“And your daddy isn’t going to live with us anymore.”
“Why not?” I asked again, choking back the tears. I just could not accept the strange finality of my mother’s words. “I love my dad!”
“He loves you too, Bennie… but he has to go away. For good.”
“But why? I don’t want him to go. I want him to stay here with us.”
“He’s got to go — ”
“Did I do something to make him want to leave us?”
“Oh, no, Bennie. Absolutely not. Your daddy loves you.”
I burst into tears. “Then make him come back.”
“I can’t. I just can’t.”
Her strong arms held me close, trying to comfort me, to help me stop crying.
Gradually my sobs died away, and I calmed down. But as soon as she loosened her hug and let me go, my questions started again.
“Your Daddy did — ” Mother paused, and, young as I was, I knew she was trying to find the right words to make me understand what I didn’t want to grasp. “Bennie, your daddy did some bad things. Real bad things.”
I swiped my hand across my eyes. “You can forgive him then. Don’t let him go.”
“It’s more than just forgiving him, Bennie — ”
“But I want him to stay here with Curtis and me and you.”
Once again Mother tried to make me understand why Daddy was leaving, but her explanation didn’t make a lot of sense to me at 8 years of age. Looking back, I don’t know how much of the reason for my father’s leaving sank into my understanding. Even what I grasped, I wanted to reject. My heart was broken because Mother said that my father was never coming home again. And I loved him.
Dad was affectionate. He was often away, but when he was home he’d hold me on his lap, happy to play with me whenever I wanted him to. He had great patience with me. I particularly liked to play with the veins on the back of his large hands, because they were so big. I’d push them down and watch them pop back up.
“Look! They’re back again!” I’d laugh, trying everything within the power of my small hands to make his veins stay down. Dad would sit quietly, letting me play as long as I wanted.
Sometimes he’d say, “Guess you’re just not strong enough,” and I’d push even harder. Of course nothing worked, and I’d soon lose interest and play with something else.
Even though Mother said that Daddy had done some bad things, I couldn’t think of my father as “bad,” because he’d always been good to my brother, Curtis, and me. Sometimes Dad brought us presents for no special reason. “Thought you’d like this,” he’d say offhandedly, a twinkle in his dark eyes.
Many afternoons I’d pester my mother or watch the clock until I knew it was time for my dad to come home from work. Then I’d rush outside to wait for him. I’d watch until I saw him walking down our alley. “Daddy! Daddy!” I’d yell, running to meet him. He would scoop me into his arms and carry me into the house.
That stopped in 1959 when I was 8 years old and Daddy left home for good. To my young, hurting heart the future stretched out forever. I couldn’t imagine a life without Daddy and didn’t know if Curtis, my 10-year-old brother, or I would ever see him again.
I don’t know how long I continued the crying and questioning the day Daddy left; I only know it was the saddest day of my life. And my questions didn’t stop with my tears. For weeks I pounded my mother with every possible argument my mind could conceive, trying to find some way to get her to make Daddy come back home.
“How can we get by without Daddy?”
“Why don’t you want him to stay?”
“He’ll be good. I know he will. Ask Daddy. He won’t do bad things again.”
My pleading didn’t make any difference. My parents had settled everything before they told Curtis and me.
“Mothers and fathers are supposed to stay together,” I persisted.
“They’re both supposed to be with their little boys.”
“Yes, Bennie, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out right.”
“I still don’t see why,” I said.
I thought of all the things Dad did with us. For instance, on most Sundays, Dad would take Curtis and me for drives in the car. Usually we visited people, and we’d often stop by to see one family in particular. Daddy would talk with the grown-ups, while my brother and I played with the children. Only later did we learn the truth — my father had another “wife” and other children that we knew nothing about.
I don’t know how my mother found out about his double life, for she never burdened Curtis and me with the problem. In fact, now that I’m an adult, my one complaint is that she went out of her way to protect us from knowing how bad things were. We were never allowed to share how deeply she hurt. But then, that was Mother’s way of protecting us, thinking she was doing the right thing. And many years later I finally understood what she called his “betrayals with women and drugs.”
Long before Mother knew about the other family, I sensed things weren’t right between my parents. My parents didn’t argue; instead, my father just walked away. He had been leaving the house more and more and staying away longer and longer. I never knew why.
Yet when Mother told me “Your daddy isn’t coming back,” those words broke my heart.
I didn’t tell Mother, but every night when I went to bed I prayed, “Dear Lord, help Mother and Dad get back together again.” In my heart I just knew God would help them make up so we could be a happy family. I didn’t want them to be apart, and I couldn’t imagine facing the future without my father.
But Dad never came home again.
As the days and weeks passed, I learned we could get by without him. We were poorer then, and I could tell Mother worried, although she didn’t say much to Curtis or me. As I grew wiser, and certainly by the time I was 11, I realized that the three of us were actually happier than we had been with Dad in the house. We had peace. No periods of deathly silence filled the house. I no longer froze with fear or huddled in my room, wondering what was happening when Mother and Daddy didn’t talk.
That’s when I stopped praying for them to get back together.
“It’s better for them to stay split up,” I said to Curtis. “Isn’t it?”
“Yeah, guess so,” he answered. And, like Mother, he didn’t say much to me about his own feelings. But I think I knew that he too reluctantly realized that our situation was better without our father.
Trying to remember how I felt in those days after Dad left, I’m not aware of going through stages of anger and resentment. My mother says that the experience pushed Curtis and me into a lot of pain. I don’t doubt that his leaving meant a terrible adjustment for both of us boys. Yet I still have no recollection beyond his initial leaving.
Maybe that’s how I learned to handle my deep hurt — by forgetting.
▪ ▪ ▪
We just don’t have the money, Bennie.”
In the months after Dad left, Curtis and I must have heard that statement a hundred times, and, of course, it was true. When we asked for toys or candy, as we’d done before, I soon learned to tell from the expression on Mother’s face how deeply it hurt her to deny us. After a while I stopped asking for what I knew we couldn’t have anyway.
In a few instances resentment flashed across my mother’s face. Then she’d get very calm and explain to us boys that Dad loved us but wouldn’t give her any money to support us. I vaguely recall a few times when Mother went to court, trying to get child support from him. Afterward, Dad would send money for a month or two — never the full amount — and he always had a legitimate excuse. “I can’t give you all of it this time,” he’d say, “but I’ll catch up. I promise.”
Dad never caught up. After a while Mother gave up trying to get any financial help from him.
I was aware that he wouldn’t give her money, which made life harder on us. And in my childish love for a dad who had been kind and affectionate, I didn’t hold it against him. But at the same time I couldn’t understand how he could love us and not want to give us money for food.
One reason I didn’t hold any grudges or harsh feelings toward Dad must have been that my mother seldom blamed him — at least not to us or in our hearing. I can hardly think of a time when she spoke against him.
More important than that fact, though, Mother managed to bring a sense of security to our three-member family. While I still missed Dad for a long time, I felt a sense of contentment being with just my mother and my brother because we really did have a happy family.
My mother, a young woman with hardly any education, came from a large family and had many things against her. Yet she pulled off a miracle in her own life, and helped in ours. I can still hear Mother’s voice, no matter how bad things were, saying, “Bennie, we’re going to be fine.” Those weren’t empty words either, for she believed them. And because she believed them, Curtis and I believed them too, and they provided a comforting assurance for me.
Part of Mother’s strength came from a deep-seated faith in God and perhaps just as much from her innate ability to inspire Curtis and me to know she meant every word she said. We knew we weren’t rich; yet no matter how bad things got for us, we didn’t worry about what we’d have to eat or where we’d live.
Our growing up without a father put a heavy burden on my mother. She didn’t complain — at least not to us — and she didn’t feel sorry for herself. She tried to carry the whole load, and somehow I understood what she was doing. No matter how many hours she had to be away from us at work, I knew she was doing it for us. That dedication and sacrifice made a profound impression on my life.
Abraham Lincoln once said, “All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my mother.” I’m not sure I want to say it quite like that, but my mother, Sonya Carson, was the earliest, strongest, and most impacting force in my life.
Excerpted with permission from Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story by Ben Carson, copyright Zondervan.
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Mothers Day is Sunday! How did your mother impact your life for good? What does she mean to you? How do you want to emulate her? Like President Lincoln, I can thankfully say that my mother, Margie McClure, is an Olympic Gold Champ of a mom. She’s literally saved my life many times, scooped me up when I was heartbroken, and rescued me from stupidity and trouble more times than I can count. (Love you, Mama!) Not all of us can say such glowing things about our moms. If your relationship with your mother was or continues to be painful, how did God comfort you? What God-lessons did you learn through that suffering? What choices have you made about your mothering (or aunt-ing, or mentoring, or coaching, or friend-ing) in order to be the most impacting force you can be for Christ? Come join the conversation on our blog! We would love to hear from you! ~ Laurie McClure, FaithGateway Women