An ode to my mother-in-law in the wake of Father’s Day
The man I now love is the boy you once held to your breast. You changed his diapers and woke to his cries. The man I love is strong and tall and hairy, but he used to be small and fragile and he probably snuggled on demand and said loudly, “I love you, Mommy!”
These days, he says, “I love you, wife.” I wonder, perhaps for the first time, how that makes you feel. Proud? Envious? Perhaps an inevitable concoction of both. Is this why Sarah dies before Isaac finds Rebecca? Why Rebecca never meets Rachel? Enough rivalry already in those stories. But you are no Sarah and you are no Rebecca, and I must be the black sheep of the family I married into, because I mean that as a compliment.
The man I now love, I didn’t know as your boy. Though I still see glimpses of who he must have been, I knew him only as mine. He tells me jokes and whispers in my ear things I will never repeat to his mother; and he gazes at me as though he has seen nothing more beautiful. Did you teach him to gaze? Did you teach him to offer me his coat — I was too concerned with my outfit to bring my own — even though he only has a T-shirt beneath? Did you teach him that making me laugh would make me forget our troubles, if even just for a moment, and that kissing my forehead would make me forget for a moment more?
You taught him to change a tire. And to take out the garbage. Thank you. And I think it was you, too, who taught him to change diapers and wake up in the early mornings to feed his children, or to snuggle on demand, as you once did with him. Maybe not by instruction, but by raising a boy who is comfortable being such a man.
He can spend hours outside with the boys, playing Pokémon Go or tossing a football. He can sit on his recliner and read them 10 books in a row. He sometimes plays Sleeping Queens and Rummikub and Chess and Dixit all Shabbat afternoon. I have seen you do the same.
I will try not to hold against you the things you did not teach him — to do his laundry, to clean the kitchen. After all, there is only so much a mother can do. And the fact that he was willing to learn, that can probably also be traced to you.
While I am certain you didn’t teach him to swear in anger when fixing the bathroom tiles, I do think you instilled in him the desire to fix: to fix my pain when I cry, to fix my grandmother’s computer when she calls, to teach our children, too, what they can fix in the world. I know there is much that he has learned elsewhere and on his own, but you guided him so much of the way.
And if he was gone, I’m not sure I would go wherever you go, live wherever you live (after all, I never did smash my idols when I married him). But as I celebrated him on Father’s Day, I paid tribute to you, mother-in-law, as well. I love you for all you have done to make him the man and the father he is.
Talia Liben Yarmush lives in Linden with her husband and their two sons. You can read more of her work at TaliaYarmush.com.