Mothers who made a father out of me

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According to the 31 emails a day I’ve been receiving from ProFlowers, Teleflorist and Shari’s Berries — and the commercials I’ve seen from Kay Jeweler’s, this Sunday is Mother’s Day — in case you hadn’t heard.

By the way, aren’t cards part of the package too? Does Hallmark do commercials anymore, reminding us to buy cards? Or do they only run them on the Hallmark channel? I haven’t seen any.

Note to Hallmark: Guess who buys most Mother’s Day cards? Dads. Dads are not watching Hallmark Channel — at least not now. The NBA and NHL playoffs are going on, the three-month buildup to the NFL draft ends this week and the World Cup is being played now (I’m told). And even if I can’t see the Dodgers on TV, I hear it’s baseball season now too.

All I’m saying, Hallmark, is that I never heard from you.

My teenage sons will spend a couple of days with their mother, which is of course how it should be. I will see their mother too and I’ll wish her Happy Mother’s Day, but I’ll let her spend the day alone with them.

We are not together as a couple anymore, but we are together as parents. We are mostly in sync on how to handle our younger son, who right now is a rock, and how to handle our older son, who right now is … a hard place.

The three of them will have some fun. I’ll do … whatever I feel like.

I will write, and I will read the Sunday paper. I will make a Bloody Mary, or I will go get one and I will enjoy it, and toast to my late Mother, who taught me how to make a whiskey sour for her by the time I was 12 — just one a night, when she had one.

In my mind, I will hear her call me by name in her drawn out Alabama accent: “Miiiiichael,” and it will make me smile.

I will call some women — really good mothers I know — and I will wish them Happy Mother’s Day. I may call the mothers of a couple of friends I grew up with and I will certainly call a few moms who are contemporaries of mine — either friends of mine who have kids, or mothers of kids who are friends with my kids.

As a man and a father who grew up in a time where the dad was usually gone a lot, I have formed what might be called my parenting skills primarily from thinking of what my Mom might do, or my best friend’s Mom and a few other Moms I know or remember, and mirroring their parenting style.

I loved my Dad, and have tried to be like him in so many ways — and I will write more about him next month. But like a lot of guys my age, there wasn’t nearly as much daily interaction with Dad as with Mom. Dad was the guy who went to work every day, made most of the money, and was usually late for dinner — coming in late in his by then rumpled suit, with his tie undone, carrying a briefcase.

Hanging out with Dad was really a weekend thing — and while that was always fun, he usually looked silly in his weekend clothes.

Dad and Mom. (Photo from Mike Brennan)
Dad and Mom.
(Photo from Mike Brennan)

But Monday through Friday was Mom time. Getting up for school, getting off to school, getting home after school, trying to watch TV after pretending to not have homework — this was all Mom time. And she knew … everything.

I think most schools these days do a pretty good job of keeping parents informed of what’s going on: homework, attendance, projects, that kind of thing. Partially because they have the technology to do it and partially, I’m guessing, because they feel like they have to. I’m sure some parent somewhere sued a school district because their little angel didn’t get into Stanford and the parent decided to blame it on “malicious lack of crucial information” regarding an upcoming Spanish test. When little Johnny did poorly, it dropped his GPA from a 2.6 to a 2.4 — so, yeah, that’s why he didn’t get into Stanford.

My point is, parents can keep track of what their kid is doing at school pretty easily these days.

But back then, there was no TeacherEase or NetClassroom or any other website, nowhere my Mom could check “online.” Yet she always seemed to know if I’d gotten in trouble, or been in a fight, or got my heart broken — or had homework. She didn’t need a network password — she had the Mom’s network.

In those days, the “stay-at-home” Moms didn’t meet at the coffee shop every day after their hot yoga class, or in between their therapy session and their personal trainer session. They actually stayed home. But they still talked to other Moms — on long-corded phones in the kitchen, while they were making dinner, doing the laundry, paying bills, or cleaning something.

So, you’d be a fool to go waltzing into the kitchen, looking for a Ring Ding or a Yodel to snack on while you watched Speed Racer and trying to pretend you didn’t have homework.

“Really,” she’d ask, while making Southern Fried Chicken from scratch and holding the baby. (When you’re the oldest of 6, it seems like Mom was always holding “the baby”). “That’s strange. John Corcoran has homework. Mary Ellen Flaherty has homework — aren’t they in your class?”

And you’d slink off to your room, staring at the kitchen phone like it was an informant.

The phone cords, by the way, were either canary yellow or avocado green — matching the appliances. A white cord would mean you had white appliances, and who would do that with a houseful of kids?

Mom also always knew the right thing to say. She was judicious with her words; when you’re running a house and dealing with a station wagon sized family, there’s not a lot of time for long heart-to-hearts … but she knew what to say and when to say it. Sometimes just a hug, or a kiss, or a look covered it all.

I’ve blown so many conversations, or opportunities for conversations with my two kids, that I just don’t get how she did it.

My Mom was a great Mom. I used to think everyone thought that about their own Mom — now I know better.

There are women I know who are better Moms than their own Mom ever was. And I know women who tell me now that they try to be like my Mom was.

And so do I.

But I also try and take some skills from some of the Moms I know now. Because I know I need help.

I try to take wisdom from one Mom who moved across the country to be close enough to her daughter while she goes to college, so she could help her out when there’s a problem, but stays far enough away to let her learn from her mistakes.

I try and take understanding from one who has one adult child moving back in with her now for financial reasons and has another one living on his own after successfully completing rehab.

I try to take courage from one who’s going through serious health problems of her own, but smiling through it all at her daughter’s birthday sleepover.

I’ve admired one who’s son has gone through estrangement from his father, leaving her to act as both parents right at the time a teenage boy could really use a dad.

I’ve learned unbridled enthusiasm from one whose children are mostly grown and successful and are her best friends, even though they of course weren’t always as teenagers.

I’ve learned unconditional love from my mother-in-law, who still has kind words and holiday cards for me, the father of her grandsons, though I’m not with her daughter anymore. And the same from my step-mom, who married my Dad long after my Mom had passed, only to see his mental agility soon begin to fade.

Yep, I know some pretty tough mothers.

I’ve learned some things from my Dad too, and from some other dads I know … but this is not their day.

This is Mother’s Day, and I hope you make time to see or talk to and thank your Mom, and thank the other Moms who have influenced her and influenced you. Because Moms are the best people on Earth.

Try not to come empty handed. She’s expecting flowers, or berries, or a card.

But she’ll settle for a call, or a kiss.