In my warped imagination I would have been a habitually good mother had your daddy and I remained married. Your daddy had strengths in my weak places and I had strength in some of his. This is just my way of saying that while not all Moms need good husbands and daddies to help rear and give children sustaining values, I did. Alone, my maturity and, especially, my ability to manage cash finances and exude patience, were grossly insufficient.
I could offer many reasons for that, but as you know all too well, I am not inured with the rear view mirror. I do not use the rear view mirror because I cannot change the past. Your hope is that this remembrance will mobilize me, our family, and the nation to reckon honestly with the past. What I know for sure is that I am determined to be and do better today than yesterday.
During the first five years of your life, I cannot recall a time when despite college and graduate school and life—Daddy’s drowning-- we were not attentive, protective, and happy parents. My point here is simple: I was not a good single parent; luckily, I knew that I needed and you deserved better and Mom’s support and unconditional love were there when the bough broke.
The bough broke too soon and often.
I will say this: the penchant to not look back taught me quite early to take “failure” and “success” in stride; I was never one easily overwhelmed by either, as they are sides of the same greasy spoon.
When I received your book, I was proud that you had finished a project—but saddened because remembering can bring as much joy as pain. In writing this work, you retriggered and reengaged a good bit of sadness. Enthralled in work up to my eyeballs, I scanned the pages and found myself sick to my stomach. I called a friend—sought a life line-- scribbled a drafty letter to you, and regained my composure. In addition to regretting that I harmed you and was unable to protect you from harm, I have to work hard to reckon with you and myself—to love myself and learn to use the rear view mirror critically.
Not only do I love you; I am forever grateful for your love and your life (with all of its beauty, ebbs, and flows). I am also grateful for my spotted and checkered life and for the fact that I will never give up on anyone I love—not even those I do not love or like. I believe in regeneration—my own, yours, and others.
These are your memories—your renderings. I will not dispute them. What I know is that I should not have whipped you (or to use your favorite word, "beaten" you). For those who are curious, no, I did not grow up with parents who beat their children. My father never laid a hand on me and Mama whipped me once or twice that I can remember. She whipped my brother, Jimmy, an awful lot. And Linda, my eldest sister, and Jimmy fought too much. The siblings’ wrangling invariably led to dysfunctional Daddy-step-son tensions in Mom’s absence and in Mom’s house.
Much like you, as a kid, I lived in the world of books and prose. I lived with parents and in a stable community with those who loved me unconditionally; even when some were awkward in their expressions of love or behaved toward each other in ”over the top” emotional displays, I grew up affirmed and protected. I owed that world to you. I wished I had delivered day in and out. Day in and out I saw Mama balance the family’s finances even when Dad gambled his away. So, whoever I am, please know that I wish with all my heart that I had done better and been more understanding and competent in those years.
I have always loved you and nothing you ever write or say will ever change how much you mean to me. You are my child and I love you unconditionally and cheerfully.
In my remembrance, I hear our laughter, our arguments, my incessant worry about your safety, your good grades through fifth grade; all your Basketball ball games in rural outposts, your choices in girlfriends, the New Orleans and Memphis trips, the underdogs, and yes, the fear that I’d lose you too early, either because you would turn your back on me or be shot from the sky. I lived in fear, when, perhaps, I should have willed myself to live with more courage, less tough love, and more conviction. I took some of the wrong chances.
I hear you! Thank you.