Let me tell you a little story.

My mother was born in 1933 in the bayous of Louisiana and raised in what could only be called a seriously dysfunctional family. They lived in the direst poverty, and starvation was not uncommon. (Mom was so thin she still weighed only 87 pounds when she got married at age 27). Her violent and alcoholic father beat her and her 12 siblings so unmercifully that two of her brothers were left mildly brain-damaged. He also raped some of her sisters. Her mother (my grandmother) did her best to cope with the brutality and abuse, but she went blind by the age of 35; and with 13 children to raise during the Depression and World War II, she had little choice but to stay with my grandfather.

Unwilling to repeat the chaos of her childhood, my mother chose to leave that environment, educate herself in nursing and become a professional. Good start! Then she began dating a doctor. She was madly in love with him, she relates. But this doctor – like my grandfather – drank. One evening after a date, the doctor escorted my mother back to her apartment, threw up in her kitchen sink and passed out on the sofa.

As my mother cleaned up the mess, she thought to herself, “If I marry this man, I’ll be cleaning up his vomit for the rest of my life.” She told him she never wanted to see him again.

Two months later, she met the man who would become my father. They married a year after that. My mom is now 86 and my dad 82. Aside from the usual laments of elderly bodies, they’re both in pretty good shape for a couple of old folks. My parents still hold hands after nearly 60 years together.

The best thing my mother ever did was marry my father. But marrying him was no accident; it was a choice. She had the foresight to look ahead, down the long path of life, and consciously choose not to marry a man like her father. Instead, she chose to marry a decent, kind man who was intelligent, a good provider and loved children. This led to my brothers and me being raised in a stable and happy home. These good choices are still impacting the lives of my mother’s children and grandchildren.

They say the hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world. Of course not every occupant of every cradle grows up to rule the world, but every single one of us grows up to rule ourselves. How well that is accomplished – how well we rule and regulate and control our own behavior – is due in part to the influence of that hand that rocked the cradle. But it goes back even further, before the cradle was ever part of the equation. It goes back to who was chosen to father that cradle’s occupant.

I firmly believe Mother’s Day isn’t just about moms. It’s also about dads. A woman doesn’t become a mother without the help of a father, and this happens long before a baby is born. It happens when a woman meets a stranger’s eyes across a crowded room and a spark flies. What happens next is up to the woman. There are few decisions in life that will have a greater impact on her children.

Often when a woman gets married, she doesn’t look at the reality of what life will be like beyond the altar. This is, in theory, the man she wants to see across the breakfast table for the next 50 years. So why doesn’t she choose someone with compatible views on family, children, religion, money, life goals and other critical factors?

And, assuming she’s been fortunate enough to make vows with a man compatible in all those areas, why would she complicate her relationship with this treasured person by being difficult to live with? Why would she become nagging or critical or cold?

For feminists, empowering women is all about emasculating men. My mother has never – and I mean never – trashed-talked my dad. In fact, one of her lessons she taught us as teens was, “Your behavior reflects upon your father. Think carefully about what you do.” It was enough to keep us in line.

My mother never tore down my father – she built him up. He did the same for her. It’s been a true partnership that’s lasted six decades so far. In a nutshell, my mother chose her spouse wisely and treated him kindly – and this action had, and continues to have, long-term multi-generational repercussions.

And that, you see, is what my mother did for me. Not just me, but for my three brothers. And not just my brothers and me, but for our spouses. And not for just me, my brothers and our spouses, but for our kids. And not just for me, my brothers, our spouses and our kids, but for these kids’ future spouses and their kids. And so on and so forth down the generations … all because my mom refused to marry a drunken sot and married my dad instead, and thus gave us all a role model for marital stability.

My mother started out life in just about the worst circumstances imaginable – poverty, starvation, alcoholism, physical violence – and certainly with no suitable role models in sight. It was her, and her alone, who charted a wise course in life, selected a wonderful husband and raised her children well. She taught us to respect our dad as an authority figure. Together, my parents taught us to work hard and honorably. They taught us the value of common sense. And those lessons stuck.

It also illustrates the power of choice. You don’t have to have a perfect background to make wise choices in life. As my mother demonstrated, your background can be as bad as humanly possible, and yet you can still rise above and set the course of future generations on the right track through your own actions. That’s a lot of power in each and everyone’s hands.

A happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there who made smart choices in their lives. Your children will rise up and call you blessed.

And to my own mom – thank you.

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