As we move into June and Big Ocean Women take time to recognize and appreciate the roles played by men in our lives, I want to share a quote with you from Mario Cuomo.
“My favorite thought about Abraham Lincoln is he believed in two things: loving one another and working together to make this world better.”
This sentiment struck me as being almost directly in line with the greater vision of our June tenet:
Maternal feminism includes men and invites them work with us to elevate the status of women everywhere. We highlight the powerful and gentle properties within the men in our lives as they establish homes and communities that respect and support women and girls.
The story I would like to share with you today is somewhat unconventional, a bit of a role reversal. We often read stories of single mothers who sacrifice for children to give them as much of the “two-parent” experience as possible. Rarely do we get the opportunity to read the reverse narrative, and certainly not when it comes to grandparenting.
My dad retired as the CEO of a major construction firm in March of 2017 after 45 years of employment at the same company. While he built and advanced his career, my mom did the heavy lifting at home. She made sure the homework was done, kids got to practices and youth activities, rules were enforced; in short, she was what I like to call “the dispenser of quick and dirty justice.” Dad really had very few clues about what went on when he wasn’t home because Mom had it handled. After he retired, they began a period of adjustment where he puttered, started channel surfing, they traveled and generally had time to do the things that they’d always talked about doing.
In January of 2018, my mom was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Nine months removed from corporate life and my dad had a new job–he was fighting for my mom’s life. He learned about her cancer, about all the available treatments, became an expert on insurance issues. I’m certain he was the biggest pain in the backside the cancer clinic had ever seen, but he was attacking it with veracity. He was at every doctor and chemo appointment. How touching it was to watch this role reversal in action.
As 2018 progressed and mom became less able to do the things that she was used to doing, I watched a shift take place in my dad. Almost imperceptibly, my dad started to realize all the little things my mom did for us. There was a special bakery she bought sugar cookies at on Valentine’s Day. She sent unique (and funny) cards on birthdays–she was great at giving cards. She always changed the decorations on her porch and along her driveway to match the different seasons. Watermelon was the staple snack for grandkids during the summer. Dad became an excellent cutter of watermelons. When mom was too sick to help with my cousin’s baby showers, dad was there to blow up balloons and decorate while she directed his efforts exhaustedly from a chair. Mom was always one to send money to the grandkids at back-to-school time so they could shop for “what they wanted” and not just what their parents said they needed. Dad didn’t know about that one, but he does now. And then there were the Christmas pajamas. Mom began buying my brothers and me new pajamas for Christmas Eve when were small, mostly to protect the integrity of Christmas morning photos, I believe. At any rate, by December 2018, mom could do very little, so Dad took charge and bought pajamas for all 17 of us. All of the adults were sized at XXL (not exactly accurate, but good effort).
Mom passed away on January 14, 2019 and the grandma with all the traditions was gone; but not really. My dad had watched carefully, had taken notes in some cases. When he has had questions, he has asked me, “What would your mom do in this situation?”
Three weeks after my mom died, on Valentine’s Day, heart-shaped sugar cookies from Schmidt’s Pastry Cottage showed up at my house. He has taken to faithfully decorating his home (inside and out) for EVERY holiday. He usually takes one of the grandkids shopping and they buy some new decorations and he gets giddy setting up the house the way he thinks my mom would have liked it. With the help of my younger brother (who is also an excellent card giver), he makes sure that he has funny and appropriate cards for every occasion and sends them out. He writes thank you notes to the grandkids when they help him with chores around the house, when they come and sleep over, or when he thinks they need a pep talk.
There is watermelon in his fridge, and each of the grandkids got “back-to-school” money last fall. When my daughter got married and my aunts hosted her bridal shower, my dad made the centerpieces and strung lights from the trees, and my brother baked cookies (using gourmet cookie dough his wife had sent with him from Colorado).
Celebrations like my daughter’s wedding were hard without my mom, but my dad’s presence, enthusiasm and support made it a sweet and tender, emotional time. Life without my mom will never be the same; but my dad, and, by extension, my brothers, have taken what was good about her and are using it to support the women they love in the communities around them.
Loving one another and working together does make this world better.