101: Is Mom There?

101: Is Mom There?

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad

Is Mom There?

A son is a son till he takes him a wife,
a daughter is a daughter all of her life.

~Irish Saying

In the depth of my despair, only one voice would do — my mother’s. I called home to connect with her soothing tones, but jarringly, my dad answered the phone. My mom was out. Playing mah-jongg, my father said from the phone’s other end.

“Oh,” I said, disappointment evident in my voice. “Tell her to call me when she comes in.”

“What’s wrong?” Dad asked.

“Nothing,” I said, though it was the kind of answer meant to deflect rather than inform. I really didn’t want to tell my father what was wrong. At the time, I was a twenty-three-year-old woman with a college degree and a full-time job. But at that moment, I was a girl whose heart had been broken by her boyfriend. And I needed my mother.

Mom was the one a girl talked to about such things. My mom had always been my confidante. Besides, she was an enthusiastic supporter of my decision to move from New Jersey to Massachusetts, a move I undertook ostensibly for my career, but which was made easier by the fact that this boyfriend just happened to live in Massachusetts, too.

My father, on the other hand, was less exuberant. “He doesn’t love you,” he had told me one Sunday just after the boyfriend left following a weekend visit.

“What do you know?” I snapped, anger rising in me like mercury in a July thermometer.

“I can just tell. He’s not committed to you,” my dad answered with a flat tone that infuriated me even more.

“That’s just not true,” I countered, turning on my heel and storming away, wondering how he dared to have the audacity to judge my relationships. Indignant, I was stung by his insensitivity and callous treatment of the man who was the love of my life. We never talked again about my relationship with the boy in question.

When I packed up the U-Haul and moved to Massachusetts a few months later, my mom quietly tucked $50 in my pocket as a “good luck” gift. She gave me a hug and told me how excited she was for me. My father, on the other hand, gave me a hug and said little — uncharacteristic of the opinionated guy he was.

It was all so exciting. I lived in a cute little apartment, with a fun (but totally consuming) job, and a boyfriend whom I saw on weekends. It seemed perfect. Over time, though, my boyfriend started offering reasons why this or that weekend would not be good for us to get together. By the time I’d been there for six months it became clear that the boy did not love me. He was half-heartedly trying to make it work (out of guilt, perhaps, for allowing me to move to his home state). But I suddenly realized that if I was to have any self-respect, I had to end the relationship. I called him and told him so, and he didn’t try to talk me out of it. “I guess you’re right,” he said into the phone. “Can’t we be friends?” he asked. “No,” I said. “I don’t want to be your friend.” And so the phone call and the romance ended with a receiver click.

It was poignant and sad and so terribly hard. That’s when I called my mom. How awful that she wasn’t there.

“What’s wrong, honey?” my father asked into the phone.

“I don’t want to tell you,” I said, my voice cracking.

“But why?” he asked.

“Because you’ll say ‘I told you so,’” I croaked.

“What happened?” he asked again. And it spilled out. I told him of the phone call with the boyfriend — what I’d said, what he’d said, what I’d said, and ultimately, how it all had ended.

“Aw, honey,” my dad said, “that must have been very hard for you.”

“It was.”

“I would never say, ‘I told you so.’”

And then I sobbed in earnest as I slid down the stark white kitchen wall on which I’d been leaning and melted like a puddle on the floor. Dad stayed on the phone with me for close to an hour. We talked like we’d never talked before. Those things I thought I could say only to my female parent turned out to be okay to say to my dad. He listened, and by doing so acknowledged that the relationship I was mourning had been significant and real. He was thoughtful and comforting, and most of all, he made me feel loved.

By the time we were finished, I was exhausted.

“Should I have mom call you when she gets home?” he asked.

“No,” I answered. “I’m tired and I want to go to bed. Tell her I’ll talk to her tomorrow.”

That evening was a turning point in my relationship with my father. We’d always shared an unstinting love for one another, but for affairs of the heart, it just always seemed more logical to speak with my mother. My dad proved that even though he had an instinct to protect his one and only daughter from that which might hurt her, he also had the capacity to listen and counsel with genuine care and compassion. It didn’t lessen the communication I shared with my mom, but it gave me another ear, and another viewpoint.

Three years later, when I brought home a different guy, my father had a totally different reaction: “I like this boy,” he told me. “He cares about you. I can just tell.” I married that one. And my father danced happily at our wedding.

~Andrea Atkins

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