Only Your Mother Knows for Sure

We live in a man’s world, and any man that disputes that fact is not a man that understands a woman’s life.

When my husband was recently in Halifax with our 19 year old daughter, they walked around at night, on any road and through empty dark school yards.

He recognized that she would never have walked through those dark paths by herself or even with another girl. He remembered that when he was 18 and left home he did not fear stalkers, window peepers, rapes or attacks.

I agreed with him and reminded him that I live with that fear instilled in me as well, even though I have lived with it so long that I barely recognize the effect.  I keep my mind open to the possibility that a misogynistic man may have his eye on me; alone on a country path, or when I hear an odd sound, it is in the back of my mind.

Omnipresent fear; we are cool and calm on the outside, but like rabbits we live with escape plans.

I think it is a man’s world precisely because it is women who hold the power of reproduction. Men recognize that it is an inherent weakness not to be entirely in control of the reproduction of the species, and they act out in frustration.

In an offensive attack, men keep us defensive, fighting to protect our right to work and bear children, or choose when we have children. Horror movies are an example of effective misogynistic propaganda created to keep women afraid.

But when it comes down to it, women hold the power of whether the species continues.  We bear the children and we live longer.  We know who the fathers of our babies are, and we can control whether the lineage of an individual man continues.

I remember when my very first boyfriend suddenly realized that women held that power. He had just read that scientist had discovered a way for eggs to reproduce themselves. “But then, you wouldn’t need us”, he said in astonishment.

Right, I thought, that’s true. And even now, women have their quiet manner of holding the reins.

While helping my adopted brother search for his birth family we have come across a wall of secrets and obscured information.

Even though I respect my brother’s need to know his background, even his right to know, I am impressed by the power of the matriarchy and their ability to create their own history (the feminist  word ‘herstory’ might be appropriate here).

We know only what they tell us, and they aren’t telling us much.  ‘Who is my father, where is my father?’ he asks.   And they reply, he is far away , too difficult and expensive to get DNA testing, but believe me that was your father and you were my sister’s baby, grandmother’s baby, your mother’s baby.

When I cast my imagination back to the time of his birth I picture women colluding in the protection of each other and their collective babies. Was a baby removed to protect him against a depressed mother or a violent father?  Was a baby, or twin babies, born by one sister and handed to another sister, or their mother?

Of course, a close family of women can close ranks. They create a fiction, a story that will hold up as long as they all stick to it. After all, the ultimate aim was to protect and care for the children.

My brother’s birth family never meant to lose him. And when my well -meaning middle class Mom, living in the zeitgeist of the sixties and thinking she was helping a lost baby, pushed through the paperwork and sped up the process,  she adopted a baby that was meant to go back to his birth family.

When my brother and I met his family we were greeted with love and affection. But photos had disappeared right out of photo albums, leaving holes in the weathered pages.  In the corner of an Instamatic photo that had been missed, my brother found his ‘father’ holding a sweet baby and looking seriously into the camera. Behind him is a formidable looking woman, the grandmother and matriarch, now deceased, who held the reins.

In my brother’s family, the women are strong and controlled, the men more likely to be given to emotional outbursts.  My brother sees himself in everyone, split out in a kaleidoscope vision of selves.

I see his likeness to his brothers and sisters but I also see my brother’s likeness to the remaining matriarch, who has the same strength and self-control that has been central to my brother’s survival and success in his life.  Like his Aunt, my brother is optimistic, hardworking and confident about his abilities.

He may never find out who his mother or father really were. But in bringing my brother back to his original family I know that hearts have healed. Women were worrying about their lost baby, and now they see a strong man with a happy family life and his own thriving business.

My brother tells me that the maternal mitochondrial DNA test is tricky in that it will only tell you that you have found a maternal DNA line, and not explicitly who your mother is. I am beginning to think it does not matter. All the women in his family cared for him and wanted to protect him.

Women know who fathered their babies; we may choose to protect a child from the knowledge of their father or we may feel a child is safer removed from a home. This is how women hold the reins.

If we are lucky in love, then we can honor the father of our children with the gift of children named after him. When it came to the last name debate with our children, I knew that I wanted the children to be named Behar. I remember thinking that I didn’t need them to have my name (my father’s name) because I knew they were mine.

I wanted to identify the babies as my husband’s children.  Behar is a great name; it is the name of the man that I chose to father my children.

4 thoughts on “Only Your Mother Knows for Sure

  1. yes, though oddly I see how much our brother resembles us as he discovers his birth family, the old nurture nature battle, still I am amazed at the depth and breadth of his family and that he came into our family as such a fluke. life is full of such tenuous threads of connection. I am so glad he did.
    as for names, what’s in a name as the bard said, a rose by any other name smells as sweet – When my kids were born I really wanted to combine my name Edwards with Leroux in a Lewards, or Edroux sort of way but the father and owner of Leroux name didn’t want to. too bad as it was pretty playful and fun oh well.. I like the Spanish matriarch way of keeping all the names so you can follow the history of mothers all the way back so my children ended up with hyphen-name of mine and his which they both complain doesn’t fit on most official forms so they pick and chose according to which they feel is more appropriate either politically as in language or as in how they wish to connect to one or the other parent. My daughter has chosen to throw these names away and embrace her husband’s name, says it’s shorter and easier, a statement over the power of family of origin and family of your own making I suppose. My son uses both names so far, perhaps out of loyalty? Perhaps he likes it that way? Though he tends to just initialize them both. Me, I always rather liked my mother’s maiden name of Harrington, and always found it somewhat sad that my mother didn’t return to it, remaining Mrs Edwards despite marrying Mr Erlich a couple of years ago. Dad was always very proud of his name and disappointed that I hyphenated his grandson’s name. Me, I really only remember people’s first names if I manage to do even that and am better with people’s pet’s names when it comes to neighbours and such.


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