I’d been living in Minnesota for two years before my mother finally came to visit. I picked her up at the airport around 9 p.m. Tristan, my oldest, was in the backseat. This must have been the summer of 2011. I was 28 years old and attending graduate school. It was a two hour drive from the airport to my home in Mankato, Minnesota, and I was dreading our time together in the car.
When I was 14, I packed my things and left my mother’s home in rural West Provo while she was at her night job cleaning houses. She was a single mother at the time, battling depression and anxiety. What I remember best was the screaming. She screamed a lot back then. Emotionally, it wasn’t a good place to be, so I left. I didn’t go far. Just a few farms away to my grandmother’s house. I lived there until I was 18, and during those four years, I spoke to my mother sporadically. At 28 years old, our relationship was still strained from my departure. I don’t think she’d ever forgiven me for leaving.
It’s not that we hated each other. She wasn’t cold or stiff. She was cordial to my wife. She made jokes with me and my children. She sent us presents on Christmas and on birthdays. It’s just that for many years there was a great distance between my mother and me, a chilling formality, that I believe has caused neither of us to trust the other’s love.
My mother was in her late fifties at the time. She was short, heavy chested, with broad shoulders. Her hair was cut just below her jawline, and it was bleached blond. It was getting dark when she got in my small green Mazda just outside the airport. She gave Tristan a hug, and me one as well. Then we drove. We hardly spoke for the first 20 min or so. Then, suddenly, she mentioned my father. He’d been dead from drug addiction for nearly 10 years, and she hadn’t mentioned him in probably seven.
“You look more like him every year,” She said.
I only had one photo of my father at the time, so I hadn’t realized how much I’d grown to resemble him. But I didn’t argue. It only seemed natural.
“How did you two meet?” I asked.
This wasn’t the first time I’d asked this question. But it was the first time I expected an answer. I was older now, and I was hopeful that we could, at this stage in life, talk like adults.
My mother paused for a moment. She looked out the window. Then she laughed.
“I was working at the mall. I was divorced, living with my mother, and caring for your sister. I was trying to make ends meet and trying to figure things out. Your father and I went to the same high school, but he was a few years older than me. He approached me while I was working, I guess I just recognized him. He asked me out, and I accepted. What I didn’t know for a long time was that he was still married to his first wife at the time. I think they were separated, but they weren’t divorced. It was really like your father to just jump back into another relationship.” She said the last bit with raised eyebrows.
We were driving through southern Minnesota. All around were long flat stretches of corn ready to be harvested.
“How close are we?” She asked.
“We have about an hour,” I said.
She made a grunt, and I asked what was wrong.
“I just thought there’d be more,” she said.
I laughed, then she went on, unloading information about my father and her time with him that I’d never known. She told me about how good he could be. How caring and loving he was when he wanted to be. About how much she loved him. Then she told me about his lies, and how they tainted her memories of the good times. “I’ve never met someone who could lie like him. When you left, in the night, like you did, I assumed that you’d become him. That you were following in his footsteps. I think that’s what hurt the most. I just wanted you to be better than your father.”
“Well what do you think of me now?” I asked.
She looked in the rear view mirror, at my son sleeping in the back seat. “I’m real proud of you, actually. I think you’ve turned into a good father and husband. You’ve turned into who your father could’ve been.”
We made it to my home well after dark. At the time, Mel and I lived in a small town home just outside campus. I showed my mother around, and then she went to bed without saying good night.
At the time, I didn’t really think much of our conversation. I suppose I didn’t realize she was implying that she’d given up hope for me. That she’d written me off as someone who would go on to hurt my future wife the way my father had hurt her. This was the first time we’d ever really spoken like adults, and I suppose I was enjoying the moment. Soaking up the juicy details of my parent’s sour relationship. But now, at age 31, I think back on this moment and wonder if what my mother wanted to say was, “You’ve turned into who I wanted your father to be.”
I can think of only a few times when my mother has said she was proud of me. Praise is not something she throws around. But in her own way, I think that’s what she was trying to do. She wanted me to know that she’d taken time to look back on her life with my father, and the life I’d created with my wife and, at the time, two children, and realized that I’d become something more. I realize now that my mother was trying to tell me that she was proud of what I’d become.
Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, and a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His essays on parenting and marriage have been featured in New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo by Lucinda Higley