Sunday, May 14, 2006

Happy Mother's Day, Mom

Bill Harryman has had a difficult life. His father died when he was thirteen, and he had to take care of his mentally handicapped mom and himself. He was a gifted child whose mother was incapable of encouraging that giftedness or enjoying its fruits. Bill grew up frustrated, resentful, and angry and acted out these emotions with alcohol, drugs, and petty crime. He was headed down a dark path until he hit bottom and began changing his life. But his mom, whose intellect was stunted by severe childhood malnutrition during the Depression, never stopped loving her son unconditionally and doing her best for him. When other mothers might have thrown up their hands in despair and walked away, she remained there for him as fully as she could be until she died last summer of uterine cancer. Today, Bill has written a moving tribute to his mom and to the capacity of the human spirit to transcend adversity.

My situation was different but not very happy as I was growing up. My mother was fifteen when I was born, my father twenty-one. They got married but separated shortly thereafter. Mom and I lived with my grandparents until she remarried when I was seven. My grandparents mostly raised me while Mom worked and went to school. She dropped out of high school as a freshman but did so well on a community college entrance exam a few years later that she was allowed to attend there and excelled. However, she couldn’t continue her education at the time because she had to work full time to support herself and me. When she married a man thirteen years her senior, she felt locked into the life she had forged for herself.

Her marriage left a lot to be desired. The man she married was insecure and jealous whenever she talked to other men. They drank and argued a lot and he even physically abused her at times. I could never see him as a father or get close to him, and I often feared him. He was good at technical things and at working with his hands, I was mentally handicapped and psychologically averse to both, so we had almost nothing in common to share. I spent most of my extracurricular time hiding in my room when he was home, or I was outside on the basketball court or in the bowling alley. I spent as much time with Mom as I could when my stepdad wasn’t home, but I never felt as close to her as I would have liked. I was much closer to my grandparents. I never really saw Mom as my mom. I think I saw her more as a big sister. My grandmother was my mom. But she and my grandfather had lived hard lives with scarcely any formal education, and I often felt frustrated that I couldn’t share my intellectual and academic interests with them during all the time I spent with them the way I would have liked.

As I grew older and more and more down on myself over what I perceived as my intellectual and social inadequacies, I grew more and more unhappy. I left home to live with my grandparents the day after I graduated from high school. Mom separated from my stepdad shortly after that, but we had little contact with each other until recently.

Only after I got married almost three years ago and my second stepdad died of cancer shortly afterward did Mom and I begin seeing and talking with each other more. In fact, I’ve probably seen her and talked with her more during that short time than I did for the whole thirty years or so preceding it. I decided to move to Sacramento partly because I wanted to live close enough to her to see more of her. Yet, even now, I find it difficult to call her because I don’t know what to say to her. We both want to be closer to each other, but we’re not sure how to make it happen. Our politics and views of the world are so different. She is so much smarter than me that she can’t understand my shortcomings. There is just not the warmth and rapport between us that I wish we could have, and I’m sure she wishes it too.

But I love her and will try harder to be a good son to her. I’ll call her in a few minutes and wish her a Happy Mother’s Day and spend time with her as soon after that as I can. And even though I’ve often thought otherwise, I’m grateful that she gave birth to me and then sacrificed so much to support and raise me as best she could. There must have been times when she resented me for taking away from her the kind of life she would no doubt have liked to live. I could see her continuing on in school and becoming a very successful lawyer, businessperson, or academic if I hadn't come along when I did. But she never let on, never complained that I had dashed her hopes and dreams. She just worked hard and did the best she could. And I AM grateful.


Anonymous said...

I detect more hidden resentment than gratitude.
Until the hatred and rage is admitted and allowed to turn into forgiveness, any attempt tp "shine the light into a world of darkness" wiil be a surficial ego powered effort at best.
The light of God cannot shine through the lense of unforgiveness.

Nagarjuna said...

Who am I not forgiving such that I cannot let God's light shine through me?


WH said...

Hi Steve,

Thanks for acknowledging my post today. I appreciate your kind words.

It sounds as though your life was no picnic either. Living with an abusive man is very damaging. My partner grew up with an emotionally (and occasionally physically) abusive father. She wasn't able to mend the relationship until just before he died. Even then, it took some good therapy to break through the pain.

I hope that you and your mom can find some way to meet as souls, separate from all the history.

On a personal note, and I hope I'm not out of line here: My sense is that your self-image doesn't match your talents. You are a questing, growing person with a big heart. What more could a mother want in a son?


Jess said...

Wow, I went there and read it. Such raw feelings and emotion through his words. Glad he was able to get through it. I don't have the story, other than the bio thing gone wrong but that is another post for another time.
I am sure in time you and your mom will get where you need to get to. I don't know what I would do if I did not have mine. Bad enough losing dad just last year, but her would be a whole new low I would sink to I think. Only for the simple reason I would not be me if not for the love and grace of the two people that took me in and raised me.
And ditto Bill's words for the self image you have. I know I may be out of line, but I am sure all will be forgiven ;). You are hard and tough on the outside, but a big old moosh ball inside from what I know of you.

Anonymous said...

Why are you unable to break through the wall of denial and acknowledge your repressed resentment towards the mother who abandoned you? Then forgive her?

Nagarjuna said...

Dear Anonymous: Thank you for your caring counsel. If I were consciously aware of any such resentment, I'd try to do as you say. But I'm not consciously aware of it. This doesn't necessarily mean that it doesn't exist. But if I'm not consciously aware of it, I can't do anything about it except hire a therapist to help me uncover and work through it, and I'm afraid I can't afford that, unless you want to extend me an affordable rate out of overriding concern for my mental and spiritual condition.

You ARE a qualified therapist aren't you? That is, you ARE qualified to analyze and publicly pronounce on my repressed resentments and their deleterious effects, are you not? :-)

Anonymous said...

I'm a mother with a son just like you so I can't help on the therapy part.
My own sons phony compassion towards me in turn causes me to also resent him. And the cycle perpetuates.
The deep therapy sessions would be a good start.

Anonymous said...

By the way, my name is Shirley but my friends call me Shirl.

Nagarjuna said...

Dear Shirley, I apologize for my sarcastic remarks previously. I thought you might be someone else who came here from another site. It seems that your observations are sincere, and I would be the last person to dismiss them outright. But, again, I must say that I'm not consciously aware of feeling the resentment for my mother that you perceive or of expressing "phony compassion" for her, and I really can't afford a therapist to help me uncover serious issues with my mom if they're there.

I hope that things improve between you and your son, and I thank you for your comments.