I have been a single father for many years. I have also been a single mother. My son, you see, has not seen or spoken to his “mother” in over 10 years. It is unfortunate and sad that I feel I must put the word “mother” in brackets. And come Mother’s Day, I am sure my son would put the word “mother” in brackets as well. I have a sinking feeling in my soul as I write this because, for my son, the word “mother” will forever be in brackets.
We have adapted rather well, considering. I don’t have the time or space here to fully explain it ~ but my single-parenthood began one sunny day with a suspicious, single car accident that was being driven by former wife and mother of our two children. The car rolled six times and burst into flames. Our daughter, age six, was killed. Our son, age ten, survived, but was taken by helicopter to a hospital for surgery. His mother never attended the funeral, nor did she bother to tell our son that she would be absent. We waited silently in the light rain at the graveside for an hour. I had been awarded temporary, sole custody of our son the day of the crash that eventually became full custody. And my son received full custody of a silent and disappeared mother.
Strangely, I feel like a mother more often and more deeply than I feel like a father. My guess is that will change as my son grows older. I have received many Mother’s Day cards through the years. I have even received Father’s Day cards (though, strangely, not as many as Mother’s Day cards). I have tried to be a good father and a good mother. I have tried to put a grateful and positive spin on this situation; telling myself that I am doubly blessed, like having two birthdays each year. But the fact is that while becoming a mother my labor pains were excruciating and lasted over a year. But become a mother I did.
I am not trying to dishonor the special relationship between biological mothers and their biological children. But I am questioning what a mother is in this strange world where the words “family” and “mother” and “father” are not as simple as they once seemed.
What is a mother, anyway? Clearly it is not merely a biological relationship. Mother’s Day can be celebrated by two men or two women who adopt and raise a child. Mother’s Day is also for incarcerated mothers of children being raised by another “mother.” And of course step-mothers are mothers. Yup. Nothing is simple anymore.
Jesus also had something to say about this over 2,000 years ago when someone said to him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you” and Jesus replied, “’Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ Pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’” Aha! According to Mother Jesus, being a “mother” is more about action and spirit than it is about biology. “Mother” is a verb.
Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers, biological or not! Happy Mother’s Day to the so-called childless Mother Teresa who did so much mothering to the poorest of the poor. And let us not forget to wish a Happy Mother’s Day to Mother Earth, Mother Nature, Mother Hen, Mother Mayeye and our strong and compassionate Mother God.
And Happy Mother’s Day to the mother of my son, wherever she is. I couldn’t have become a mother without her. My Mothers Day gift to her, and to our deceased daughter, is that the ten year old boy, Casey, is becoming a fine, young man. My Mother’s Day gift to myself is gratitude that while one child was taken; one was spared. And my Mother’s Day gift to you is to remind you to remember that Mother’s Day is not a walk in the park for many. With that in mind, I gladly, gratefully, sincerely and lovingly can say to all mothers, regardless of who is celebrating or how they choose to do it: Happy Mother’s Day! Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Rev. Dwight Lee Wolter is the author of Forgiving Our Parents (Hazelden) and other books. He is the pastor of the Congregational Church of Patchogue (Long Island) New York. He blogs at dwightleewolter.com