“Happy Father’s Day,” I said to my mother during our daily call to each other. She laughed, but I could tell she appreciated it.
My mother Rosa raised my two brothers and me on her own, all of us one or two years apart, financially, physically, and emotionally.
While we were latchkey kids because she worked all the time, and there was a great deal of drama throughout our lives, I mostly remember the times we piled into her big silver Chrysler and took off for the beach or to the mountains to explore.
Mom exposed us to everything culturally and in nature that she could do within her financial constraints—and despite her fear of driving on Los Angeles’ freeways.
I am continually grateful for all she did for us, knowing she had two roles to play during our young lives—both mother and father.
My mom is a strong woman, like her mother was, who raised eight children in rural Mexico. And my mother is still a reckoning force. At eighty-three years old, she works six days a week.
Mom’s longer workdays encompass getting up at nine in the morning to get the salad bar ready, bartending, and waiting tables throughout the day. Then she arranges tables and chairs for the live music shows at night, and helps make drinks, buses tables, washes dishes if the dishwasher doesn’t show up, counts the bank, and at one or two in the morning, waits for the last band members to leave so she can close the restaurant.
While most people retire twenty or more so years earlier than my mom, I believe she continues to work to keep busy and have a purpose in life. She also keeps working, she tells me, because she wants to make sure my brothers and I are okay. After all these years, she’s still trying to take care of us.
“Mom, you don’t need to worry about us,” I tell her. “We’re adults. We can take care of ourselves.”
Mom also likes that she has the luxury to give money, buy gifts, or give toilet paper to anyone in the family whenever she wants. She also likes her independence.
The other day, a friend and I talked about how she has more energy than people half her age. She recently stayed with me for three weeks to help after I had ankle surgery. Every day, mom made me three carefully prepared meals and brought me snacks, iced juice or coconut water, and water bottles. Every meal included a side of artfully arranged fruit or vegetables. She likes to add “a little color” to meals, something she’s learned during her more than forty years working in the restaurant business.
My mother learned how to work hard as a young girl when, instead of going to school, she worked in Mexico’s fields with her brothers and father. She came to the United States on her own at nineteen to fulfill the dream of buying a big house for her family.
Living in the States, she taught herself to read, write, and speak English. Mom worked as a babysitter, learned to wait tables, and eventually became a restaurant manager.
Her goal of buying a big house got sidelined when she met my father, got pregnant, and unwillingly married. She had my two brothers and me within the space of four years. She continually battled my father over his drinking and inability to keep a job during their short-lived marriage.
I remember the day he left for good. My mother came home, and finding him gone, sat down on the couch. She put her head back and silently cried. I sat down next to her and put my head back and attempted to cry. I wanted to share the pain as if in doing so, I could relieve hers. She immediately lifted her head and told me not to be sad.
“Everything will be alright,” she said.
My mom’s emotional strength runs in her family — powerful women who suffer disappointments, hardships, poverty, and heartbreak but don’t give up. They pick themselves up, brush off the pain and sadness, or bury it, and keep going.
That’s what mom did after my father left. She moved us back to California with the help of a friend, got another waitressing job, and continued to work long, hard days to support us. My father did not pay child support, so she was on her own financially.
Despite her long hours of work and the other hardships of single motherhood, mom would take us hiking, to the snow, out to eat at Shakey’s Pizza, send us to summer camp on Catalina Island, and do many other activities with us.
When we were teenagers, mom saved enough money to buy her first home. It wasn’t the big house on the hill she dreamed of as a young woman, but it was hers.
My mom wasn’t perfect, of course. Sometimes she raged beyond control and could have handled things differently. But she didn’t know how. She did the best she could.
But my mother taught us right from wrong, how to work hard, and how to laugh and enjoy the good things in life.
It’s mostly the wonderful memories that revisit me in adulthood. These thoughts and the knowledge that she did everything in her power to raise me and my brothers to live fulfilled and happy lives that tie me deeply to my mother.
She did the work of two people. She is our mother and our father.
Happy Father’s Day, Mom.