Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Respect

Today would have been my parents' 30th wedding anniversary. When my mother passed away, they had been married for 18 years. I remember when The Cosby Show aired, a lot of my parents' friends laughed at the similarities between the show and my family. Of course, there were differences: my brother didn't live with us, my parents weren't college grads and my dad was actually pretty damn good at home repair. However, the blaring difference wasn't known to the outside world: my parents were not in love with one another.

My dad was newly divorced and a minister and my mother was a traveling free spirit. Their best friends happened to be married and my parents ultimately met. At first glance, my mother thought my dad was a clown. At that same first glance my father decided that he was going to marry her, which is pretty much how he handles everything. Persistence paid off and my mother agreed to go out with him. Evidently she agreed to go out with him a lot, because after a few months, he told her that she should probably rent a hall and buy a dress. I'm not saying those were the exact words used, but knowing my father, I'm not too far off the mark. There was no getting down on one knee, etc. Despite that, my mother was there, looking quite lovely, and so were their friends and family.

Then the babies started coming: me that November, my sister two years later, a miscarriage two years after that, another sister two years after that, then finally, the baby, you guessed it, after another two years. (I also remember being 15 and seeing a discarded pregnancy test box. I thought I'd die on the spot.) Kids complicate marriage exponentially even in the most "normal" relationship. In a struggling relationship, kids make marriage damned near impossible.

Their relationship was sterile. (Ironic term for a couple that reproduced like jackrabbits in June.) They spoke to one another, kissed each other good-bye every morning, would entertain guests and go to parties together. But their demeanor at home seemed to indicate that they would rather be watching paint dry. I remember there being days on end when my parents would not spend a waking moment in the same room. If they weren't ignoring one another's existence, they were arguing. Things never became physical, but I learned the art of words as weapons from my parents. I can't say I've ever heard my parents cuss at each other or call each other names, but their words were just cutting.

It was so hard to get a gauge on them. Whatever issues they had, I can say that they did admire one another. I remember more than one occasion my mother telling me, "The men of today don't have a work ethic like your father. We've always had a good roof over our head, all of our necessities and many of our wants. You should be thankful." Then a mere five minutes later when he walked into the room, without saying a word she grabbed the keys and walked out the door. Didn't cast so much as a glance in his direction. My father's actions weren't much different. They admired one another, but would have burst into flames before they told each other.

After 17 years of marriage, my mother's health severely deteriorated and our family situation worsened. My mother, being used to her independence, was a difficult patient, my father's bedside manner was nothing short of deplorable. For their 18th anniversary, their friends threw them a surprise party because of all that had gone on that year, the last they would celebrate together. That was the first time I had seen my parents on friendly terms in months. My mother telling me that she was going to leave my father (though I had NO idea how she planned to do that) was routine. I later discovered my father harbored similar feelings.

We almost lost her that July and everything changed. It was one thing when they thought they would be able to ignore each other into old age, but this was something different. My mother softened up and so did my father. They were joking, laughing, talking. They had a second chance to make up for the previous 18 years. Just when they seemed to be getting it right, she was gone.

My parents' relationship has always made me fear a relationship of my own. They were stellar from a child-rearing team perspective. But since they weren't fortifying each other, they were being depleted. I spent all my years wondering why they stayed together, and assumed that they were biding their time because they had small children. There was a part of me that wished that I could have seen my parents happy, even if it wasn't with each other. I didn't discover the reason until about 2 months ago on the phone with my father. He said:

When you decide that you're going to marry a person, of course you look for love, attraction and the like. But more than anything, you look at a person's qualities. Lord knows your mother and I had a boatload of problems, but your mother had the qualities of a person that would make it through. I trusted her with my well being and with my children. I would have trusted your mom in a room full of millionaires and walked away with the confidence that she would not do anything to disrespect me as a man or jeopardize our marriage. I'm not saying that romance isn't a good thing, but any clown can be romantic. I can say I was married to a good woman. Not everybody can.

After I hung up and stopped crying, I really thought about their relationship. No, I didn't have two parents that were all over each other IN love, but somehow, they still loved each other. They were big enough to see beyond themselves, into the good of the other and work it for all it was worth. Maybe that was not the best way to do it, but I know they did it the best way they could.

5 comments:

Danja said...

thats some chicken soup for the soul!

very well-written, good job!!

Risalishuz said...

i agree with michi wholeheartedly. wonderfully written, it definately touched the softer side of my heart. kinda makes me think a little about my situation.

Desperately Seeking Truth said...

*sniff* that was wonderful!

Amadeo said...

I'll say this most people can't look past the smaller issue of their personal wants to see the value of what is happening overall...admirable traits.

BLESSD1 said...

Damn Breez..you sure know how to make a thug/pimp/hustla/womanizer get all misty....oh..and my punk ass too! LOL! I love the post. Keep doing it, mami. That was BEAUTIFUL!