By Lloyd Graff
I’ve always looked at the Hallmark holidays of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day with apprehension. It comes from my Dad’s anxious attitude toward his mother, who used the occasion to employ emotional extortion to exact the tribute she expected from our family.
My father lived in fear of her neurotic twists and occasional psychotic breaks. For my own mother, Mother’s Day was her day to nurture my Dad as he tiptoed through the rituals of motherly appeasement.
As a child I observed my parents’ management of Grandma Graff with a combination of amusement and studiousness. It was a lesson in the art of maintaining family peace without admitting the weirdness of our group dance.
I grew up with the dark presence of Ethel Graff at our house every Friday night and Sunday where she would routinely attempt to sow jealously and discontent. She dripped contempt for my mother, who unflappably played three cornered emotional poker with her and my father. One of my grandmother’s more transparent gambits was to ask me and my siblings, “Who do you like more, your mother or your father?”
We would play along, saying we liked them just the same, but in retrospect I wish I would have said, “I’m never going to give you a straight answer to such a ridiculously transparent and stupid question.” But that kind of honesty was forbidden toward dangerous Grandma Graff.
My father occasionally referred to a past Mother’s Day nightmare. His mother was offended one year because she felt her sister-in-law, Ida Pinkert, received better treatment on Mother’s Day than she had (which was quite possible because Ida was clearly a more beloved mother). My grandmother went into a long vituperative tantrum, which eventually led to her hospitalization in a psychiatric ward.
My dad was traumatized by this Mother’s Day spectacular. The holiday became a black mark on his calendar—a day to be navigated around, not embraced.
As a kid I got the scary message without having it explicitly stated. For me Mother’s Day and its cloned cousin Father’s Day, were like Greek Easter to me—holidays other people celebrated.
Question: What comes to mind when you think of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day?