Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Confessions Of My Mother

This last weekend I went to my grandmother's funeral. It was nice to see the whole family again. My mother's family is pretty stretched out and we don't usually ever have get-togethers. None of my extended family are members of the Church so it's always to an extent, a little awkward. I mean, they know we are Mormons and while the rest of them are drinking wine and beer, my family is content to drink water. We really stand out.

My parents are pretty unique in a lot of respects. First of all, as far as Mormon's are concerned, they don't fit the political mold. Mother is a democrat and Father is an independent. Mother is a democrat because she believes in a lot of the democratic platforms, while Father is independent simply because he has no convictions -about anything. My parents are the kindest most wonderful people. Sure they have their faults and weaknesses like all parents do, but I think they have some amazing capabilities.

My father is a peacemaker. He is the most non-judgmental person I have ever known. Nothing ever makes him angry. I could be rude and disrespectful to my father and tease him and he takes is in stride like water off a duck's back. My father wants the people around him to be okay and he will do anything he can to make sure that they feel comfortable. He can take a contentious situation and turn anger into calm. He is not a pessimist in the least, nor an optimist. I have never met a more completely neutral person. He is a good man with a kind heart. Almost a John Candy type of personality but much much mellower. He is bumbling in his corny sense of humor and gets a lot of rolling eyes with his terrible jokes. Growing up they used to embarrass me, but all of my friends loved my father because of his genuine kindness and ability to make them feel comfortable. He is honest. One of the most honest people I have ever met. My father is gifted in his ability to listen hear a situation or dilemma and become sympathetic to the cause. That's why it is so difficult for him to have any sort of political opinions, he will listen to a political debate and agree with both parties. As far as the Church goes, it took him many years of study and prayer before he could decide that he wanted to become a member. He still struggles to buy into all of it and a lot of his concerns about the Church are remarkably similar to mine. My father graduated from high school in the top ten of his class, but never went on to university. Father is a king of comfort and would rather stay at home and watch television than go out somewhere. He loves food and is an amazing gourmet chef. He has been known to spend hours preparing a meal for no one but himself simply for the pleasure of taste. By profession he is a salesman, by definition, the worst salesman ever. He lacks self confidence and has suffered from time to time with mild to serious depression. He lacks self confidence and would rather sacrifice his income to help someone get a great deal on products or services. Growing up we were always in debt and while I was serving a mission my father declared bankruptcy and they lost nearly everything. They eventually had to sell and move from the house that we had lived in for so many years into a small rented home in town. This crushed my mother.

My mother is a dreamer. She cares about the world around her. She is a Jane Goodall type of person. She is in love with nature and anything living and wild. All of my growing up in the Cascade mountains I can remember my mother going on long walks into the wilderness with the dogs. She could spend hours in the forest miles away on foot communing with God and wildlife. From September through November my mother would spend hours searching for and gathering wild chanterelle mushrooms from the wooded mountainside on which we lived. She would bring them in, clean them up, and take them to town to sell them to fancy restaurants and at farmers markets. Growing up we always had fresh flowers from the yard in the kitchen. Even in December when most of everything had died from winter, she some how would manage to salvage a few pansies from the cold in her little greenhouse. My mother has a gift with animals. She can communicate with them and they with her. Mother is a hard worker. She would spend hours every day working around the home. As a mother, she naturally has all of the natural gifts that any mother has, but more than that, my mother knows the souls of her children and can feel them. When something is wrong in my life, even now, when I am miles away from home my mother can feel it and she will call me. My mother went to university and has a BA in child development/corrections. Before marrying my father she worked in a home for abused girls. Most of my growing up however, she was a part time special education teacher. My mother has always wanted to make a difference in this world and had spent her entire life working towards that up until she married my father. It was then that she realized that her mission in life was not that she herself make a difference in this world, but to raise children who would. My mother has dreams of going to Africa and working with the wildlife reserves or the schools and orphanages there. She knows that stepping onto the African continent may never happen for her, but she still dreams and reads about it. She has a heart of tender gold.

This weekend when I met up with my parents in California for the funeral I decided that I needed again to talk to them about my life and the choices I am making. My relationship with my parents has never been more open and honest. I sat on the bed and talked to my mother about everything. She had said in a previous conversation that marriage was indeed a possibility for me and that marriage is more than sex. I had countered, "But so is homosexuality. There is a lot more to homosexuality than sex." She recognized my sentiments and conceded. During this conversation however, she tearfully confessed that she understands more than ever how difficult a marriage would be for me.

Despite the loving and caring dispositions of my parents, their marriage has suffered because of their personality differences. My mother is inspiration driven, while my father is driven by pacification. They never really fight at all. Growing up they never did. They always had the ability to discuss their differences. I can remember them when I was a kid just going into their room, locking the door behind themselves, and talking for what seemed like hours. I can also remember as a kid my father coming home occasionally with a bouquet of flowers and sweeping my mother off her feet and passionately kissing her. But as the years went on, that faded and the passion in their marriage faded. A little over year and a half ago when my parents marriage and differences had reached a climax, they finally went into marriage counseling at the demands of my married sister who lives next door to them. It's kind of strange, my mom knows that something is wrong between them, but my dad seems oblivious to the struggles in their marriage. They went to four counseling sessions and then the bombshell was dropped. Father had cancer. It was pretty bad. Though I didn't know it at the time, my mom was almost ready to divorce him. But in her words, "You can't leave someone all alone with cancer." The counseling stopped and the cancer treatments began. Father could no longer work and money became so tight that at times we could hardly afford to eat. I remember coming home for Christmas that year. They had sold their house and were living in a small rented house in town. My parents had received a bundle of movie ticket coupons and we all got ready to go. There was little to eat and not much time before the movie started, so we decided to grab something at the grocery store. So tight was the money that all they could afford was a small bucket of stale fried chicken for the six of us to share. We sat in the car and gobbled it up. We couldn't even afford water to wash it down. It was pretty humbling and I realized that my parents' spirits had been broken.

She still loves him for who he is, but she isn't in love with him. I know my father loves my mother very much too. But I wonder sometimes if he loves her a little bit in the same way that a child loves his mother. My mom takes care of my father. As my father has struggled economically and emotionally, my mom has taken care of him. She has resented the economic insecurity that they have always had since they married. I had thought that the whole cancer ordeal had helped bring them closer together and that their marriage had improved, but this weekend my mom confessed that all it really did was just buy some time and gave her something to focus on other than the struggles in their marriage. She also confessed that she was ready to leave him, she feels trapped in the marriage. The only thing that keeps her married is fear of hurting him, hurting her children, and the people they know that love them. A family of 14 that is in the ward that I grew up in just announced that the wife of the family has requested a divorce. Especially if you knew the family you'd really know how shocking the revelation was. I think the boldness and courage that this woman had to declare such a desire both frightens and inspires my mother to do the same.

So anyway, my mom says to me, "I never want you to feel like you are trapped in a marriage. I am beginning to realize what it would mean for you. I love your father dearly, but I don't love him as a wife ought to and I am tired of fighting this. I feel like I am living a dishonest life. I feel like I am lying to him and I am lying to everyone."

She has an appointment with the marriage counselor today. She says she is going to go into see him and say, "Make me fall in love with my husband." And to tell you the truth, I don't know that she ever could re-fall in love with him. And she also knows that no counselor can make her fall in love with him. She is just hopeless and is reaching out for anything.

So I compare this all to where I am at and where I could be if I ever got married. Can you see the parallels? How could I ever expect to have such an open and honest relationship with my wife that I could openly and honestly tell her, "Listen dear, I love you for who you are, but I really don't love you as a husband ought to. I don't find you attractive to me neither physically nor on many levels, emotionally. You are a great friend, but I really have a hard time feeling like I am satisfied with our marriage and our relationship. I think I could find more personal satisfaction with a man than with you. I understand that not being married to you would mean the sacrifice of many things that mean a lot to me and us personally and essentially that's why I am still married to you." How can I say something like that and expect her to feel okay about being married to me? How can I feel something like that and expect to feel okay about getting married in the first place? I just don't think God makes invincible people.

So of course because I understand where my mother is coming from in her marriage it's hard to not sympathize with her situation. How can I look at this so objectively? This is my parent's marriage for crying out loud! This is my family! Nearly 28 years of marriage! Of course I don't want them to divorce, but I wonder what that would mean for the family if they were to get divorced. How would my parents change? Would it force my father to grow in ways that he never has, use his talents for his benefit, and stop relying on my mother or would it crush him to the point of suicide? Would it free my mother to a place where she could achieve her potential as a person or would it be the greatest mistake of her life? She feels trapped and people who are trapped can't grow while trapped. Either she must change the trap, or escape the trap. But is it possible for her to achieve true happiness in either of those options?

It's a lot to think about.

PS: The pictures above are actual pictures of where I grew up. I used to drive along that highway to get to town everyday. I grew up so lucky to have lived where I have.


Le Mec said...

This is a beautiful post. I have similar feelings sometimes when I look at my family's past and present. I don't want to just "settle" to be able to get married, and recent experience has taught me some wonderful things about myself and relationships. Glad you're back and good luck this week!

Sir Robert Chiltern said...

I really liked this post. It made me think about my parents' relationship. I think I might want to blog about it too.