By Joseph Walker

The blow came hard and fast to my face.  The unmentionable, unprintable word had barely escaped my lips when I felt the sting of my father’s open hand against my cheek.

We stood there, the three of us, unsure of what to do or what to say.  We had never been in this situation before, so it wasn’t like we had precedent to guide us.

Mom had provoked me – or at least, in my teenage mind I thought she had.  And that possibility is not completely unimaginable.  Mom wasn’t Donna Reed, Harriet Nelson or any of the other TV Mothers Who Always Knew Best – or at the very least, better than their kids.

Mom didn’t wear a perfectly crisp house dress – she preferred moo-moos.  Her toast wasn’t always a perfect golden brown – more often than not, it was a little black around the edges.  She didn’t handle Dad perfectly, with kid gloves and a knowing wink – sometimes she gave him heck.  And when her children needed discipline or correction, there were no parables, object lessons or perfectly chosen words – she read us the riot act.

Sometimes . . . uh . . . shall we say, colorfully?

Which is what I remember happening that spring evening, although to be honest I’m a little fuzzy on the details.  I just know that we were standing near the front door of the condominium in which we lived, and Mom and I were . . . you know . . . confronting.  For some reason, Dad was hovering nearby, although as usual he wasn’t fully engaged in the conversation.

Until I called Mom a  . . . um . . . well . . . you know . . . something awful.

Now, I don’t want you to think Mom and I were dysfunctional.  We had a sweet relationship.  I was her baby.  She loved me, and I loved her.  We were probably closer than most moms are with their 17-year-old sons.  But occasionally all of that feeling bubbled over.

This time, however, I had crossed a line, and I knew it.  I regretted it even before I finished saying it.  So when Dad struck me – the first and only time I remember him ever doing so – I actually hurt more for what I had said than for what Dad had done.

There were tears in all of our eyes as we stood there – silently, uncertainly.  Finally, I spoke.  I looked at Dad and said: “I deserved that.”

“Yes,” he said, not harshly, “you did.”

I looked at Mom, whose tears were running freely down her cheeks.  I expected to see anger and indignation on her face; instead, I saw hurt and anguish – as much for me as for her.  I didn’t know what to say, so I walked to my room, threw myself on my bed – and said nothing.

Within a few minutes I heard my door opening.  I almost smiled.  Dad was so predictable.

“It’s OK, Dad,” I said without looking.  “I understand why you had to do that.  I was way out of line.”

“Yes, you were.”  I was startled to hear Mom’s emotion-choked voice.  “You know better than that.  But I was out of line, too, and I’m sorry.”

I turned to see her standing by my bed.  Mom wasn’t usually one to apologize easily, so this extension of the peace pipe was . . . disconcerting.  “Mom, I should never . . .”

She held up a hand to stop me.  “You’re right – you shouldn’t,” she said firmly.  “And Dad shouldn’t have handled it the way he did, and he’ll need to apologize to you for that.  But I was part of the problem, too.  And for that, I just want to apologize.”

I looked at Mom a little differently from that day on.  So what if she wasn’t like all of those TV moms, who were all so calm, so cool and so incapable of making mistakes?  She was like me.  She was real.  She was human.  Which in my mind made her . . . you know . . . perfect.

For me.

— © Joseph Walker

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