I’ve never really put much thought into Mother’s Day.
My observation of this day usually starts with saying “Happy Mother’s Day!” to my mom and maybe culminates with a hug. Only recently have I begun to understand how motherhood has shaped the last twenty-odd years of my mom’s life.
Growing up, I was closer to my dad than my mom. He educated and disciplined me. We spent many hours in the car talking as he drove around town running errands. He was the one I argued with, the one I shared news with, and the one I turned to if I needed guidance.
Mom was more distant. We watched TV together, we ate dinners together, we joked and laughed together, and we worked together in the salon. We spent quite a bit of time together, but she was reserved. If there is one image that captures my impression of my mom, it would be of her standing behind a salon chair, expertly handling a comb in one hand and scissors in the other as she swiftly snips at a client’s hair, with lips pursed in deep concentration.
In the past year, she has been sharing more, as we spend more time on the phone chatting. Many times, she brought up a specific memory from when I was around 12 years old. My father was giving me a beating. I probably did something wrong that angered him. According to my mom, she couldn’t stand the way he was treating me. I guess it was especially brutal that time because she was so upset that the thought of punching him crossed her mind.
My mom left the scene and went to our backyard. Crying, she wondered why a father had to physically punish his child. Then, she looked across the yard, through the floor-to-ceiling window to our living room, at the scene of the punishment. She saw my father shouting, towering over a child who was wailing and sobbing. But she couldn’t hear a word, because the window was shut. With the scene muted, she found it oddly comical, and less painful. It was in that moment that she made the decision not to interfere with my father’s methods of parenting, and instead to keep her head down and focus on her work.
She has thought about leaving my father many times before.
One of the earlier instances was when I was only one year old. The three of us were at Taoyuan International Airport. According to my mom, she was tired of his erratic anger outbursts and verbal abuse. So when she went to the restroom at the airport, carrying me in her arms, she thought seriously about leaving the airport and taking me with her. For her, the choice was between depriving me of my father’s presence and giving me the semblance of a happy, whole family. She left the restroom and chose the latter.
That was the main reason that my mother stayed in the marriage for the next 25 years. All the verbal, physical, and emotional abuse that she endured throughout the years, she decided, were bearable, as long as she can see her two sons grow up in a “proper” household.
Two years ago, she left my father. They didn’t divorce, but she packed her bags and didn’t tell my father where she was going.
A few months later, when my mom found out that my father entered a new relationship, she went back home and demanded that my father choose between my mom and his lover. My father chose my mom.
At the time, my mom said that she wanted to give my father a second chance. This time would be different. It would just be the two of them; no family interference in their relationship, and no stress from raising children.
They went back to Taiwan. My father wanted to start a restaurant business,and he wanted my mom to work with him. He promised that she wouldn’t have to do hard labor. She would be the big lady boss (老闆娘) sitting at the counter and directing employees’ work. A year passed in Taiwan, and they succeeded in running a profitable small diner near a local university in Tamshui. But my mom realized that nothing had changed. She still had to bear the brunt of his verbal abuse. Instead of living life as a comfortable lady boss, 老闆娘, she ended up becoming the main chef doing most of the cooking and kitchen work. Being on the ground in the kitchen, she also had to deal with the one thing that she hates most in the world: rodents.
Why did she go back and put up with all this hardship?
She said that she was concerned that if my father remarries and has children, my brother and I may be given the unnecessary burden of having to financially provide for his new family. When my mother brought up the prospect of divorce to her sister, she was challenged. My aunt said, “But is this good for your sons’ marriage prospects? Wouldn’t other families judge your sons for having divorced parents?” And these concerns stuck with my mother.
The following year, my mom realized that she and my father were never going to work out. So last March, she left Taiwan and went back to California, and they divorced.
I am proud and happy for my mom. Over the past year, she has made new friends and reconnected with old. She is continuing her work as a hair designer, but this time on her own terms. She is able to make time for things that she had not been supported to do: taking English courses, going to church, socializing with friends, and voting in the presidential election.
My mother says that she does not regret her relationship with my father, because at the end of it all, she still has her two sons. Nevertheless, as her child, I am glad that her identity as a mother is no longer chaining her to an unhappy relationship she did not want. And I hope that this Mother’s Day, she can truly be happy.
With that: 媽媽，祝你母親節快樂！
You can contact Eric at email@example.com.