When a child becomes a man, his home is where it all began. The place where he learned to distinguish right from wrong. The place where parents teach children what genes won´t. For all that can be ascribed to experience, the wisdom of our ancestors is not transmitted by their DNA. This explains the importance of parenting, especially at a young age. Parents are the voice of values and experience. One that teaches children how to behave and understand the world. In return, children teach parents the purity of heart that fades away with age, a tale for another day. Were it not for my parents, I would not be the man I am today. My many faults are my own, as are my mistakes. But the best there is in me, I learned at an early age. I thank my parents for their guidance. I thank God for lighting the way. My mother´s contribution to my life will be addressed today, leaving my father´s for another day. He deserves equal respect, equal time and equal space.
From my mother I learned to respect women. She was an equal partner to my father in every way. Worked at the same job and earned equal pay. No family decision was made without her having an equal say. She was not financially dependent, nor submissive to dictates. Though she did the cooking, we were all better for it anyway. Indulging my father´s cooking was an act of valor none of us was prepared to brave. He helped with the cleaning, maintaining the car and the apartment. He helped in other ways. My mother´s preeminence in the kitchen did not preclude equality in marriage, as my father had his set of responsibilities to bear. The feminist in me disagrees, though silenced just for today. My mother taught me the importance of cooking for oneself. Independence, discipline, and physical wellbeing are taught in the kitchen as well.
She also taught me sensitivity. She read emotions without a solitary spoken word, always having a kind thought to ameliorate the pain. Assuming the perspective of another human being, and seeing the world through his eyes is the road to compassion. One traveled by few in a world that often deems sensitivity a weakness. When my hamster Chester saw his final light, she was the one who taught me that dying was part of life. Her words certainly eased my pain. Saying a final goodbye is never easy for those left behind. My friend was gone and I would lose others still, all buried in the ground, but in my heart never killed. Overcoming this sorrow is a burden not by others released, but sensitivity strengthens the will to keep moving forward after your loved ones stand still.
This sensitivity also taught me to appreciate art and creativity. When she was a child, her piano and books were the most loyal of companions. As an adult, painting brought vivid colors not only to our household, but also to our lives. If appreciating artistic renditions of human thought and emotion requires sensibility, there is always an aspect of the human condition contemplated in the process. There is meaning extracted from art that can enrich life depending on one´s sensitivity. Early in life, she encouraged me to draw and study music, later she encouraged me to write, which only added greater meaning to my days.
The mere act of sitting down to write about my parents made me consider their influence in my life. The reader may very well do the same. The world would be a much better place if we took the time to value our family life above other mundane considerations, necessary for survival, but sometimes detrimental to the spirit. The stories of our lives are the most interesting ones because they have a true heartbeat. The best standard of quality is the truth. Beauty devoid of truth is a time consuming self-deception. No longer have I time for that. You may feel the same.
Learning to express myself in writing was a silent lesson taught by books. My mother always encouraged me to read, never sparing any expense on books no matter how dire the financial situation. The pursuit of understanding began with trips to the bookstore, long before I first set foot in school. Books were silent teachers that allowed me to travel places we could not afford to go. They also nurtured my imagination at an age where dreaming was impossible for life itself was one. Though I identified with Charlie, the local bookstore was my Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory. One currently made invisible by the rise of the internet. As Willy Wonka closed its door, the world of imagination began to fade with age. The problems of the world became clear to me and Charlie was no longer a fictional character. There were many like him, but destined never to win the prize ticket. You reach old age when imagination becomes a foreign language you no longer understand. This predicament currently afflicts me, and is one of the many reasons I turned to Christianity.
My mother taught me about Christianity through actions, not words. She was the personification of Christian ethics, caring for the sick, the poor, cancer patients and all those in pain. What she did not do was proselytize, keeping her faith to herself and displaying it only through actions. My parents baptized me as a Catholic, gave me a cross to wear and taught me to say a prayer. A Bible was always accessible at home and there was a cross over our apartment´s front door.
Despite my exposure to Christianity, she believed that I should have the freedom to make my own choices. This proved to be both a blessing and a curse. It meant that only much later in life did I study the Bible, but it also meant that I had greater respect for differing views. She believed that one´s religion should be a freely made, informed choice, not a product of indoctrination that created Pharisees. I learned to practice Christian morality and respect freedom of religion before understanding that the lines written in my heart were the same lines written in the Bible. Finding my way through biblical text remains an ongoing learning process given the intermittent challenges of life. The harsh reality of the world always attempts to suffocate spiritual growth, sparing little time for compassion and love.
This love proved the source of my mother´s greatest strength, but perhaps her greatest weakness. She was independent and self-reliant to a fault, assisting all those around her without any expectation of receiving equal treatment. Everyone in my family had a breaking point at challenging times, except her. The family gravitated around her as planets revolving around a star. Those around her became dependent, but she never asked for assistance in times of need. While she developed incredible strength of character, the self-reliance of other family members was impaired. The price one pays for being a source of boundless love is to bear the weight of the weaker ones around you. This independence and strength of character I have yet to completely master in life, despite having been of service to many around me.
In the end, a few words cannot condense all a man learns from his mother, or he would not be a man. There is so much to say, but so little time to do it. The story never written became an essay instead. Perhaps less appealing to the eye, but more instructive to the mind. A distant panoramic view of one´s life seemed more appropriate than a microscopic account of a moment lost in time. Though I sometimes questioned the point of undertaking this exercise, maybe one day I will read these words with different eyes. Not ones of a son looking up, but ones of a parent looking down. The examples have been set. Not having my own family in the future would be a reason for much regret. As my father attests, a woman adds incomparable meaning to a man´s life by being the soulmate he takes as his only wife.