Honoring our Father and Mother
You matter…why else would people carve this into their bicep?
One hundred years ago this month, Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Mother’s Day a national holiday. Officially originating in the United States, it became popular worldwide – celebrated in many places, as it is here, on the second Sunday of May – in tandem with local traditions. Anna Jarvis, honoring a wish her mother expressed during a prayer, observed it for the first time in Grafton, West Virginia, not far from my own childhood home. Jarvis herself never married or had children.
Like Jarvis, not every woman will be a mother, at least biologically. Some have had their hopes dashed by health conditions. Some will be adoptive or spiritual mothers. Nor does every child have access to his mother. Some become estranged or bereaved. Others never really knew theirs. Still, this is a universal holiday in that each of us (notwithstanding the technical claim of Shakespeare’s Macduff not to have been born of a woman) has a mother somewhere, and a women’s holiday in essence because of the unique potential that lies within us.
Sometimes we only fully taste the significance of a thing through its absence or loss. This video taps into an uncannily deep, personal, convincing emotion with a song that arose from, and speaks directly to, the human experience.
Reviews of P.D. Eastman’s classic children’s book “Are You My Mother?” at amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com show that the story and associated memories can bring grown men to tears. Here are a few poignant excerpts:
My son was very interested in the story through the entire narration. At the end, he was asking me questions such as “Do all kids have a mom?” … With a lot of care, but with sincerity, I explained to him my thoughts on this.
“Are you my mother?” means: Are you the one who loves me? Are you the one who will take me in and care for me? Are you the one upon whom I can rely, trust, and find this to be a safe world? Because I need to know the one who has brought me into the world and given me life.
I gave my grand daughter this book for her seventh birthday. Why? Her father got a divorce when she was two years old. … Recently,when I read a book of Dr. Seuss to her class and asked the question, “What is your favorite Dr. Seussbook”, every student was ready to give their favorite Dr. Seuss title. But my grand daughter spoke up and said, “My favorite book is “Are You My Mother?”
Fathers would have until the Nixon administration to wait for a proclamation, partly due to backlash against commercialization. However, it did not take long for a natural counterpart to emerge through the efforts of women of faith like Sonora Dodd, the daughter of a Civil War veteran and widower, and Grace Clayton, whose father was among more than 300 men killed in the infamous Monongah mine disaster.
How intelligible is ‘mother’ without ‘father,’ and vice-versa? I once had a professor who talked of “correlative opposites” that imply and make sense of one another. Without grounding in philosophy, it went over my head for years. I think I get it now. Men and women, mothers and fathers, are the yin to each other’s yang.
In times when familial bonds are frequently disrespected, ‘gender deconstruction’ is a vogue idea, and children are treated as possessions, accessories or science projects, our clinging to these twin holidays is a sign of stubborn health and persistent sanity. Mother and father are realities indelibly etched on the human heart.
As I was meditating on all this, a song came over the radio – I kid you not: “When a maa-an loves a woooman…” God, as usual, has a sense of humor!
I’m close with my parents. I’m a lucky girl. This animates my work for the Family Institute: the desire for every child to experience the joy of being known and loved by his mother and father, the way I have been. That would be the case in an ideal world. I know the world is not ideal, but the closer we can move it, the better.