With my mom’s permission I am publishing this conversation on my blog. I put things here that I want to remember. I like to share things with readers, but as time has gone by I’ve realized that I write here FOR ME more than anything. Putting words to my thoughts and feelings is how I express myself best. This is a very personal blog entry.
My 34th birthday is coming up soon (December 23rd).
Some people send birthday cards because it’s a nice thing to do. They’ll pick one that is funny or mildly sentimental. In many cases it doesn’t take much time or thought to pick one out. When my mother sends a card, however, it’s a different story. When I received my birthday card in the mail I sat down to read it, because I knew she’d likely spent 2 hours looking through multiple stores for that one card that put into words what she wanted to say. Her cards are always meaningful, and after the card says what it says, she’ll write something in her own words.
This year she wrote two pages. Her words are the best birthday present I’ve yet received. EVER.
Those words she wrote inside my birthday card started a dialog between the two of us that I thought might end up hurting her feelings. Instead, she loved what I wrote in response and was relieved the conversation had finally begun.
I asked if I could reprint her letter to me and my response to her right here on this blog and she agreed. Here’s what she wrote to me (my response will follow):
———- From My Mom to Me ———-
I’m very proud of you Donny J. You’re so very intelligent and handsome and can do anything you put your mind to doing. The only thing that makes me sad is I don’t hear from you enough. I know you’re very busy with your own life, as we all are, but please don’t get too busy for what really matters most. “Family”. You never know if they’ll be there tomorrow!
I think of my sister Bonnie and that she may not be here this time next year and it makes me so sad that I didn’t take the time to really know her. She was more of a mother to me than my own mother when I was a child. My mom & dad both worked, so Bonnie took care of us kids. I wish I could spend more time with her, but like you, I have my own life to live. It’s too bad we all live so far away from each other.
But I am so glad I was lucky enough to raise you and Daniel myself and not have to work. We really are blessed as a family. I know I made a lot of mistakes raising you boys, but I did the best that I knew to do. I loved you two so very much and was always there for all your plays, sports, whatever you were involved with or in. Whether you realize it or not, you were luckier than most kids. Their parents were too busy making their own career and didn’t care what their kids were doing. The kids now a days are raising themselves. I chose to raise my children and put them first, not myself.
I know you hold bitterness against me and your dad, but Donny you need to take another look around and see that we really did put you two first and I love you with all my heart. You two are my pride & joy no matter what you do. I would like to be able to talk to you the way we used to, when you would open up and tell me what was on your mind and how you were doing and I would tell you what’s on my mind and you would give me advice. I would like that again. Remember, your mom is just a phone call away.
Call me when you’re not busy!
When I read her card I started crying. I gave the card to my brother to read and headed for my computer to write her an email in response. Here is what I wrote:
———- From Me to My Mom ———-
I would have to say that is probably the best birthday present I have ever received in my life. I’m referring to the letter you wrote on the card. You have taken the first step that I was too afraid to take. I think I owe it to you to let you know what my personal issues are when it comes to the relationship between you and me, so I’ll do that in this email. It might not be comfortable, but please know that I love you. I wouldn’t bother taking the time to write this out if I didn’t. I am crying uncontrollably as I start writing this because the things in your letter are true and I can accept them all. So I am not saying that what I write in this email is all fact, but just the perspective of your first son. If you see my perspective, even if you don’t agree with it, I think we have a place to start.
You are very right: I do hold a lot of bitterness toward you for many things. I don’t call very often because of that bitterness. Sometimes I give the phone to Daniel and tell him to call just because I don’t want to do it myself. One thing that I’ve noticed about myself is that it doesn’t take much more than a few simple words to bring back a lot of bitter feelings within me. It seems that every time I call something innocent is said that brings back negative feelings. If you’d allow me to tell you a few things and get them out in the open it would probably be a good step toward healing.
You’ll notice that when I do occasionally send you an email the last name I have listed for you in my address book is still “Pauling”. That’s the name that appears in the “to” line of the emails I send, and it’s not just an oversight. I have a difficult time allowing myself to think of you with your new last name. To me, that isn’t you. You are my mother. You have my last name.
I’ll get into that more in a minute. First I wanted to clarify something:
The bitterness I have towards religious issues from our churches are not aimed at you at all. All of that, in my opinion, was not your fault. You did the best you could raising us up in the way you believed to be right. The legalistic view of God and Christianity was the only thing you personally knew to teach, and even though I think those churches and teachings really screwed up my view of God, you were only teaching what you knew to teach. The majority of my bitterness when it comes to religion is directed toward other people from the churches you and dad pastored. I have never had any bitterness about religious teachings that were aimed at you.
The very best thing you did was to stay at home with us, and that is such a great blessing that I have made sure Wendy stays home with Caden even though we’ve been divorced for so long. Even when I was producing porn, I forced her to take money from me (at first that wasn’t so easy) because I knew that would keep her home with him. It was her dream to do that and I wanted to make it come true because I learned the value of having a mom at home from you being home with us. So it is because of YOU that your grandson gets to have his mother at home. I knew my responsibilities as a man were to make sure that happened for my son. Despite my moral flaws, I could give that to him.
I am not saying everything was perfect. Far from it. Yes, there were many negative issues in our childhood. But I am at a place in my life where I can put myself in your position, imagine a bit of what you experienced growing up, and know that you really did do the best you knew how. Nobody can possibly be blamed for doing that, even if some of those things were negative. I truly, firmly believe you did the VERY best you knew to do. You gave a lot of yourself to us.
So what is the problem? I’ll start to tell you now:
Dad made mistakes too. But to be honest I’ve been able to forgive all of those. It’s not that I don’t see them. It’s not that I don’t acknowledge they existed. It’s just that I have made peace with them, and with him, and later in my email I’ll tell you how I did so.
I haven’t done that with you yet. In order to do so I have to tell you what my issues are. As I was working through some of the issues I have with dad and as I reached a resolution of those issues, I was able to forgive you as well as him for the same things (and I hope you take note that I said issues **I** have because I realize that some of this stuff is **MY** problem).
Here is the one that remains, the one that separates us most: the divorce.
You and dad taught us so many values, and even though I think some of them were taught from the wrong perspective, they were good values. “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it” really comes true in our case. I lost my way for awhile, but the seeds were planted and when God sent XXXChurch into my life and they spent two years working on me, the foundation instilled as a child still remained and a much better building is in construction on that foundation now. SO many good things were taught to us.
You and dad were very hard on me to be the best I could. I loved that even at the time it was happening. It pushed me and fueled me to do well in school. You told me in your letter that I am an intelligent person. That is because you and dad always told me I was, always made me do my homework the second I came home from school, always pushed me academically because you knew that’s where I excelled. I am intelligent because of you and him, I know that without a doubt. You expected excellence, and I believed in my ability to produce excellence because you two told me I could achieve it.
But I feel that you did not give back excellence in solving your relationship problems with dad.
Before I continue, I need to tell you that I am not trying to bring you down with this email. On the contrary, I think it is long overdue. I haven’t let it out in full. I didn’t want to hurt your feelings. I didn’t want to put in the work that it will take to resolve things between us. These issues are definitely holding back our relationship. So please take this email for what it is: a beginning on the path to healing. It is not meant to point fingers at you. It is meant to tell you how I feel inside. Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20, so it’s not totally fair of me to voice all of this, but I’m going to do so anyway.
As I wrote above, dad is not faultless. No person can be perfect, and he was far from it. Both of you, however, needed to give, not just him. It takes two sides to make a relationship. Both parties have to be vulnerable to each other. Pride can’t stand in the way for either side. Both of you have a lot of pride. Both of you were very very stubborn. Both of you needed to lay that pride down and not let it tear you apart after more than 25 years of marriage. For so many years you set a good example for us, only to quit the race before the finish line.
When you left to go to Las Vegas the first time, I think dad learned and was broken. I think his pride was broken. I think his ego was reduced to the point where he was ready to do what it took to reconcile. You’d had enough and no longer wanted to try. The majority of the world will not blame you for that. The majority of the world will tell you that you could not be expected to do anything more at that point. But you taught me to be excellent in my pursuit of important things in life, and the majority of the world is not excellent in their own pursuits. I needed you to be excellent in your pursuit of reconciliation. I needed you to also break your own pride and ego and realize your own part in the problems the two of you faced. Despite the hurts you may have felt and despite the number of times you felt hurt, it is never dishonorable to make yourself vulnerable one more time, to allow for the possibility that you might be hurt once again but you’re going to find out by trying once again. We were brought up to believe that forgiveness must be made 7 x 70 times in one day. We were brought up to believe that Biblical principle is important. Belief, however, also requires us to act on it. All of us, despite our circumstances.
I needed you to embody what you claimed to believe. Both of my parents are now remarried. That’s not what I was taught as “okay” when I was a kid. It’s tough on a person of any age to start thinking that what they were taught was possibly BS.
Dad acknowledges the mistakes he made with you. On the occasions he speaks of the relationship you two had, the word “I” is used more often than the word “she”. Because of that, I can forgive Him. The problem I am having with you, however, is that your words in similar conversations have the word “he” outpacing the word “I” by at least 10 times. You are quick to point the finger at him, but you don’t take any responsibilities for yourself. And even when you bring up things you did, you usually justify your actions by saying you wouldn’t have done such things unless he had caused you to do them. That isn’t taking responsibility, in my opinion. That is placing blame. Each of us are only responsible for ourselves. WE decide how we’ll react to the things in our lives that affect us. Once in awhile you used to say “if your friends’ parents let them jump off a bridge should we let you jump off one too?” That same concept applies to marriage relationships. “If he did XX should you do YY?”
That is the barrier between us. I’ve already forgiven any other childhood issues. I know why the bad parts happened, and I am not going to sit around blaming everything wrong in my life on my parents, as seems to be so popular in this world we live in. I actually admire and love how you did the best you could with Daniel and I, regardless of any mistakes that were made.
I just want you to stop blaming dad for your marriage ending.
I would like to hear a LOT of the word “I” when you talk about that, just as I hear when he does. I can forgive ANYTHING when someone truly takes responsibility for their own actions. No matter what, you were EQUALLY responsible for the problems in your marriage. HE is not the only one who did things wrong in that relationship. I feel that if you BOTH had truly realized that fact while together, your marriage would have been GREAT!
So what I need from you, mom, is for you to be introspective and discover your own problems without justifying them by placing blame on others. “I wouldn’t have done THIS if he hadn’t done THAT” doesn’t work for me. I think it will be good for you, too, if you come to terms with the full reasons for the marriage failure. One of the main reasons I know these things is because I am currently going through the same process. It hurts a lot to do it. I have to constantly open my eyes to what a broken person I really am.
I don’t get down on myself about it, because I know that all I have to do is realize I really am broken and then ask my Father to reveal how fix it. As long as I’m willing to do my part of the work, God will do His. I want that for you, too. I want you to be healed emotionally, but you have to come face to face with your issues in order for that to happen. No more blaming ANYONE else. It’s not our environment that makes us who we are. It’s how we CHOOSE to react to it. I made a lot of wrong choices along my own path, and now I’m working hard to correct them. But I like it, no matter how much it hurts. I KNOW we’re enough alike that you’ll find the same benefits to working on taking responsibility for your own actions.
So after you’ve read this, please call me and let’s talk. Because I WANT to put in the work to be closer to my mother. Like you said, family is NOT around forever! I love you and don’t want to regret not getting beyond the current barriers.
Your Donny J
She read my email and called me back. Our conversation was wonderful. I feel another huge burden has been lifted off of me, and my mother feels like she has her son back.
If you have something to say to a family member, do it. Have the conversation. Today.