This weekend we celebrate Father’s Day and I’ve customarily spent the time thanking my dad for a variety of things he taught me. He was my first hero. When I was younger I wanted to grow up and be just like him.
I admired his sense of humor and his love of athletics as well as the fact he held a position of prominence among the members of our neighborhood as he coached and mentored young men. He gave me sage advice and later in his life he was among my closest friends until his death.
It stings though because dad didn’t think as much of himself as I did. He disappeared from my life for several years during a time when I definitely needed him.
As I negotiated puberty, teaching myself to shave and how to act as a young man, it definitely hurt to know my dad had a new wife and a new family with whom he spent his time – I felt discarded. That’s a tough row to hoe for anyone. But, hey, there came a joyous day when that ended and I never looked back. Dad did. He heavily regretted not being around during some of my formative years but I think it actually helped us get closer making the moments we spent together after our reconciliation bitter sweet, but ultimately more sweet than bitter.
Perhaps one of the reasons why I had little trouble reconciling is because during those divisive and difficult times I still had someone in my corner – always sticking by me and always supporting me.
So, this Father’s Day I want to thank my mother and all the single mothers who have to take on the role of both parents.
Mom raised four children, held down a job, kept a roof over our head and suffered through problems of misogyny and sexual harassment in the office place that today would go viral on Twitter.
While I remember some particularly tough times, I cannot look back in anger or with resentment. She kept the family together and did so with a Southern pride, manner and gentleness sorely lacking today. I never heard her say, “poor me.”
She once was the auction manager for a public television station, promotional director for a large shopping mall, a substitute anchor on a local television morning show and a promotional director for a large oil company at various points during her career.
She also dated a wide variety of interesting characters, including Peter Jennings, after she and my father split up – but that’s a different story.
Her favorite flowers are daisies, and one of her favorite memories is of being a young girl lying on her back flying a kite with the kite string being guided by her big toe as she kicked back with her legs crossed and her head resting in her hands. One of her biggest dreams is of traveling the cosmos and to the moon.
I know this because we talked a lot when I was a kid. She listened to a confused and angry teenage boy without judging, knowing as a woman she couldn’t relate to me as a male, but also intuitively knowing we’re all human with common interests and needs that go beyond the walls we build around ourselves.
Mom was the single largest influence on my life – without question. Today she doesn’t think of herself as being particularly tough, but she has grit most would find enviable.
When one particular boss tried to intimidate her she instructed him in no uncertain terms if he tried to sully her name she’d turn him from a rooster to a hen quicker than he could scream “ouch.” Yep, Dolly Parton in “9 to 5” has nothing on my mom.
She has a variety of outside interests, including modeling (that's her on a magazine cover above from 1970). She is an accomplished pianist and an actress who appeared in local productions at the Clarksville Little Theater. I used to run lines with her as she rehearsed for whatever play she was in – from “Night of the Iguana” to “Star Spangled Girl”.
Today, though 80 years old, she practices Tae-Kwan-Do. When my younger brother died she took it upon herself to raise his two autistic sons herself.
A stubborn woman with a great sense of humor, there were times of contentiousness - after all who hasn’t had an argument with their parents? When she thinks she’s right you can’t budge her and you can’t intimidate her. I’d like to think I learned that from her.
Perhaps she was the muse that caused Tom Petty to write “I Won’t Back Down.”
I cannot imagine what it was like to raise two boys and two girls through the 60s and 70s as a professional woman who constantly bumped her head against the glass ceiling – especially in the South. Men often demeaned her. She was paid less because she was a woman – even though she was raising a family of four.
I don’t remember her complaining, but fighting. I don’t remember her idly and merely dreaming of better – but actively striving for better.
And today I don’t remember any of the strife, only the pleasure of always having a comfortable home and a parent who encouraged me to think for myself, be respectful of myself and be responsible for myself.
Happy Father’s Day Mom.