and lack of relational complexity in her life, still.
I’m grateful that she is quick check in on me, if she thinks I’m disappointed or angry with her. I’m glad that she’s finally content with her life, set up just the way she likes it. And I respect her for these choices, even if I wouldn’t choose them. She’s seventy-five and is finishing life in a way she seems to like – justifiably simple and safe.
This Mother’s Day I honor my mother for surviving. I honor her for her quiet internal strength.
I honor her for her loyalty and commitment, even when I didn’t understand it.
As children we watch our parents and want them to be our idea of perfect. Each time they supposedly fail we have a choice, to be disappointed or to accept knowingly that life is made up of hundreds of these choices.
Life isn’t pass or fail.
Life is to be examined carefully and closely, to be lived openly and yet with great care for the people in it.
You never know why someone chooses a certain path.
And in the end, you can only live your own life, embracing your apparent weaknesses as well as strengths, knowing that each one makes you who you are today.
Life is fragile. Love is unimaginably complicated. Parenting is by example but no one is perfected in their lifetime.
I think life’s purpose is found in how we take the journey, in the small and seemingly innocuous choices that become important along the way.
I honor my mother this Mother’s Day for being both strong and weak – for being human.
Other Posts about my parents:
Remembering Daddy, Ten Thousand Tears, A Message From my Dead Father, Forgiving is a Miracle, My Father is Dead, When Did you First Believe God is Male, A Good Day Is, Watching My Father Die, Lessons From a Monastery, On Parenting Deeply & Well, On Putting the Dark & the Light Together, Strongest in the Broken Places, Who Needs a Heart When a Heart Can Be Broken?, Parenting by Free Fall, What Kind of A Mother, A New Way to Be Human, Forgiveness: Expect Miracles, A World Of Possibilities, My Mother.