The annals of history are full of stories of great women who have used their intellect, determination, and concern for others to better their corners of the world. Surely, they are all deserving of the place in time that society has carved for them, but I believe the greatest title a woman can have is that of mother. I should know; I have three of them.
For the first twenty-six years of my life I was blessed to have been raised by a woman who I can only describe as a saint on earth. I write that with a hint of trepidation, because had someone called Patricia Ham a saint while she lived, she would have raised issue with them. However, in the nearly three years since she passed, I have come to realize just how deserving of that distinction she was.
When my father left us because of my disability, my mother became my sole caregiver. She took care of my most basic needs every day for nearly three decades, yet never once did I hear her complain of burnout or that the job was too difficult. I’m certain there were several occasions when fear and sheer exhaustion became overwhelming at times, but she never focused on it. She saw taking care of me as her most important job, and she excelled at it.
She not only saw to my physical well-being, but she also helped me to realize the value of being well educated. My mother showed me that while my body may be lacking in ability, my intellect and the extent to which I would use it, would enable me to be successful.
My mother’s example reminds us of two very important truths that tend to be overlooked. First, the role of a caregiver is among the most important work that a person can do, because it is the manifestation of love for another person. I never doubted my mother’s love for me. Of all the things she could have spent her life doing, she dedicated it to me. This is all the more remarkable when one considers that being a caregiver is a thankless difficult job from which there is very little respite. In a time when so many people seek the easy way of doing things, my mother’s life was proof that nothing meaningful ever comes easy.
My mother and others like her understand that parents are a child’s first teacher. She would often say that one gets out of their children what they are willing to put into them. This is why she stressed the value of education; so that I would understand that while I may face physical challenges, my other abilities, with the right mentors to help, would shine through.
In my previous editorial I discussed how Troy teachers Scot Brewer and Gene Steinke filled those roles and taught me some of life’s most valuable lessons. The most important lesson they imparted to me came long after adulthood. That is, the fact that family can be classified in many different and unexpected ways.
The loss of a parent alters someone’s life forever, particularly when one is as dependent as I was on my mother. Thankfully I had Scot, Gene and a group of people who became my inner circle who could partially fill the void caused by her death. My mother, Scot, and Gene gave me the value system as a young man by which I have always tried to live. Now, in the absence of the woman who made everything I ever did possible, I was about to meet the two women who she would send to stand in her place.
If my mother had one worry it was that if something happened to her I would be alone. She needn’t. Shortly after Mom died I met my second mother, who appropriately is Scot’s mother. To know Clarice Francis is to love her because of her enormous heart and care for people. That is why I couldn’t love her more, if she were my biological mother.
One may ask why someone in their mid-20’s would need a second mother. The answer is simple. I knew virtually nothing about living on my own when my mom died. My perception of the world was askew because everything up to that point had been done for me. I call Clarice my Mom because so much of my mother’s qualities are manifest in her. Clarice has an inner strength like my mother had, almost like steel cloaked in velvet, which allowed them to devote themselves completely to their children in spite of the most daunting circumstances. Yet, kindness and concern for others are a hallmark of who they are.
Gene’s mom Paula also fills a mother figure role in my life. Like my mother, she is one of the most kind, loving, and positive souls on the planet. Paula’s positivity envelops people in the same way sunlight permeates a dark room. In a world where it has become so easy to focus on what is negative, Paula radiates joy. Have you ever known someone who makes you happy just by being in there presence? That’s Paula.
Clarice and Paula are reminders that one doesn’t have to share biology with someone to love them as their own child. They show me that family isn’t defined by blood or DNA but love. Just as their sons are, these two women are always there for me, ready with the guidance that all mothers give and that we all need no matter how old we get. They are the first people I want to tell when something good happens, and the first voices I want to hear when days are too long. We all need people like this in our lives, those who enrich who we are and make us all better people by loving us as we are.
No one can replace a parent, when they are gone a void remains that will never be filled in quite the same way. Nevertheless, there is a comfort in knowing that there are people around who love us, as if we were their own; who are there for you no matter what, and in so doing remind you what family is really about. I am fortunate that three women have been my mother first a woman whose love and constant care made me who I am with her care and dedication. I believe my mother’s final gift to me was to send the women who helped make the two men I respect above all others, who they are. The three women who have just read about have brought more blessings to my life than I could ever imagine. They personify a mother’s love in three very important ways, and that is what makes them Three Women Worth Knowing.
Michael Ham is a city of Troy employee and a member of the Troy City Schools Board of Education.