Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Other Side of Mother's Day

Mother’s Day is not always flowers and cards and a warm, cozy family brunch.

It’s a day of conflict for a lot of people. And, there’s a lot of guys I know who don’t find Mother’s Day to be filled with memories of the wonderful, loving, wise mother, or the happy family brunch, the bouquet of flowers, or the cheerful phone call.

I’m mentoring a young man in prison, and when I was talking with him this week, I mentioned I’d be back on Sunday. It was Mother’s Day and the visiting room would be crowded. He doesn’t do crowds well, and likes to visit with me when its quiet. He started to cry, sobbing that he should send him mom something, but he was really glad she wasn’t going to be coming for a visit. The Hallmark moment meets reality.

Life with mom for my friend didn’t include the flowers, or the nice card, or even the pleasant phone call. For him, a call to mom usually finds her drunk or stoned, and yelling at him for causing his father to die, or complaining that she needs him to come home and work on her marijuana farm. He’s doing seven years for rape, and the emotional work he’s doing in treatment takes all his energy. Brother’s an addict, sister is in prison for assault and dying of AIDS, and mom can’t seem to find the time to visit him, or show up sober. I don’t think the Cosby Show or Leave It To Beaver would make any sense to him.

And, it goes deeper than that, the beatings, the neglect, the drug use, the times he’d come home from school and find she and her boyfriend having sex in the living room and saying he needed to watch, or maybe join in. I don’t wonder why he gained a hundred pounds and stuffed himself everyday at McDonalds, or ended up in prison for rape when he was seventeen.

“Mommie Dearest” was the sanitized, toned down Hollywood version of his childhood.

Dad’s drug and alcohol abuse and violent history didn’t provide him with much parental stability either, and the more I hear his story, the more I’m amazed he has any sanity left. Trying to get his high school diploma when he’s twenty and becoming a trustee are big accomplishments for him. And, being able to sit in a room and visit with me every week for an hour takes a lot out of him. Just being able to have an adult conversation with someone who is normal is a challenge. It is certainly a new concept for him.

Mother’s Day brings up a whole lot of garbage for a lot of people. Most drug addicts I know were shown how to roll the joint, swig down a short case, or beat up someone and not bring out any bruises. These lessons are just part of the daily curriculum in the home school. Not the subjects we want our kids to learn, but enough of them learn about violence and altering their minds that we keep our jails and hospitals and mental health counselors busy enough. And, yet we wonder why kids don’t do well in school or aren’t bursting with ambition to change the world. They need to get out of hell first.

And, those lessons are being taught on TV shows and video games, and how we see the rich and famous behave in the media. Being wacked out and violent and showing how bad of a parent you can be, with not many repercussions, is a normal night on the couch in front of the idiot box.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for honoring mothers, and fathers, too. Parenting is the most important job in the world. I work hard at being a father, and my wife and I have raised other parents‘ kids, too. I take time to talk to a lot of kids and give willingly of my time and energy to be fatherly, to be a “neighborhood dad”. It is amazing what can be accomplished with some respect and kindness, and encouragement.

I see other people doing that, too. And, doing it well.

But, not enough. The need for good parenting is an epidemic in our country. It is an every day news bulletin for me.

We need to celebrate Mother’s Day and Father’s Day a bit differently. Oh, the cards and flowers and the nice family brunch are nice. It’s always good to say thanks to a good parent.

We need to have a conversation on what good parenting really is. We need to reach out and do some good parenting with other people, people who don’t have a stable, caring parent to turn to when times get tough. Maybe we all need to step up to the plate and actually do some parenting. The world might just be a better place, and we might figure out how to do more on this day than send a card or go out to brunch.

Neal Lemery, May 8, 2011(C)

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