I was born May 13, 1982, a mere four days after Mother’s Day. I like to think I was a gift to my mother that year. I’m nearly certain she’d say the same. This year my birthday and Mother’s Day coincide. I won’t get to celebrate in person with my mother since she lives in Arizona and I in Reno. Regardless, when I call her to wish her happy Mother’s Day, I’ll tell her how very thankful I am for her loving me so, and she’ll wish me happy birthday and tell me how much she misses me. I’ll do the same for my ever watchful step-mother in Missouri. Both of these wonderful women, along with my late grandmother Ruby, helped raise me. I owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude; one that I will be paying as long as I live. All of us who have had loving, caring mothers in our lives owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude. They deserve all the love, respect, and admiration we can give.
This Mother’s Day, however, I have new mom to honor: my wonderful wife, Natalie. She gave birth to our son, Jameson, last fall. He’s healthy, happy, and growing to be everything a man could ever hope for in a son— and that is in large part because of his selfless and sacrificial mother. Since his birth, I’ve seen firsthand how it has not been all that easy for her to go from a beat-walking, crime-fighting, gun-toting, street-protecting cop to a beat-tired, germ-fighting, diaper-toting, stay-at-home mom. Regardless, she has valiantly taken up the role of mother, and she serves and protects our boy in ways that I know her foremothers would be proud. I, too, am quite proud of her, and that’s exactly why Mother’s Day is now more than just me honoring the women that raised me; it’s now also about honoring the woman that raises my son.
Mother’s Day Year Round
I’ve determined that if I am going to properly honor Natalie, it won’t be because I’ve simply purchased her a Mother’s Day tchotchke. Nor will it be because I’ve bought her flowers, a gift card to go shopping, or make-up—all wonderful gestures, some of which I will in fact be doing (I’m no dummy). No, if I am to truly honor my wife, it will be because I am actively setting an example for Jameson about how he as a young man should treat his mother; something that means a lot to my wife. This example, by extension, will also be the lesson he learns about how he should treat all women. Currently, my son is only 8-months old, but I have already seen him mimicking what I do, how I do it, and when I do it. Therefore, if I want him to act as he ought towards women, especially his mother and grandmothers, I must begin his instruction now. The following, then, are five simple ways I’ve set out to model for Jameson how he should display gratitude, love, and respect for women, especially his mom, not just on Mother’s Day but all year round.
1) Encourage Her
When Jameson was about six months old, Natalie and I took him to the Nevada Museum of Art. That particular day the museum had a mariachi band playing in their concert hall. It was a free concert, so we wheeled our little Monkey Boy (as we like to call him) into the show. He loves music and was instantly mesmerized by the sights and sounds. What was so interesting to see, however, was my son’s reaction to the music when the band began playing one of their emotional ballads. Halfway into the song, two female singers started a long, passionate wail, otherwise known as a grito. Jameson’s face of joy and amazement immediately turned to a deep set frown, and he began to cry. The emotional grief in the mariachi’s song translated into emotional grief in my son. This melodramatic phenomenon is probably why the cry of a baby spreads like wildfire to other babies; they are little emotional barometers, reading the pressure in a room.
This is also why it is so important that I make sure I do all that I can to make sure my wife is free from as much atmospheric pressure as possible. To do this, I need to consistently encourage her, compliment her, build her up, and make her laugh, and my son needs to see this— or more importantly, my son needs to feel this. He will be able to interpret and internalize a household that is filled with light hearts and laughter; conversely, he will be able to perceive an atmosphere that is filled with tension and grief. I want the former for my son, certainly not the latter. There is an old saying: “a happy wife is a happy life” (once echoed by Gavin Rossdale). I find much truth in it. Happiness, a byproduct of acting as we ought, will occur if I put Natalie’s needs above my own, place love and encouragement as the hallmark of our house, and practice patience when the inevitable disagreements occur. While the mariachi’s grito back at the museum was one of pain, gritos are typically an expression of joy or excitement (think Miguel’s grito in Disney’s Coco). These are the type of gritos I want to inspire and encourage in my son, but they will occur more frequently if I inspire and encourage them first in my wife.
And for the record, we do actually belt out happy gritos in our house. Try it. It’s hard to be angry when you’re howling “rrrrrrrraaaaah—aaaaayyyyyyeeeee—aaaaayyyyyyeeeee—aaaaayyyyyyeeeee—-aaaa—haaa— haaa—hyyyyeeeee!!”
2) Listen to Her
If I had a dollar for every time Natalie told me, usually at some late hour when the baby is sleeping, “you’re being loud,” I could afford a sound stage so I could be as loud as I wanted. I’m a loud person, especially when I get excited about sports, politics, or a good story. My volume tends to increase in relation to my blood pressure. Sometimes it’s the teacher in me; sometimes it’s pure emotion; but I often speak like everyone in the room needs to hear. The problem with this characteristic of mine, other than being annoying, is that my impassioned voice can often drown out the voices of others, the voices of those I care about, and most importantly, the voice of my wife. Even when I am not being loud, my voice can still be very suffocating; this is a result of my strong opinions (all of which are correct) and my admitted stubbornness (which is an obvious virtue).
When the inevitable disagreements and miscommunications happen at home, I need to listen more than I speak, and understand more than I seek to be understood. Not only will this help my marriage flourish, but it will set a precedent for how my son understands communication during the difficult times. If I let my emotions run my mouth, I should have no expectation that my son will act differently. Further, if I stifle the voice of my wife by my own force of will, Jameson will learn that he can do the same to others, especially women, when they don’t agree with him. I want my son to listen to and consider the things that his mother and I tell him, and there will be no way that he will learn to listen and be considerate unless I model that for him. And when I do speak, for conversation is not a one way street, I need to speak in soft tones, with kindness in my voice, and using the tenets of active listening. If I bully, he’ll bully; but if I truly heed the words and ideas of those who may not have a voice as loud as mine or of those with whom I disagree, I’ll be a better person for it. More importantly, though, I will be a better husband and father for it.
3) Respect Her
When I first started dating my wife, she was a no-nonsense deputy Sheriff. Her choice for a profession instantly had my respect, as do all who choose to enforce the law; it is a dangerous but honorable profession. However, it wasn’t just her career choice that had gained my respect; it was the manner in which she carried out her duties that truly earned a whole other level of esteem. In the large California county in which Natalie worked, she was the only female on the job. Other than the obvious feelings of isolation in a male-dominated profession, her gender made it very easy for bad guys to single her out on and off work, for they knew her name, what she looked like, and often where she lived. In spite of these facts, she did not give into to self-pity or crippling fear. She lived freely, openly, and amongst the people, both good and bad, in her rural community. I was always so impressed that this strong woman, in spite of all the constant threats of rape and violence, would happily put on her yoga pants, boldly walk her Chihuahua along the canals, and not think twice about the dregs that loomed, literally, down the road.
While Natalie is no longer a deputy, she is still bold, fearless, and strong— and she still has all of my respect. She does not give into the despair that says bad guys and/or bad things are just down the road. This is not to say worry does not creep in; she is, after all, a mother now. It is to say, though, that she does not let the worry stop her from taking on her new role as mom, all the while taking college classes so as to prepare for her next career move. Those things are no less honorable than being a Sheriff. In fact, they may be more so since she is the brick and mortar for our household; she keeps us strong and holds us together. Due to the esteem I hold for her as the mom in our house, I must do all that I can to support her, celebrate her, and respect her in all that she does. It’s imperative that my son also come to understand and respect the manner in which his mother makes sacrifices for him. As such, I must never belittle her contribution to the home, dismiss her feelings, or take her for granted. I must, in a word, be chivalrous. Deep respect is, after all, the basis of chivalry. My son, if he is ever to be a true gentlemen, must take a long lesson in respect. To do this, he must witness me opening doors for my wife; valuing her time; saying grace before a meal; holding my tongue when emotions are high; being honest, forgiving, and accepting; and always apologizing. He also needs to see me saying “please,” “thank you,” “excuse me,” “yes, sir” and “yes, ma’am”— especially since I still have elders I need to respect. The Golden Rule of “treating others how you would like to be treated” seems to have even more value when it is applied to maintaining respect in one’s own home.
4) Share the Work
I got my first studio apartment when I was 16 years old, and from that moment on, I have lived, often with roommates, in an endless chain of apartments, condos, and homes. Because of my early departure from the nest, I quickly learned the benefits of cooking, cleaning, and all general household economics. An unchecked diet of Top Ramen, Mountain Dew, Little Debbies, and peanut butter and jelly burritos initially sounds like heaven to a teenager’s sugar-coated mind, but the reality is that a steady stream of junk-cuisine starts to suck after about a week’s time. I learned pretty quickly that if I was ever going to eat, live, and operate with a little more sophistication, I was going to have to do it myself. Thankfully, I’ve had the practical teacher of independent living to help me learn the value of doing housework well. That same teacher also taught me there is nothing on the To-Do List of life that is solely women’s work. Single life, married life, parenting, and partnering all require the quick realization that everyone must be willing and able do the work of everyone else.
I’ll happily acknowledge that I loathe, diapers, dishes, laundry time, grocery lists, and dusting—boy, do I really hate dusting (I blame it on my allergies). I realize, though, that my disdain for them does not excuse me from them; I must help take up the responsibility of this drudgery. I know my wife doesn’t enjoy doing them either, so my ability to help her will, as I previously pointed out, help make for a “happy life” through “a happy wife.” What’s more, my son needs to see me helping carry the weight of the household duties. This way he doesn’t internalize the notion that his mother will do it for him— with “it” being anything that he thinks is a job for mom. Jameson needs to know that the work of the house, as with work in general, is a job for men and women alike; the albatross of chores does not discriminate. Besides, bachelor pads, marriages, parenting, and life in general all run a little smoother when people, young men especially, learn that no one is going to do anything for them; they need to learn to do it for themselves— with “it” being anything they think the women in their life will do for them.
5) Love Her
If I am to truly honor the mother of my son, loving her is the simplest way to do that. Everything I have mentioned thus far: encouraging her, listening to her, respecting her, and sharing the work are all expressions of love. They are also things that I have to actively and consistently choose to do. Interestingly, love like that; it is also a choice. Contemporary culture has sold love as simply a feeling, and while feelings are a part, they are certainly not the whole. Loving my wife when I feel like doing so is easy; loving her when I don’t want to hear what she has to say, or when I don’t want to clean the house, or when I don’t feel like doing so takes self-disciplined, conscious decision making.
Thankfully, because my wife is such a fun-loving, caring, and amazingly beautiful woman, I feel like loving her all the time. One could almost say loving her is easy. I know this is especially true for Jameson, for loving his mother is one lesson I do not need to teach him. It is obvious he loves and adores her. When he learned to speak in short-syllables, “mom” was his first word; when he learned to crawl, crawling around the house to find his mama was and still is his M.O.; when he occasionally wakes up screaming from what seem to be night terrors, it’s only his mother that can soothe him back to sleep; and when he learned the blender was a big, scary monster, he also learned to lean into his protective Mama Bear, hold her tightly, and find courage in her presence. He not only loves his mama, he needs her. It’s an innocent love— one I can learn from. I, too, need Natalie. She is a wonderful wife and mother. So while I may be trying to teach Jameson to encourage her, listen to her, respect her, and share the work of the house, he has certainly taught me a little something about loving her. His response to the dreaded blender-monster may hold the best lesson for me (and maybe for us all): be it our moms when we were young or the mothers of our children now, leaning into them, holding them tightly, and finding courage in their presence might be all we need to do to show them not only do we love them but we most certainly need them, too.
To my moms, Marie Tobin and Kathy O’Dell, and to the mother of my son, Natalie Shinn, thanks for being Wonder Women. I’ll do my best to make sure Jameson sees how wonderful you are. Something tells me, though, he already knows.
Happy Mother’s Day to you and to all the wonderful mothers out there.