Hoping for a Warmer Mother’s Day

First published at 365gay.com on May 9, 2009

Sunday will be Mother’s Day, and I’ll be thinking about various mothers in my life.

My own mother, with whom I have a great relationship. She and my father live in another state and will be coming to visit me several days later.

My two grandmothers, who both died a few years ago but were a big part of my life. They enter my memory frequently.

And my mother-in-law, with whom I have a more, um, challenging relationship.

We got off to a rocky start. Mark and I dated for several years before he came out to his parents. They did not take his gayness, or my presence in his life, well. To them, I was “that man”—they never would use my name—who corrupted their son.

For a long time, they refused to meet me. Eventually we ambushed them. One day, Mark’s sister invited everyone out to lunch. “We won’t tell them you’re coming,” she explained sympathetically. “In a public place, they’ll have to be nice to you.”

When they arrived at the restaurant, Mark took a deep breath and blurted out, “Mom, Dad, this is John.”

“Nice to meet you,” I offered. His mother responded with a look that could wilt flowers.

So a policy of mutual avoidance continued until his sister’s wedding, an event that neither of us was willing to miss. What’s more, my own parents would be in attendance. My Sicilian mother meets my Filipino mother-in-law. An irresistible force meets an immovable object. No one knew what to expect.

Mark’s parents and my parents interacted cordially. Then, surprisingly and without explanation, things changed.

Perhaps seeing us interact with my parents made my in-laws realize that they were missing out on their son’s life. Perhaps they were simply impressed that I had parents, rather than having emerged directly from hell.

Whatever it was, they softened—dramatically. They began to accept our invitations to get together. They visited our home, and we visited theirs. In short, the ice thawed.

I’ve lived long enough to know that such transitions, like springtime in Michigan, can’t always be trusted. One hopes for the best, but it’s wise not to plant the summer garden or put the winter blankets away too early. I was reminded of this a week or so ago, when I attended Mark’s cousin’s wedding.

After the groom danced with his mother, all mothers and sons were invited to join in for the “Mother/Son dance.” So Mark led his mother to the dance floor while I picked at my salad and pondered the overbearing heterosexuality of wedding customs. Bride dances with groom. Bride dances with father. Groom dances with mother. Closeted gay uncle dances with grandma. And so on.

Mark returned from the dance floor quickly. Too quickly.

“You are not going to believe what she just said to me,” he blurted out. “She said that she wishes this were my wedding, and that she’s praying that I’ll find a nice girl.”

Later on we would discover that she had approached several cousins to enlist them in the “nice girl” search. (Thankfully, they all told her that he had already found someone nice and that she was being ridiculous.)

How does one interact with a mother-in-law who is praying for one’s replacement? Very carefully, of course.

I don’t take her sentiments personally, though they do make me alternately angry and sad.

Mainly, I find it exasperating that a mother who so clearly loves her son could be so blind to what actually makes him happy, or to the presence in his life of someone else who loves him.

And yes, I do think she’s acting out of love, despite those who would (indeed did) accuse her of being horribly selfish. Human motives are almost always mixed. But I get where she’s coming from.

Like most parents, she wants her son to be happy. She has a certain picture, drawn from her own life, about what adult happiness consists in: husband, wife, and children. And she spent three decades hoping for, praying for, and generally expecting Mark to have that picture of happiness. Change is hard.

So my strategy with her is to keep doing what I’ve been doing: treating her like a family member, despite her ongoing resistance to being one for me. We continue to interact cordially. For me to confront her about what she said would be counterproductive. (Mark’s doing so is another matter.)

I’m grateful for the fact that we have made progress. It is now possible for us all to get together without my ambushing them, or without flower-wilting glares. But the détente is far from perfect.

So Sunday is Mother’s Day, and we’ve invited her and his father out to eat. I don’t know if they’ll show up. But I continue to hope and believe that, despite the unexpected frost, springtime will come.