Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Public 'Mea Culpa' to My Mother

It recently occurred to me that I've used this blog to talk about many of the most important people in my life. But, due to simple ignorance, I have yet to write about the most beautiful woman in my world. My mother.

The 'original' Susan Halliday.

Her birthday is less than two days away. I won't reveal her age for fear of being ostracized from our upcoming holiday celebrations. Age is but a number, and my Mom remains the passionate spitfire she has always been.

And, I want to apologize to her. I've done it countless times before and will certainly do so again.

Mom, I'm sorry I didn't treat you with the respect you deserved when I was a child. I'm sorry that I didn't listen to you. I'm sorry I talked back and attempted to humiliate you. I'm sorry for making life hell for you on the sad occasions where I chose to be arrogant and self-righteous. I'm sorry if, for even a single moment, you ever felt that I didn't regard you as a crucial and wonderful part of my life. If you ever felt that way, and I am certain you did, I pray you will forgive me. You will always be the most important woman in my world.

In case you hadn't figured it out, I wasn't particularly kind to Mom.

As a kid, I idolized my Dad. He was the embodiment of what a man should be. Father, friend, teacher, enforcer. I wrote about him just before his birthday this April. My Dad continues to have the greatest influence on my life.

Early on, my Mom saw that connection my father and I had. She knew how important it a strong relationship between a father and his son can shape both men forever and effect generations. Mom recognized that power and never did anything to get in the way. Even when I turned my boyish angst against her. Yelling back. Refusing to obey or even make eye contact. Laughing at her orders. Purposely upsetting her as I tested my limits and her patience.

I made my Mom cry. A lot. She would get so upset she couldn't contain her emotions. It wasn't because she was overly protective or because she had a thin skin; it was because I was terrible to her. Terrible in every way. And when Dad came home, my sister and I would morph into more tolerable children. After all, Dad was the man of the house.

Mom often said, "You wait until Dad gets home." And we would. The moment he stepped through the door we showered him with 'Hellos' and love. Superman was home. Meanwhile, my sister and I had likely just spent the last three hours frustrating our mother...for no reason. Dad got the love; Mom got the laughs.

For the majority of my childhood, Mom was a 'stay at home' woman. No one looked down on housewives during my Mom's generation. But suddenly during the 80s and 90s, more and more women were active in the workplace and my Mom's role was somewhat abnormal to us. Most of my friends' Moms worked. I think my sister and I internalized that and showed our mother less reverence because of it.

Now, as a father of two, I recognize all that she did. I know our house is never as clean as my Mom kept hers; she is a gourmet chef and her meals are legendary. She poured her life into her children and her home. All while dealing with children who didn't show her the proper amount of respect.

This isn't to say that I didn't love her. I did. I told her I loved her all the time.

But I didn't act like it. I would denounce her ideas and ignore her requests to dedicate myself to my studies. She would drive me to algebra tutoring and I would complain the whole time. I refused to see what she was trying to do for me. It was easier to show her disdain.

In middle school, she saw I was struggling in a science course. She recognized my general apathy and worked with me to improve my dedication. She also saw that my teacher (a truly broken man who took pleasure in ignoring others) didn't care about how his students performed. He was punching the clock, learning be damned. My Mom acted. She fought for my test scores to see my shortcomings and to get me help. When the administrators and the teacher's union laughed in her face, she protested the school. She was arrested for trespassing. My Mom was on the front page of our local paper, being shoved into a police cruiser. She was damn proud of her efforts. She made a difference.

But, her only son mocked her. I was ashamed. Mortified. A middle-school boy whose Mom made the paper for being, as classmates told me, "a nutjob." Five years later, in my senior yearbook, one of my friends wrote in the margin next to his picture, "Hope your Mom gets out of jail soon." Kids can be cruel. They taunted me endlessly and I took it out on her.

I was such a fool.

And when I came home from college and blew off any suggested curfew and ignored my parents' requests to 'do something constructive,' my Mom took the brunt of my rude retorts. When I graduated from college and prepared to leave for a teaching expedition to China, she tried to tell me how concerned she was and how she didn't want me to go. I cursed at her...I cursed her up and down.

I still remember the look on her face. She was so offended and hurt. She wailed and moaned...crying for a long time. She refused to look me in the eye. And, of course, I left the house before my Dad came home for dinner.

I was such a coward.

And, when giving a commencement speech at Syracuse University at the age of 24, I talked at length about my father. I acknowledged my Mom and told her I loved her, but I placed my father on a pedestal yet again. I didn't mean to upset her, but I know it bothered her...even if it was a fleeting thought. She deserved to share more of that moment than what I allowed.

I was such an imbecile.

For all of these reasons, I owe my Mom infinite apologies. I've apologized to her before, many times. I always say I am sorry for all of the terrible things I said and did. Each time I apologize she laughs lightly, kisses my cheek and says, "Oh honey, I love you. It is over. Thank you but it's okay. I love you."

I keep apologizing because I keep remembering the way I treated her. I'm often reminded of those moments thanks to my brilliantly wonderful and equally defiant daughter Isabelle. She calls me 'Jeff' instead of Daddy and likes to ignore/refuse my demands. She gets a kick out of upsetting me. After the way I treated my Mom, I deserve it.

Mom, I promise to never undervalue the impact that you've made in my life. And, perhaps more importantly, I also pledge to honor my wife's role in our family. I will always respect her opinion, as Dad did yours. Though we were mean to you, Dad always told me how much he respected you and how we were to listen to you. When we talked back to you, and Dad was there to hear it, we were instantly punished. He constantly berated me for not being more respectful to you. And while it didn't work all the time back then, it has worked.

Though I was rude to you, you always encouraged me. You always pushed me to explore my writing skill and my passion for serving others. Now look at me. Teaching college students how to serve the public as responsible and ethical journalists. You have a lot to do with my success.

Please know that I remain indebted to you and apologize for the way I treated you. I know you have already forgiven me, but that doesn't absolve me of my wrongdoing. Thank you for loving me enough to look beyond my faults.

Perhaps it's not just coincidence that I married a woman named Susan. A passionate and exceptional woman that is not afraid to speak her mind and has a steel backbone. A spitfire.

Just like you Mom.

When Susan and I were just starting to date, I told my now wife that she was not the most beautiful woman in the world. And she still isn't.

You are Mom.

I love you so very much.

Happy Birthday to the woman who helped make me a man and never got the proper credit she deserved.

Until now.