(Orange, Texas)

June 19, 2013

Sometimes moms play the role of father, too

Don McNay
The Orange Leader

ORANGE — “Dear old Daddy, rest his soul

Left my mom a heavy load

She tried so very hard to fill his shoes

Working hours without rest

Wanted me to have the best”

—Merle Haggard

A couple of years ago, Louisville, Ky., political activist Mary John Celletti posted on her Facebook page that she got a Father’s Day present from her son Patrick.  

He said she had been the mother and father in his life.

Mary John and I have been friends since before Patrick was born so I know her story. I also can see the results. Patrick is a third-year medical student at the University of Louisville. Mary John did well in her dual role.

Her post made me painfully aware that Father’s Day is an empty day for a lot of people.

Mother’s Day has been hard for me in recent years as it reminds me that my mother and sister are dead. Father’s Day has been simpler. I met my first wife the year that my dad died so I made the transition from Father’s Day being Dad’s day to my day.  

Now I share the day with my son-in-law, Clay Bigler, who likes to do things outdoors. My idea of roughing it is staying in a hotel that does not have room service or a mint on the pillow. Finding a joint activity can be challenging, but we make it work.

Making it work is what single mothers do.

We have a nation being raised by single mothers. My mother, grandmothers, daughter, wife and sister all spent time in the ranks.  

One of my relatives met his father the year he turned 18. His response was to beat the hell of out of “Dad” and tell him to stay away.

I was raised by a single mother, but my father remained intensely involved in my life.  Most people can’t say that. I adopted two wonderful daughters, but it was an easy role to fill. The biological guy cut ties long ago. A lot of men completely jump ship or stay involved in a minimal way.

Some can dwell on the negative and bemoan the situation. It is what it is and nothing is going to change it. Ditching your children no longer has a stigma and society is not going to shame men into doing what they are supposed to do.

Or we can focus on the positive. We have a ton of single mothers stepping up to the plate and filling both roles. As Patrick astutely noted, they should be honored on Father’s Day as well.

I’ve never bought Father’s Day gifts for the single mothers in my life, but it might be time to start.

Mom went to nursing school during the day and worked at a potato chip factory at night in order to support us. She paid for me to go to an excellent, private Catholic school. I suspect she did it by juggling bill collectors and credit cards, but she made it work.

Getting to Covington Latin and later to Covington Catholic was a game changer for me. It gave me an environment to hone my talents and the vast majority of my classmates graduated from college. Several, like myself, have advanced degrees. Mom made that possible for me.

I never thought to honor her on Father’s Day, but I should have. She handled the dual role well.

And thank you to Mary John and Patrick for putting her on my radar.

Don McNay is a columnist for the Richmond (Ky.) Register. Contact him at