CQ…Clark Here

Thoughts and opinions. LOTS of opinions.

Archive for the tag “Father”

Not Saint, not Satan. She was my Mom. Part II.

When Dad died, Mom immediately packed her stuff and moved closer to us.  We had counseled her to wait a while, but she was determined.  In retrospect, I think she had always had a man to take care of her (she did, after all, grow up in that era), and it seemed she wanted me to kind of take over Dad’s position in her life.  I think she was always a bit bitter that I would not do that; I had my own family, my own life that I had to take care of.  On the other side of the coin, she was proud of the fact that she did so much that she didn’t know she could on her own.

But try as I might (and I tried a lot), I couldn’t get Mom to integrate into our lives.  Multiple times we asked her to bring her crocheting or knitting (she was phenomenal) to the house and just spend the evening, but she couldn’t do that.  So, as time went by, I think our relationship suffered.  There was never any doubt of my love for my Mom, nor of her love for me.  It’s just that our worlds didn’t seem to ever mesh.  The “Dillaman guilt” definitely had a field day with me.

And it was difficult.  As Mom aged, she got more “old lady-ish;” set in her ways, demanding, and a bit mean.  Everyone loved Mom, and I frequently heard how sweet she was.  But I think it’s often different for close family.  I’m not saying she wasn’t sweet, she was, but I didn’t always see that side.  Being my Mom, she never hesitated to criticize me, or let me know I wasn’t calling or stopping in enough.  But from my perspective, I was doing what I could.  It’s just that Mom had never made a life for herself without her family.  To Mom, (and I suspect the Dillaman family of Oscar and Inez), family was everything.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my extended family, but I also have a life; full, busy, interesting.  And it was hard to reconcile the two.  When Beth and I would go on vacation, I would always call my mother to let her know we were on the way, having discussed our vacation plans in advance with her.  She always said, “Have a great time, don’t even think about me.”  No manipulation there, boy.  It took a long time for me to realize that what she was actually saying was, “I depend on you, you’re all I have.  What if something happens to you, who’ll take care of me?”  It made me sad, because Mom was capable of so much more, she just didn’t know it, believe it, or try for more.

And as she got older still, it got more difficult still.  Beth, having the more flexible work schedule, bore the brunt of Mom’s doctor appointments, dentist, eye doctor, whatever.  Beth was fantastic with Mom.  And as much as Mom loved Beth, it was me that she talked about.  Kind of hurt Beth a bit.  But when Mom was with me, I only heard critiques of my driving, handwriting, whatever.  And “the old days.”  She talked a lot about when I was young, but did not much talk about her memories as I got older.  I think when I got to about age ten, it became so hard for Mom to let go that she just treasured the earlier years and pined for that “golden time.”  She used to say that I was “their whole world.”  A lot.  I just wanted to be their son, not their “whole world.”

Her dying was no less difficult.  Age 90, she fell and cracked her pelvis.  The doctor said that structurally, she was no weaker than Beth or I, but that the pain associated with walking was terribly intense.  Mom had been living in Brevillier Village in Erie, PA for a while, in independent living up to this point.  However, after the fall they moved her into nursing care for rehab.  She tried, but the pain was so bad that she had a hard time coping.  And this was a woman who even at her age could handle pain like no one I’d ever seen.  No matter what, Mom was no whiner when it came to personal pain.

She also had a problem with her white blood cell count; Strike two.  We had known about this for some time, but she had refused any treatment, deciding to let it run its course.  I wasn’t really happy with this decision, but it was hers to make.

After the injury, her white blood cell count went through the roof.  Additionally, due to the fall, Mom had a section of her bowel go necrotic.  Strike three.  The doctor said Mom would need an operation to remove that section of bowel, but with her white blood cell count in the stratosphere, it was pretty much a done deal that she would not survive the operation.  With these problems, the doctor said it was just a matter of time, that she could not come back from this.  I took as much time off work as I could, and Beth and I sat by her bed, playing music she would like, talking to her, and just being near.  As she slipped away, she could only rouse herself when company came, especially her granddaughters.  She loved them dearly, and smiled for them, enjoying their company like nothing else.

As time moved, Beth and I got exhausted, and Mom’s sister, my Aunt Phoebe, came to the hospital to spell us.  I cannot say how helpful that was, that Beth and I got a chance to sleep in our own bed at home.  But my Mom was slowing down, like a grand old clock who’s spring was tired, and simply could not be wound up again.  Mom slipped more, seldom rousing for anything.  It was hard watching my Mother die, but this was the last thing I could ever do for her on this earth, and I would not have been anywhere else in the world.  Beth and I sat by her bed, twenty-four seven.  We took turns sleeping; the staff at Ball were amazing, and more helpful than I can describe. They would make sure that we had coffee, snacks, juice.  Beth or I would get tired, and one of us would go to the library and sleep as best we could on the sofa, and then switch off so the other could get a few hours sleep.  Somehow, at some point, a hospital bed appeared in the library, and we took advantage of that.  It felt so good to stretch out.

There is a cat that prowls the halls of Ball Pavillion.  She is friendly, but not overly so.  However, as we talked to the staff, they told us of one of the cat’s peculiarities.  It seems that, although she was friendly with many, when one of the residents were failing, the cat spent a great deal of time in that resident’s room, often being there for hours on the day that the resident finally died.  Not one to put a ton of stock in stuff like this, I did notice on this one particular day that the cat was in Mom’s room quite a bit; rubbing on Mom’s bed, jumping on my lap and staying for quite a while.

That night, I was beat and at one point went to the library, just down the hall from Mom’s room.  I might have been asleep for half an hour when Beth woke me and said that I better come to Mom’s room, something had happened.  Getting out of bed, I staggered down to Mom’s room, and found that as Beth had observed, Mom’s breathing was ragged and irrhythmic.  We watched her breathing slow, and finally stop.  The grand old clock was tired and had run down.  I closed my Mother’s eyes as I had my Father’s, and we mourned.  We stayed with her for a while, and walked down the hall with her to the funeral home vehicle, where she would ride to get prepared for her funeral.  The staff and Mom’s best friend at Brevillier lined up and sang farewell as Mom was escorted out to the waiting vehicle.

A number of relatives and friends came to Mom’s viewing, and Mom had been made up beautifully.  Beth had picked out one of Mom’s favorite dresses and jewelery, and she looked at peace.  We got through the day, as all do who have to lay a loved one to rest, and went home.  The next morning, I got a lawn chair and a cup of coffee and drove up to the cemetery where my Mom and Dad were once again side by side.  I opened up the chair and sat there, watching the sun come up.  I talked to Mom and told her how beautiful she had looked, that her hair was done just like she would have wanted, that Beth had picked out a wonderful dress.  I told her that I missed her, and wished that things had been different.  But I was glad for how nice she looked on her last day.  Weird, but right then a shooting star arced its way across the sky.  I don’t know if there is that kind of communication from “the other side,” but it was nice.

I sometimes wonder what Mom said to relatives and friends, if she praised me or pounded me.  But I guess in the final analysis it doesn’t matter.  I did the best I knew how with what I had.  I loved my Mother the only way I could.  We were who we were.

I still miss my Mother, no surprise there.  I think of her, and although I am sad for me, I am happy for her.  For years all she professed was that she wanted to be with my Dad again.  Now she is.

A lot of people hated their mother.  Due to abuse, neglect, whatever, they are cursed with memories of evil incarnate instead of a loving mother who did all she could to raise her children.  Others put a photo of their mother on an altar, elevating their mother to near deity, refusing to remember any blemish, any imperfection that their mother may have had.  My mother was neither saint nor satan.  She was a flawed human that loved her family with everything she had.  She raised her children, loved them, and cherished them with her whole being.

May God bless you, Mom.  I owe you and Pop everything that I am, all that I turned out to be.  I hope you are proud of what I have accomplished, and I hope to see you someday again, when we are all exactly what we were created to be.  I can’t wait to look into your eyes again, and see the Mother that raised me, loved me, taught me.  You were the best.

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Not Saint, not Satan. She was my Mom. Part I.

My Mother grew up during the depression, getting married just before World War II.  Dad was drafted, and Mom bore my sister while Dad was fighting in France.  My sister is what is now called a “Special Needs” child, and Mom took the brunt of caring for her without Dad for a while, in a time when such children were viewed with suspicion; my Grandmother, Dad’s Mother, told Mom once when JoAnne was little that, “Nothing like that had ever happened on Dad’s side of the family,”  not so subtly indicating that it was Mom’s fault that JoAnne had the problems she did.  In reality, when JoAnne was born, Mom had a doctor that believed in “letting nature take its course.”  JoAnne was born after an extremely long labor with her umbilical cord wrapped around her neck.  Not Mom’s fault, but I wonder if she harbored guilt over that the rest of her life.

Actually, that’s not much of a stretch.  Guilt was one of the driving forces in my Mother’s life.  She felt guilty for everything.  I once observed to her that she felt guilty when the sun came up in the east.  She didn’t really get it, but it is near fact.  For some reason, she always felt guilty about something.

Mom was the second youngest of five born to Oscar and Inez Dillaman, the oldest being a boy, the rest girls.  Certainly not uncommon for the time, she grew up on a farm.  They were located a few miles north of Meadville, PA, and the daughters did chores just like the men.  When she became of age, she got a job at Talon, met my Dad, fell in love, got married, and got pregnant.  With Dad off to war, she lived with her folks, taking care of her ailing mother (and handicapped infant daughter) for a time.  Once, Mom used to tell, JoAnne had a seizure.  In the dead of winter, they didn’t plow the roads as they do now, and no vehicle they had would get through the snow.  JoAnne wouldn’t come out of the seizure, so Mom bundled her and JoAnne up, along with Mom’s father and brother.  They carried JoAnne for miles until they could get someplace (Coon’s Corners, PA, I think) where they got a ride and got JoAnne to the hospital.

Another story she liked to tell was when she was thirteen.  Mom developed appendicitis, and it got bad.  They called the doctor, who gave no hope that she would live.  I believe it actually burst, as they opened her up and rinsed her out with salt water, leaving a drain in her to drain the nastiness out.  Of course she lived, growing, maturing, and becoming the woman she was.

Mom was “made of stern stuff” we like to say.  Strong genetic material, shaped by the hardness of the life in which she grew.  Mom was also blessed with beauty.  As a young woman, she was gorgeous, and Pop got quite a catch when she “hitched her wagon” to him.  Mom was aces with family stuff, but not so much with studying and learning.  Growing up in a time when school wasn’t mandatory as it is now, Mom got a ninth grade education before having to drop out; she never did get her high school degree.

After the war, Mom and Pop moved all over this part of PA, Dad taking different jobs here and there.  He was so disillusioned with having to take orders in the military, he swore he wouldn’t work for anyone again, and used the GI Bill to learn animal husbandry, becoming a farmer, like his ancestors before him.  Sidenote: Pop was extremely smart.  Up to his late 70’s he could do algebra in his head.  I asked him once why he didn’t take accounting with the GI Bill, and he said that at the time he didn’t even know such a field existed.  I wonder how life would have been different sometimes.

Mom and Pop settled down near Springboro, PA, where Dad bought a dairy farm.  And that’s where I enter the picture.

After the war, Dad couldn’t have any more kids (I never did  learn what that was about).  I think they had disagreements over adopting, as Dad apparently didn’t think he could “love someone else’s child as much as his own.”  However, they cared for a young kid, and Dad grew to love him.  When he went back home, Pop allowed that he could, indeed, love another’s child.

My biological mother had her own issues.  Married with six kids, she lived in Ohio until her husband was killed in a trucking accident.  Moving back near her folks outside Springboro, she took up with a jerk who got her pregnant but refused to be honorable about it; she threw him out, a pretty gutsy move in 1956.  However, she was in true dire straits.  Six kids, including the youngest a pair of twins still in diapers.  Recognizing that she couldn’t give her new child the life she wanted to give him, she approached my parents, and asked if they would consider adopting her child.  Timing is everything, and my parents said that yes they would.  Three days after I was born my bio Mom walked down the hall of the hospital and handed me to my Mother.  How poignant was that moment?  I cannot even imagine the emotions from each mother.  Another sidenote:  I looked up my bio family several years ago, and that will, I’m sure, be a blog post sometime in the future.

My early years were on the dairy farm that my parents lived on until I was six.  I remember Mom doing all the Mom stuff, and canning everything that could grow.  I remember her holding my head when I was throwing up; holding me when I had bad earache(s).   Giving me waxed paper for the slide in the back yard; giving me fresh peaches in season.  I remember her being Mom.

Just before the dairy farmers in PA got their act together and actually started making money, Pop sold the farm and we moved into Springboro, where he bought a gas station.  And Mom still did all the Mom stuff.  I remember picking dandelions for her in the spring, and how she would always “Ooh” and “Ahh’ over them, like they were the most beautiful bouquet she had ever seen.  I remember coming home from school and popping my paper lunch bag; she pretended to be startled and scared every time.

Of course my relationship with my Mom changed over time.  I grew more independent, and Mom got older.  She helped teach me to drive, and held me when I cried, but as I grew and tried to establish a relationship with her, she would shift me to my Dad.  I’m not sure what that was about, but I don’t think I ever knew my Mother, adult to adult.  It was about this time that things got a more difficult.

…con’t. next time…

A Successful Father?

For some time, I have been pondering the role of a parent, specifically that of a father.  What defines a “good” father?  What is a “successful” father? Can one be a “good” father but not a “successful” one, or are they synonymous?

Note:  I fully recognize the unbelievably difficult job of being a mother.  However, not ever having any experience in being a mother, I cannot comment on motherhood in an experiential way, except to say that my wife, Beth, is the absolute best mother I have ever seen, and I am grateful to have partnered with her in the raising of our children.  This post, therefore, is specifically about “fatherhood.”  Additionally, understand that this post is not about how my children turned out, good, bad, or anywhere in between.  This post is strictly about how a father measures success.

Previously, I have mentioned my buddy John who texts me with verses, thoughts, and so on.  He recently sent me this quote from John Fuller:

So, if parenting aims at helping our kids succeed in life, what’s success going to look like …

…True Success isn’t a list of accomplishments.

…There’s something deeper to true success, something more substantial.  Something harder to achieve, harder to measure, but long-lasting and deeply meaningful.  I’m talking about intangible but ultimately significant qualities.  Things like honesty, loyalty, integrity, compassion, and character.

So, what is success, as it relates to being a father?  Assume that a child turns out well, and the father has worked hard to be a good provider, father, dad.  Does that father take any credit for the way the child has turned out?  What if the child turns out poorly, or goes in a life’s direction that the father sees as less than optimal?  Is the father then a failure?  Is a father’s success tied to how the children turn out?  Or is his success independent of the “outcome” of his child?

I was blessed with a fantastic father.  Not perfect, but a good man.  He showed me discipline, love, and I learned a lot about how to be a man by watching him.  My Dad died in 2000 at age 80 (The jerk.  I miss him every day).  He loved to tease, laugh, and devoted his life to his family.  How his children turned out (pretty good in my opinion) is irrelevant, I would rate him as a “successful” father.  If I am a good man, if I am a success, I would think that my success is at least in part due to my father’s influence.

My Grandmother, his Mother once made a statement to me.  I have no idea what prompted this; I wasn’t in trouble for anything that I can remember, I hadn’t done anything wrong that I remember, and no one was angry with me that I remember.  Yep, I had to put in that “remember” qualifier.  Being in trouble was not unheard of for me.

Anyhow, my Grandmother said to me, “It would kill your parents if you ever wound up in jail.”  What?  Grandma, what in the world are you talking about?

My parents trusted me, and I grew up with incredible freedom.  I also grew up with a huge sense of responsibility.  Heck, I didn’t want to be responsible for my parents croaking, so even if I was inclined to not care about crime and punishment, I sure don’t want to end up in jail and watch my parents die from shame…

I think that at least partly, that sense of duty carried over into my job as a husband and father.  I worked hard to be a good father, and to raise my children as spiritual beings, responsible, mature.  Although far from perfect, I worked to be consistent, and  honorable.  I want my children to know that I was the same on Friday night as I was on Sunday morning.  I was no different at church than I was at home or at a party.

So, with that understanding, am I a successful father?  If I have a child that becomes a Nobel-winning scientist that discovers the cure for cancer, I would be widely hailed as a fantastic father.  But what if a child of mine becomes a notorious serial killer.  If my parenting were identical, would I still be considered a successful father?  I imagine not.  Does it not seem likely that under the serial killer scenario, I would be considered at best a “good” father, but not a “successful” one?  And what if they weren’t a serial killer?  What if Martha Stewart were my daughter?  A financial success, great business woman, intelligent.  And a convicted felon.  Successful father?  How about Julian Assange?  Founder of Wikileaks, publishing tons of classified material for whatever reason, and (in my estimation)  guilty of the potential death of a number of service men and women, and clearly someone who has severely weakened American security.  Successful father?  Who decides?  Is it the father, the child, society, family, who?  What about the child that makes poor decisions, puts themselves in a bad situation, and suffers because of those choices, even if taught to know better by their father.  Is that father a failure?

Is a father’s success based on their child’s choices and adulthood?

I have believed for a long time that if one’s children do not turn out well, that father is useless, and a failure.  But is that accurate?

The answer, I think at least in part, is that society decides the success and failure of a father, based on how a child turns out as an adult.  Further, except in extreme examples like the serial killer scenario, various sub-sets of society will measure a father’s success or failure on two things.  First, how did that child turn out, and what kind of choices did they make?  And two, does that child’s choices and outcome fit into what that particular sub-set sees as positives?

This is further complicated by the sub-set’s notions.  Assume I am I Assange’s father.  There are those that consider him a hero, so to that sub-set, he would be a success.  However, I would likely be viewed as a “bad” father, or a “failure,” if my conservative mindset were known.  If I were a liberal, that same sub-set would see me as a success, and a good father.

So.  Although this is somewhat in contradiction to my measurement earlier of my own father, I think that in the end, “successful” father and “good” father must be measured separately.  With this viewpoint, one can be a “good” father, but not a “success” if the child turns out poorly.  I think that, for me, a man should not measure his worth and value based on how the child turned out, but in how he did as a Dad.  I think a father can be, and should be proud of his kid(s) when they turn out well, but that doesn’t make him a success.  What if the child turns out poorly?  If the father did a good job, he should be content with that and love his child as best he is able.  What if the father did a poor job?  It’s never too late to mend broken fences; it’s never too late to become the man one should be.

Are my children “good” people?  Good for them, they made good choices, their life is theirs, not mine.  Are my children not “good” people?  I am so sorry, my children, you have made poor choices, and are paying the consequences.  Either way, it is not my burden and not my glory.  I love my children more than life itself, and I wish them happy, productive, spiritual lives.

Basing one’s success as a father on how the child turns out will, I think, lead to one of two mindsets.  If the child turns out well, pride would be difficult for a father to avoid.  But it’s not his triumph; it belongs to the child.  On the other hand, if the child turns out poorly, the father can become broken-hearted, and despair may result.  Either way, I would say, “Father, let it go!  It doesn’t belong to you!”

I reflect on my life as a Dad, and as I said, I was far from perfect.  However I am a good judge of character, effort, and ability.  And from an objective point of view, I have done a good job as a parent, as a Dad.  And with that, I should be content.

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