I am 50 years old and fortunate to still “sit at my father’s feet.” The lessons abound, and the wisdom is a sincere blessing. As we talked recently, he shared a story about a time when he could have done a better job being loving to his partner.
I am both of my parents’ first child. I arrived in 1972, a year or so after their wedding. My mother and father were 26 and 27 respectively.
Shortly after my parents’ wedding, my paternal grandmother, Anita Tyus, brought a plate of food to my parents’ house. The plate was for my father. My mother was irritated at my grandmother for doing so and made her displeasure known to my father. My father responded by noting that he appreciated his mother thinking of him. My mother felt slighted, and my father felt defensive. An argument ensued, and no one left the conversation happy or at peace.
All things being equal (and without attempting to understand the motivation and history of each party), I would have probably sided with my mother and believed that my grandmother bringing one plate was a slight. However, all things were not equal, and seeking to understand the involved parties is loving.
As I discussed this with my father, he recalled how he knew his mother, some of her history, and her challenges. However, at that time, he did not know his wife at the same level. He could empathize with his mother, but he did not have the tools to do so with his wife.
My paternal grandmother was born in 1918. She met my grandfather, Marvin Chester Tyus Sr., at Tennessee State University. They both moved to Washington, DC, where my grandfather attended pharmacy school at Howard University. In 1946, my grandfather died. My father was 11 months old. His older brother, Marvin, a year older than he.
My grandmother was left alone to care for Marvin and my father. After my grandfather’s passing (and temporarily unable to make sense of things), my grandmother took her infant and toddler to live with her father-in-law for four months so that she could sort things out. She had not turned 30 yet.
After retrieving her boys, she raised them in Washington, DC, in a one-bedroom apartment. The boys shared a bunk bed, and she had her own in the same room. My grandma never remarried. Her boys were her life. This was evident in how she lived her life until her passing in 2012.
One can only sympathize with a woman who overcame the noted challenges and imagine how hard it must have been for her to “lose” her sons to the natural progressions of life—in this case marriage. My uncle married first, then my father. No longer were her sons there to nurture and cook for. They were husbands now. Little could she have known that her tragic history would soon be mirrored in one of her daughter–in-law’s.
My mother, Ansa, was born to a mother (Eloise McCoy) who couldn’t afford her. My mother also had a questionable paternal lineage. Simply put, there was no one who wanted her and could afford to keep her, except for her maternal grandmother, Pearl Blakely McCoy. Great-Grandma Pearl raised my mother in South Carolina until her death when my mother was 12. Afterward, my maternal grandmother was taken to court by my Great-Aunt Geneva (my maternal grandmother’s sister) and her husband, John Harold Ferrell, to seize custody of my mother because my grandmother was unable to suitably care for her. Upon being asked by the judge where she wanted to go, my mother said she wanted to go with her aunt and uncle because she was hungry. My mother was subsequently raised by her aunt and uncle until she moved out after college.
Despite this, my mother never felt welcomed by her aunt. Her uncle was loving toward her when his friends were around or when they were away from home. But not when they were home. My mother only truly felt loved by her grandmother, Pearl. My mother’s nickname was “Pee-wee” because she was small framed. However, she was a fighter. She felt she had to be as her grandmother was gone and there was no one protecting her.
One can truly sympathize with a young woman who, at 25, entered a marriage feeling perpetually unloved and imagine how those feelings showed up in her marriage. One can understand her need to fight when she felt slighted.
At 26 and married, my father was still (and is still) a momma’s boy. He watched his mother struggle for his entire life and was protective of her. He recalls, “The husband role was new to me; the son role I had known for 26 years.” He had no father; in fact, he believed that everyone had a father except him. So talking through this (or other issues) with a senior male was not feasible for him at the time.
My father now reflects:
I wish I would have done better with that situation. My mother was alone, undoubtedly lonely, and wanted to remain relevant. My wife was offended by her actions and had felt so unloved for so long that she was not prone to being empathetic or overlooking slights.
I wish I would have demonstrated understanding to my wife, instead of arguing with her, while also working to creatively make sure that my mother felt relevant and included. I didn’t know that my job was to show my wife understanding. I wish I would have comforted her. I wish I would have shown her more compassion. I wish I would have appealed to my wife so that we could collectively show my mother compassion. I felt attacked and pushed back at the perceived aggression. I dropped the ball.
Why is this story important and relevant? It is relevant and important because it’s a rich reminder of how, in our relationships, we often miss one another. We miss each other’s pain and challenges that are often rooted in experiences that precede us. But in our quest to protect ourself, our ego, or, in this case, someone else, we often forget to care for and comfort our partner.
While our histories and our partner’s histories may or may not be more troubling or tragic, all of our histories are worth respecting. And they all deserve patience, love, and care. Consider allowing the experience of a 76-year-old speaking and reflecting on his actions as a 27-year-old to speak to us and support us and our partner. We don’t have to wait nearly 50 years to have this understanding. We may be able to have it now.
Thank you to my father for his willingness to share his growth with you and me. Thank you to my mother for all that she has done to nurture my sisters and me, as well as our community. And honor and praise to (in order of death) Marvin Chester Tyus Sr, Pearl Blakely McCoy, John Harold Ferrell, Eloise McCoy, and Anita Tyus.
As we all collectively move forward in our relationships, let’s connect with our partner and their history in the deepest manner possible. Let’s take care of one another. And let’s commit to being loving.
This blog was written and published with the permission of both of my parents.
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Frank Love coaches individuals who are in (or wish to be in) a relationship on ways to be more loving. He is also the author of Relationship Conversations You Don’t Want to Have (But Should Anyway) and 25 Ways to Be Loving. To schedule a free consultation, contact Frank at Frank@FrankLove.com.