My feelings toward my mother and father travelled in opposite polarity. When I was a boy I probably liked my dad more. That was at the child level of course, he being the generous one who never admonished us, always kind, always there. He was not an authoritarian in any way, made few demands and imposed hardly any disciplines. Never as much as a smack did he administer.
The heavy guns by contrast were Mother’s reserve. She was the homemaker, the one who had to keep us in check. She made sure we did the things kids don’t want to do but have to. Mum was therefore who we were up against every day being challenged and at the same time challenging her authority. For an anxious person she concerned herself admirably with all the domestic tasks. She was left to get on with that by Dad who was the archetypal breadwinner, a man typical of his time (the 1950s), who saw these tasks as distinctly women’s work.
Due to her being constantly on an emotional edge I probably considered my mother the weaker of the two parents. Into adulthood however, I began to recognise in subtle ways that the opposite was true; that she in large part had carried the weight of family responsibility: the organising of its finances, taking decisions on everything from schooling, holidays, clothes to wear, food to eat, birthdays, Christmases, home decor and maintenance, dealing with the illnesses and the mini-dramas (the major ones too of course which were virtually constant), to all the other infinite jobs that is a mother’s remit. My father, in his detached way, went along with this domestic scene with minimal participation. What had suited me as a child, his rather laconic attitude, I slowly began to see as disconnected, as uninvolved verging on deficient.
The reversing of the polarity, seeing my mother as the one with the broader shoulders, pretty much maintained as I began to understand the more complicated strengths of women generally. By the time Mum died my respect for her outstripped that for my father. In his later years now of frailty and decay I look back and judge the manner in which he treated his wife as abusive, certainly emotionally. Never having heard him show much contrition hasn’t helped our relationship any. While in his isolation he claims to miss Betty, there is little respect for who or what she was or for what she tolerated from the family, for it wasn’t only him who treated her badly, we all made our mark. Being the chief protagonist he shows no shame, remorse or apparent guilt.
I only assume that ma and pa’s relationship must have had its good points. I am not doing service to them here because I don’t really know what they were. It’s also true that there were many positive aspects to my father’s character from which we benefited. And despite what I’ve said here he still wasn’t a bad parent. The essence of this piece is some retribution for how my mother was treated and to offer a few words in honour of her memory and the thankless tasks she performed. It is about my own remorse as much as anything else.
I began to see my mother as the one with the broad shoulders
personal • 29.03.05