Today here in North America, it is Mother's Day. It's a day of wildly conflicting emotions - not that you'll see that reflected in the advertising about the day. All these images of women with gentle faces who carry themselves with wisdom bombard us at every turn. Mothers are soft, and loving, and gentle, always supportive, never critical, a safe harbour in a difficult world. And yet ... when I went shopping for a card for my mother I was in the store next to a woman a few years younger than me. She was grabbing cards, reading the sentiment and shoving them back into place. She mumbled under her breath, 'Where are the pretty cards that don't say 'love' in them?'
Stepping outside of family politics and family stories. I've decided that I want to celebrate Mother's Day differently. It's a day to celebrate the person who gave us life, who gave us love and support, who encouraged us, who supports us, who picks us up when we fail and most importantly who looks at us and sees who we are and who we are becoming and is at peace with both. These attributes have, oddly, become tied to gender and they are not.
Here are some of the men who have mothered me.
Ron Shearer was the most kind and gentle of men. He was the partner of George Hislop, a man known for his activism in the cause of gay rights. We became friends with them, couple to couple even though they were much older than we were. Ron showed an interest in us, and particularly me, that wasn't intrusive. It was as if he found us entirely fascinating. Over time, as he came to know us, he began to gently guide us into the ways of being men. Being adult men. Being responsible men. Ron thought my work poetic - he saw the value of valuing all and was a wonderful sounding board for me and my early ideas. He had insight that was sometimes astonishing. I consider Ron one of those people who come into your life and make it richer, make you richer. His smile was one of pure joy, his laugh incapacitated him, his warmth enveloped you and held you and healed you. He was a mother of a man.
Robert Sovner would be appalled to be included in my list. He was a man's man, a tall, strapping guy with blazing good looks and a keen mind. I met him when I organized him coming to Ontario to give a presentation. He was one of the first psychiatrists to be interested in the mental health of people with intellectual disabilities. At the time I met him I hadn't published a single article, written a single word about my work. Robert managed, somehow through my shyness, to see that I had ideas and abilities that had been undiscovered. He encouraged me to write and to speak and to be public about what I thought. He was co-editor of a powerful newsletter and helped me publish a number of articles that were groundbreaking and exhilarating to work on. To his dying day he took interest in me and my career. We'd talk on the phone about work, always, but then about other things. He always seemed proud to know me. I'd never really experienced that before. He was a man with the heart of a mother.
Bob Clayton is an odd addition to the list as we were the same age. But this isn't about generation or gender, it's about the ability to 'mother' someone. Bob, next to Joe, was one of the world's quickest laughers. He found everything funny. But what was cool about Bob was that he and I worked side by side in a group home all those years ago. As the years went by and my career grew he took pride in our friendship and never felt jealous or envious of the things I did or achieved. Instead he would call to encourage me, call to give me advice, call to give me a story that I could use in my lectures or in my writing. We got together as often as we could and I always left Bob feeling stronger, more able, more worthwhile. And if that's not what you are supposed to feel after a visit to good ol' Mom, I don't know what is.
Happy Mother's Day guys!! Each of you gave of your life, to my life. Each of you gave me something that's still with me now. Thanks for taking the time to love and encourage me. Thanks for stepping out of the confines of gender and allowing your instinct to mentor and your desire to support come to the fore. Yeah, yeah, you're all guys ... but guys who's heart when it beats, uses all it's cylinders.
Maybe on Father's Day I'll treat you to the story of Ruth, a woman who managed to be a magnificent father figure.