On this day that celebrates love I find myself reflecting on my parents marriage as I have observed it through the last 60 years.
Dad confided to me once when he was at a particularly low ebb in his life that his and my Mother’s marriage had only been happy for the first few months before disillusionment set in for him. The details are unimportant but it must be said that Dad described feeling like he had made a huge mistake in marrying Mum just a few months into their marriage, he didn’t believe in divorce and so even though he felt trapped Dad set about making the best of it. As it transpired this meant he would spend the next 60 years bending to Mum’s will in everything and never having a voice within our family. From my earliest memory of them as a couple, Mum was in charge and Dad pretty much did as he was told. They didn’t fight very much but when they did it invariably ended with Dad in the wrong and Mum triumphant. I recall 20 years or so of Dad going to bed early and of Mum staying up late every night and sleeping on the sofa. They were not openly hostile towards each other but there was an insurmountable distance between them for as long as I can remember.
Through the years we have all speculated on why Dad didn’t just ‘put his foot down’ or leave and find a new happier life for himself, it just seemed tragic to me that they continued on in this habitual form of enslavement to each other. At one point in the 1980’s when Dad was setting off to visit his family in England, he told me that he may not return, there was someone from his past who was now a widow and still held feelings for him. I was surprised but also felt relieved for him, finally he might find some happiness. I reassured him that we would take care of Mum and she would be fine and off he went.
Dad returned home to New Zealand earlier than expected, he had missed Mum.
Who can tell what goes on in another persons heart and soul.
Mum and Dad carried on as before, she calling all the shots and he doing as he was told and constantly being told that he fell short of expectation by Mum. Mum’s constant badgering of Dad was difficult to see and when I challenged her she always had some very good reason why he needed to be bullied.
2014 came around and Mum and Dad’s 60th wedding anniversary was looming large on the calendar, Mum was getting very excited and looking forward to the great event with much anticipation. I did the daughterly thing and informed the government so that on the great day they would receive cards from the Governor General, our own Prime minister and of course the highly anticipated card from The Queen. As the date approached Dad quietly informed me that he didn’t want any fuss as he had nothing to celebrate. In the light of this I cancelled the family outing I was organising and I told Mum that we would be coming up to their home in Kerikeri to celebrate with them on the day.
All through that year I noticed Mum’s memory getting worse and by October of that year she would ring me upwards of 6-7 times a day with the same question or bit of news. She was increasingly distracted but she was able to keep her focus on the upcoming 60th wedding anniversary celebration in December. We spoke every day and finally the anniversary arrived and we all piled in our cars with cake and food and made the trip up North to celebrate with Mum.
She was surprised to see us all, she didn’t know it was their anniversary!
After that everything imploded for Mum and she ended up in a home here in Orewa and Dad came to live with us. He was very angry with her in those early months with us and often talked about his “wasted life”. Mum meanwhile went from demented to violent and self destructive and a perceptive social worker finally took a proper history and really listened to Dad and I describing how life had been with Mum for all those years. The result was that at the age of 84 Mum was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was started on medication.
Over the 3 years that Mum has been medicated she has made amends in the only way she can and I for one am very grateful that I have come to know this warm, calm and loving Mother who through no fault of her own had been emotionally absent from my life for all those long years. Dad has had time to heal and now understands that Mum was very sick and couldn’t help how she was during their long and painful marriage. I have been witness to a growing peacefulness between them and have had the absolute joy to hear my Dad whispering in Mum’s ear “you know I have always loved you”.
So on this day I am grateful that Dad didn’t stay in England and that he came back here to endure the unendurable. I don’t think his was a wasted life and I’m happy that these two previously tormented souls are approaching that slip into the next great adventure together, hand in hand and in love.