A Father’s Day blessing for a resilient mother-in-law

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, June 16, 2010

Columnist’s mother-in-law, Dorothy Baldwin, like so many women, had to be both mother and father to her children following the untimely death of her husband. Photo on her 90th birthday by Warren Harbeck

A while back I published a column on Ernest Beuter, the father-in-law I wish I’d known (Dec. 9, 2009). I wrote about the untimely death of this pastor/scholar in a truck roll-over when my wife, Mary Anna, was only eight. I referred to the book on theology he had written but had never published, a task completed by Mary Anna just this spring.

In her foreword to the book, Mary Anna noted how important it was for her to have worked so closely with her father’s ideas. The four years she spent in preparing his manuscript for publication, she said, provided “an insight not only into the God he loved, but into a father who loved God.”

But the fact remains that from age eight on, Mary Anna was fatherless. Which brings me to the rest of the story.

Mary Anna’s mother, Dorothy, turned 90 last month after a long career as an educator, writer, needlepoint artist, mother – and, yes, father.

Mom was only 29 when Ernest died. Suddenly left with two daughters ages six and eight to raise on her own, she faced an uncertain future, like so many single mothers in similar situations.

Mary Anna recalls that her mother confided with her in later years how she had to be both mother and father to the girls during their formative youth, a challenge she accepted with resilience, determination, and self-reliance.

To support her young family, she resumed her education, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and taught high school English and French.

Throughout those university years, Mary Anna and her younger sister, Rhoda, never felt deprived, thanks to Mom’s parenting skills, nor were they ever made to feel sorry for themselves for not having a dad around the house.

Especially when it came to summertime, Mom, together with her parents, made sure the girls had an opportunity to build lifelong memories at Grandma and Grandpa’s country home in the maple-crowned foothills of western New York State. (Mary Anna shared her recollections of those happy times at Grandma’s in her book, Maple Taffy Memories, the topic of my May 5, 2004 column.)

It was only after Mary Anna and her sister had found husbands and set out on lives of their own that Mom, after 25 years of widowhood, herself remarried. (Her second husband, Bob Baldwin, passed away some years later.)

Through all those testing times, Mom never allowed herself to become dependent – not until just recently, that is. She planned carefully for her old age, downsized so she wouldn’t be a burden to her girls, and moved into a retirement village southwest of Buffalo, NY, anticipating the longevity for which members of her family are famous.

As things turned out, however, this lover of books and needlepoint went blind a couple of years ago and now must accept the loving care from others that she herself so long gave generously. Even in this, however, she has maintained a positive attitude.

“My mother has always been my role model,” Mary Anna said to me the other day. “I know that whatever she achieved I can, too. I’m also thankful that she is a woman of faith, who has walked with God throughout her life.”

Yes, for all this and for the gift of her daughter as my wife, I too am thankful. Happy Father’s Day, Mom. You did a great job.

© 2010 Warren Harbeck

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