It’s early, so early in fact that my wife isn’t up yet and neither are the kids. Normally, that would be impossible but it is Mother’s Day, and the anxiety I have felt leading up to this day on the calendar can only be compared to a major surgery without any anesthesia.
The words, “I am a man. I am a father. I am an outsider,” are scribbled on a notepad in front of me and I stare at them until my vision blurs.
The more I repeat it the heavier the truth becomes—I am an outsider on Mother’s Day. I am a man and a man cannot understand. A man cannot possibly understand what it means to be a mother of a dead child on Mother’s Day. It’s okay. I can admit it. I can identify but can’t relate. I can understand without understanding. I held my son. I kissed him. I told him stories and made bad jokes. But nothing I do will ever compare to the bond between a mother and child.
You see, for men like me, Mother’s Day is not circled on the calendar. It’s not celebrated like it should be. It’s not solely a day of thanking the mother of my children but a day of trying to hold on to the idea of motherhood your wife had envisioned. I imagine Mother’s Day for a mother who has lost a child is the hardest day of the year. It’s harder than Christmas or Thanksgiving or, for some, even their child’s own birthday.
Mother’s Day is a day of responsibility for husbands. For at least one day a year we aren’t fathers—we are husbands with kids. Society teaches us that we’re supposed to cook and clean and make the reservations, make sure the grass has been cut, the flowers ordered. It’s important to remember the card too but above all else we need to make sure we’ve picked out something special that adequately represents how wonderful a mother she is to our children.
As the husband of a bereaved mother I know for a fact that I am going to fail. It’s not a question. It’s a foregone conclusion. Why? For once I know for certain what my wife wants and it’s heartbreaking that I cannot give it to her. It’s heartbreaking because I feel the same way on Father’s Day. Why would it be any different on Mother’s Day?
She wants her son back. I want our son back. We want our son back and it’s painful to know there’s no way around this problem. I have stripped my soul to find the answer. There isn’t one.
What do you do when you know that no matter what you do you will have fallen short? What do you do when you know you’ve lost the game before it’s started? What do you do when you know you can’t win?
Men don’t like knowing they can’t help. We don’t like feeling like we have no control. We don’t like admitting that there are no words to rationalize the death of our children. Some of us will push it off, filing it away as something we can’t resolve. Some of us will beat ourselves up in search of an answer even though we know there isn’t one. And then there are those of us that will self destruct out of hopelessness and frustration.
More often than not the anger we feel as husbands and fathers is directed at ourselves because we know we’re falling short. We ask the impossible of ourselves—to turn back time, to make different decisions, to demand perfection in an imperfect world. We wallow in self-pity because quite often we feel like bad husbands—not knowing exactly what to say, not knowing what to do. We’re programmed to want to fix things but this thing we know we can’t fix.
I imagine Mother’s Day for a bereaved mother is a day of what could have been. Husbands see it in their faces and in their tears. We want so badly for things to be perfect but this isn’t a perfect world. It’s a day of wanting what can’t be had.
I am a man. I am a father. I am an outsider.
As men, husbands, and fathers, we ARE outsiders on Mother’s Day. To let that go unacknowledged would be unwittingly senseless. But being an outsider doesn’t mean that we can’t appreciate and respect and marvel at the mothers of our children. We want to give the world to show our gratitude, the impossible to say thank you. We will fail but that’s okay. What we truly want is for you to see yourself in our eyes—no faults, no failures, and always the flawless mother of precious ones.