Because You Were There

Because You Were There

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Mom

Because You Were There

There’s a lot more to being a woman than being a mother, but there’s a hell of a lot more to being a mother than most people suspect.
~Roseanne Barr

I shivered on the sidelines as my freshman high school soccer team played on. Snow began to fall as the playing conditions deteriorated. It was a close game so I knew there was little chance of my entering the action. Across the field I saw a few spectators—including my mom. How I longed to score a goal for her, or for my coach to praise my athletic prowess in her presence, but instead, I never played—that day or many others. She was used to this. I wasn’t much of a baseball player either. Thawing out in the car on the drive home and feeling guilty about her coming “for nothing,” I told her she shouldn’t have bothered. She replied, “I had to.” And, when I asked her why, she simply said, “Because you were there.” It’d be years before I’d realize the significance of her words, and all it took for this spontaneous epiphany to come to pass was for me to become a father.

With age comes wisdom, and now, after many years as a parent, I’ve come to recognize and appreciate many of the sacrifices that both of my parents, but especially my mom, suffered for the sake of my siblings and me. To this end, and almost four decades later, I can easily identify with why my mom spent so many autumn afternoons braving the elements to stand on the sidelines during my none-too-stellar high school soccer career. I’ve also come to understand how her daily existence revolved around the lives and wellbeing of my brothers, sister and me, and how her adult wants and needs took a backseat to the wants and needs of her children. This was an invaluable example I’d come to follow when I became a father.

My friends with kids acted as if they possessed a special knowledge simply because they’d sired offspring. They felt compelled to offer their knowing opinion of how my life would forever change upon my entrance into the world of parenthood. Of course, I simply discarded their warnings; after all, no child could ever have that much influence over the life of an adult—or so I thought.

And then one morning, I became a father. With Michael’s birth, as foretold, my life changed. His birth became the catalyst that sparked in me the need to become more keenly aware of all that was happening within my immediate world. Do the cars really travel too fast down our street? How good are the schools? His birth prompted me to focus more on the greater world, too. What was happening in our country and around the world? And how would the totality of all I’d begun to notice impact the life of this precious child for whom I was now responsible? His life mattered more than mine and his wants and needs immediately surpassed my own. I found parenthood to be rewarding, fulfilling, a blessing and sometimes, a scary proposition. The world was a frightening place, and I quickly realized that I could only provide my son with a minimal amount of security, and for a limited amount of time. The birth of my daughter, Tracy, compounded all that I’d been feeling.

Eventually, I became more comfortable in my role as father, protector and provider. And, I also learned that, as my friends with kids had predicted, parenthood had forever changed me. My children came first, and to this end, I gladly surrendered whatever I might’ve done for what I knew I had to do—echoes of my own childhood and of my mom’s devotion. My willingness to participate in various facets of their lives sometimes surprised me, whether it was taking time off to be a “class mother” for the preschool pumpkin picking trip, crafting an edible castle complete with a moat filled with Goldfish crackers for a Cub Scout bake-off, or corralling a herd of out-of-control hormone-raging middle schoolers while chaperoning an overnight class trip.

As time went by, I began to realize that long before I’d even become a father, my education in proactive and participating parenting had already begun—the result of the unconditional love, guidance and example set forever in stone by Mom. So many subtle and yet valuable lessons were being taught during my childhood.

My son was a four-year member of his high school lacrosse team. He’d played in almost every game—mostly as a starter, but during his last year his playing time evaporated. Still, I attended his games, celebrating when he had a few minutes of field time and commiserating with him when he didn’t. Sometimes I wondered if he ever felt awkward about my attending, but if he did, he never mentioned it. Regardless, I simply had to be there. It was a dad thing, but it was taught to me a lifetime ago by my mom. I was always proud of him for his dedication to his team and to the game. Maybe one day he’ll ask why I came to all of his games, his elementary school plays and field trips, his scouting events and every other thing that he ever did. If he does, I’ll respond to his question with the same answer Mom once gave me, “I had to, because you were there.”

~Stephen Rusiniak

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