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Without a Mother

Without a Mother

Because of my father's devoted love, I barely realized that I was missing a mother.


This should really be entitled, "An Ode to Daddy," because my mother died when I was five and a half years old. Daddy raised me, not remarrying until I myself was married. It was only when I was too tired to play games with my own daughter, or was too busy to sit and have an intense talk with her about what happened to her that day in school, that I suddenly realized, one day, that perhaps Daddy hadn't really wanted to go with me to the amusement park every Sunday and ride the Whip and the Turtle again and again and again. And maybe, just maybe, he really hadn't been so excited to play a game of ball with me outside after coming home from a long day at work. And, hard as it seems to imagine, maybe he really would have preferred going to the grocery store alone so he could quickly get what we needed, without making it into a major outing with me.

But I never knew these things, or even guessed it, while I was growing up.

Finding out all the details of my life, and hearing a play-by-play description of my day at school, playing games both inside and outside, and talking and reading together…well, this was just what a parent did. This was what a parent wanted to do. This was, in fact, what being a parent was all about.

It wasn't until I was living away from home in college that I found out that not every father called his child each day at lunchtime to ask how the morning had gone.

It wasn't until I was living away from home, in college, that I found out, by a chance response from a friend, that not every father called his child each day at lunchtime to ask how the morning had gone. My reaction when my friend mentioned that her father had never called her at lunchtime: "But how did he know how your morning was going?"

Hard to believe, but I asked it in all seriousness. This was my first inkling that not all fathers were as interested as mine in what was going on in their children's lives.

And I never thought to ask if her mother was.

Only rarely did I realize that I was missing a mother. Daddy made me wonderful birthday parties and was always there for me if whenever I needed or wanted anything. The fact that we had no other family living in the vicinity wasn't unusual. None of my friends had large or extended families. Yet it's only now, with my own children, that I realize how good a parent he was, and how hard, and lonely, it might have been for him.

I wish I could be as good a parent. For it truly is not the number of parents in a family that counts, but the quality of their parenting. What matters is teaching a child to be filled with joy and contentment with his or her lot, which almost automatically leads to gratitude. It's inculcating the feeling of not needing what other people have, and not wishing to be anyone else. It's fostering a sense of completeness in oneself, no matter how much better you are trying to be.

That's what a parent can instill, and should instill, in every child. And two parents should be able to instill twice as much. But it will never happen if the parent won't hang up the phone when the child enters the room, if s/he won't realize that an adult conversation can be finished later, but that showing a child you want to spend time with him/her now, is forever. And it won't happen if the parent answers that cell phone while walking down the street with the child - even if s/he thinks that it will only be a two-minute conversation. Watching the bird fly by will be missed, as well as will the funny whatever that you two could have shared. And it will be missed forever. As will those many Shabbos afternoons when the child is "keeping busy" while we take a Shabbos nap.

Mother or father or both - the point is to realize that we only have the first few years of a child's life in which to create our relationship with him, and to form the person that child will end up being. Those business meetings and social charity functions, those conversations with friends and associates, the cleaning and laundry and even the food shopping, all need to be restructured as parenting opportunities. And if it cannot be redesigned, it should be postponed.

Because being a parent cannot be postponed. If it is, the child usually no longer has the time for you, or the interest.

This article is from "The Mother in Our Lives," (Targum/Feldheim) a new anthology of Jewish women's writing edited by Sarah Shapiro

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Visitor Comments: 23

(21) Madu, February 21, 2015 8:38 AM

My father married when I was old enough

I relate to this article in a number of ways. I am a Nigerian and as you would have it in my country, there's a higher rate of a step mom being disconected and hating on her step children. My father had to wait for us all to cross the 20-year-old mark before he decided to remarry. Right now, I see the benefit of that. He tried so much cos if he did remarry earlier, I'd have turned out differently. I think your dad wanted same for you. Thanks Tzvia for this.

(20) Anonymous, March 1, 2012 10:06 AM

motherless daughter

My parents divorced when I was 6, mom left, and we would keep in contact, but she eventually stopped calling or, emailing by then, when i was around 11. Then she went missing, no one knew where she was, her family cant even contact her. My father left the country to go work so I only got to visit him once an year, so I was raised by my grandparents. Eventually my father came back to my life when I was 16 and it was hard at first to all of a sudden have a father again, but your father reminds me a lot of my father. He'd still see me as the little 6 year old he left behind and tried so hard to make up for those last 10 years, that he still babies me to this day. He's really over protective but he's full of compassion and love and I know its hard for him. I've only recently realized how much having my mother abandon me and having my father gone while I was growing up has affected me and my personality and relationships. I take rejection badly, I get attached to people easily and end relationships once anything goes bad in them. I never got in touch with my feminine side until late high school. On a lighter note, from this I've gained a lot of drive and ambition in me. People say that I am a very strong person, and to an extent I believe it as well. I was always mature for my age and always was different from normal girls my age. To this day I still don't know where my mother is and I am now 21. It brings me pain to think about it, and I just really want that closure. To find her and just talk to her is all I really want. Until that happens, I will continue to feel unfulfilled. I just thought I'd share.

Anonymous, October 18, 2012 9:46 PM

Motherless too!

I read your comment and for the 1st time, I feel like someone really understands my pain. My mum also left my dad when I was 6months old and my dad raised by himself. I met my mum later on when I was 12 and she was very ill and soon after died. I feel so lost not having a mother in my life, all my life and being orphaned at a young age. I just wanted to send you a hug and let you know I feel and understand your pain.

(19) Pawn1345, December 21, 2010 12:44 AM

A fairytale

In my situation.... parents got divorced when I was two, mom left town when I was 4 leaving three kids behind never looking back. Unfortunately like most cases dad usually isn't their either. I eventually went to live with my grandpop, dad kinda just put us on the backburner to his social life. He would always promise to take us places when i was a kid, but would never show or something would always come up. At times growing up i wouldnt see my dad for months when he got a new girlfriend. It's good to hear of someone having a positive experience after a loss of a mother, but most of the time that isnt the case. In my opinion it's worse having them still alive and never paying attention to you and never being there to support you than it is having lost them due to death. It's hard every single day of my life, but its good to see someone turned out right.

(18) maria jesusa, November 2, 2010 12:09 AM

I'm surviving with my Mom's wisdom

Eight years ago my mom was diagnosed of myelogenous lukemia. We are seven in the family, the eldest is 19 and the youngest is 11 months old. My sister came and just called me home. Her silence was unusual that gave me a creep. As we got home she made me a promise not to do anything bad against myself when I find things out. And so time rolled so fast, things happened at an instant. At the funeral, we buried our grief and held hand to face the new chapter of our life. The start wasn’t that easy. The sail was rough and so we had to be tough. We had to live apart with our Dad and a brother in our farm, the youngest with our grandmother, a younger brother with a cousin in the province and the four of us in the city where we attend school. I was 15 then, I have a lot of learning to do. We never spoke of how hard it was during those struggling days. We just can sense that each of us carry the burden in our hearts. Few years after I have graduated from high school earned some awards with a tear or two for my Mom. She promised me she’ll be with me on that graduation day and so I believe she was there. The same year our eldest graduated as a nurse, and so she had to leave for Saudi. Years after my other sister headed for Japan until now. I graduated college with another award I intended for our Dad who stood to be our parent. He maybe imperfect but his principles guided us through. Now we’re sending three of our siblings to school. Our journey may seem easy for others but what mattered most those days were the wisdom our Mother left to us …Her trainings and her roles gave us the courage to stand up. She encouraged us to Live according to standard of Life, to be humble and to have faith...

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