Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Reader Response to Mother to Father

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Last month's prompt invited readers to write a poem on the theme "Mother to Father."

by Charlotte Ehney

Baby nestled at my breast,
a shadow passes through you.

Gone is the excited expectation --
constant grins, hands on my expanding belly,
sweet whispers to the new life within.

There is a distance.
You fear being lost.

This tiny presence threatens to overshadow you.
A helpless child needing
attention, reassurance and care.

Did you not prepare?
Did you not consider our future?
Or was it all a still frame in your head?

Your anger flashes.
Your temper shortens.
I'm left confused.

I hold his body out to you.
You tuck our son under your chin and cradle him.

My heart overflows.
I breathe in your strength and tenderness,
renewed in the moment

yet cautious.
Fresh wounds stinging.

The days of you and me have morphed into us plus one.
Now we stand on the threshold of our future selves.
Mother. Father. Son.

Charlotte Ehney is a native of South Carolina and resides in Greenwood. She is the Program Director for The Child's Place, a program of the Sexual Trauma & Counseling Center that coordinates services for children with open investigations of physical or sexual abuse. Charlotte is the 2009-10 President of the Greenwood Writer's Guild and a participant in the Greenwood Poets Circle. In addition to poetry, she writes short stories and novels.


A Note from Cassie Premo Steele:

In past columns, I've commented on the revision process in this space, but this month I'd like to do something a bit different.

I'd like to reflect on the topic of the writing prompt.

I asked readers to submit poems in the voice of a mother to a father. Simple and straightforward, right? Especially on a site like Literary Mama, where the majority of readers, we can assume, are mothers, and the majority of them have children with fathers?

Nope. Nada. No way, José.

The truth is that Charlotte was the lone, courageous woman to take on this topic in poetry. Perhaps if I'd asked for fiction, we'd have had more submissions. But there's something about poetry -- its intimacy, its truth-telling -- that makes this a difficult topic for women.

And the submission that Charlotte first sent was revised several times, as I encouraged her to move more from prose (statements, questions, analysis) to poetry (emotion, image, the sharp line of uncertainty and feeling.)

The truth is that nothing rocks a relationship like a baby. The huge emotional investment -- not to mention time, milk, poop, laundry -- that most mothers give to a baby leaves little left over for her mate.

And he's lonely.

And the loneliness turns to anger.

And it's the anger that gets expressed.

And the woman -- shocked, unwashed, exhausted, weepy -- gets hit with this anger and thinks, WTF? and shuts down further.

We're not supposed to talk about this.

There was feminism.

Most women work outside the home.

Not all mothers do the majority of baby-care.

Almost all men do more than their fathers did with their kids.

Some men are stay-at-home dads.

So, here's our dilemma: In previous generations, there was a taboo against speaking about this because women were supposed to be fulfilled by mothering and men were not expected to help.

But now it's even worse. The taboo comes from the feeling that we, alone, are somehow deficient as couples because, hey, it's 2010, and we're all equal, and what's wrong with you, anyway?

Here's my flashpoint:

My husband and I are sitting in our therapist's office.

Our baby is five months old. She is chubby and coos on my lap.

We're both angry. Stubborn. Mute.

The therapist, I imagine, is about to tell him, "Wake up. Do more. Be a father. Help your wife."

Instead, she looks straight at me and says, "He's lonely. He misses you. He misses you."

I am looking at her, puzzled, uncomprehending.

"Look at him. Look at him. He misses you."

I look at him. He has tears in his eyes. He nods, almost imperceptibly.

It took me five more years to understand this flashpoint moment.

I write this now in the hopes that the mothers reading this will not be as angry, stubborn and mute as I was.

Five years is a long time.

I hope that you will have the courage of Charlotte.

That you will see.

He misses you.

Cassie Premo Steele, Ph.D. is the author of 13 books, most recently Earth Joy Writing. The book includes writing prompts for every month of the year, plus audio meditations and video workshops. She teaches an innovative online course combining mindfulness and feminist theory for women academics called The Feminar. Cassie is currently working on a memoir about how coming out returned her to her mother and her faith.

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I liked this poem a lot, and appreciated CPS's commentary. When my son was tiny, my husband once remarked that it seemed my focus and priorities had shifted from husband to son. And at that stage of extreme dependance it was true. Now with two young children, I see the father/mother relationship continually morphs, expanding triumphantly for brief moments and then contracting to fit the current space.
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