My father left us when I was 7 years old. That left my Mother with me, my two sisters, my younger brother, and my older half brother and sister, his two children from a prior marriage (not that much prior, since I am only 5 and half months younger than my older brother).
I was only 7, so I had no real idea what was going on, and it would be many years before I understood how scared my mother must have been, having no job and 6 kids under 9 years old to take care of. She would have kept my half brother and sister, but a few months later, their mom came for them. My mom treated them as if they were her own, because that is who she is. In fact, she still does treat them as if they were her own.
I don’t remember how I old I was when we moved into the little three-bedroom apartment where I shared a room with my younger brother until I was 17, and where my two sisters shared the same arrangement. It must have been right after that. Recently, my mom told me that she would wake up in the middle of the night to find my sitting in her doorway, afraid that she would get up and leave us in the middle of the night. I don’t remember that, but do remember having a lot of fear as a child.
I do remember how difficult it was for all of us to get through one tiny bathroom in the morning before Catholic school each day, and I do remember my Mom working from the time she woke up until about 10:00 PM at night. She was a recruiter, and she would have resumes spread across her bed as she helped people find jobs.
I also remember eating a lot of hamburger helper and fish sticks and macaroni and cheese. All foods I now despise.
Lately, I have said I am not romantic about cold calls, but I recognize that isn’t true. My mom was petrified of the phone when she started that job. But, to take care of her kids, she dialed the phone. She became extremely effective, and when the franchise owner of her company lost his license, she started her own company with her business partner. I was 13 years old. Her willingness to dial changed all our lives.
There was nothing that I wanted. I never went without food, shelter, or clothing. If my Mom had anything to do with it, no one else would do without either. Like the time William and his family had no money for Christmas, and she found a way to buy all of them presents in addition to buying her children more presents than any of us would have imagined.
My mom was raised by a single mom that raised five children by herself and sent them all to Catholic schools on a secretary’s salary. She had a model for how to raise a family by herself, a model she somehow managed to surpass.
More than anything else, my mom provided the one thing that mattered more than anything else: unconditional love. Neither I, nor none of my siblings have been without unconditional love for one minute of our lives, and if she has anything to do with it, we never will be. There is simply no greater power on earth, and my mom is made up of unconditional love. It’s her superpower.
When I have told some of these stories, people tell me that they are sorry I had a such a terrible childhood. Nothing could be further from the truth. I was never unhappy, never felt I was deprived of anything, and was never without unconditional love. I was also never without the best counsel, the best example, and the first and best friend I will ever have.
My mom knows how I feel about her because it is a rare conversation when I don’t express my gratitude for who she is and who’s she made me—even though I did not willingly adopt what she was teaching me as a young man, and even though I am still not nearly as good a son as she deserves. I am still, to this very day, working to live up to her example.
I love you, Mom! (She sometimes reads my Sunday newsletter)
Happy Mother’s Day to all of you Moms!
Do good work this week, and I’ll see you back here next Sunday!
P.S. I always get questions about my dad when I tell a story like this. He lives in Columbus, and we talk every week. He is part of our family, because my mom never let us harbor any anger or ill-feelings toward him. We forgave him long before he forgave himself, because that is what we were taught.