October 11, 2015

Tribute To Mothers

I have been blessed to have been a part of three families in my life, the one into which I was born, the one into which I married 30 years ago, and the one my wife Joyce and I formed when our first son was born in 1986.

I have gotten to know my mother-in-law Joan McNagny very well over the last 30+ years and have a great admiration for what she has done with her three children and their lives. She has been exceptionally supportive of not only her children, but of the spouses of her three children, as well as her nine grandchildren.

I also have gotten the opportunity to observe my sister Trina who became a mother of four, and a grandmother with 11 grandchildren, and who has been exceptional in both roles.

I have lived with two mothers, my mother Carmela Gigliotti Critelli and my wife Joyce. My mother passed away over 15 years ago, but I still think about who she was and what she accomplished every day of my life. I just recently celebrated 30 years of marriage to Joyce.

What these mothers have in common are their single-minded commitment to their families, their relentless optimism relative to what their children could accomplish, combined with a realism about what it would take to achieve those accomplishments, their willingness to guide each child down their individually-chosen paths, and their role-modeling of deep moral values.

My mother had been widowed in 1945 (her first husband died in the Battle of the Bulge.) She not only went back to work and supported my sister, but, when she remarried my dad, she eventually took in a foster child, a boy who was nine years old, and raised him, along with me and my sister, to adulthood.

She, and for that matter, my wife, my mother-in-law and my sister, had careers they suspended or gave up until their children were older, in order to focus on being the best mother possible. She focused heavily on my education and brought family and outside resources together to help me do as well as possible. We did not have a lot of money, but were exceptionally wealthy in the potential of the family and friends who helped us along the way.

My mother convinced me early on that I had unlimited career potential and that only I could limit what I accomplished by the level of commitment I made to a particular career path. She also imparted incredibly deep and important moral values: the “Golden Rule” being most important among them. She was a remarkable woman, and, without her, none of us could have accomplished what we did in life.

I was doubly blessed to have met my wife Joyce and married her 30 years ago. She became a mother when our son was born in 1986, and had another son and one daughter. In many ways, her task has been complicated by the fact that each one of our children emulated my strategy of taking the road less travelled in terms of their passions. Although they are all sociable and popular, each pursued interests that were not mainstream activities in our community.

Our older son did some stand-up comedy and went to USC for college. Our younger son played scholastic and professional chess, not a mainstream activity in our Connecticut town. Our daughter has studied the harp, Mandarin Chinese, and Arabic outside school, none of which are mainstream extracurricular activities.

To support these kinds of activities, a mother has to have a special focus on reminding the children of how valuable what they are pursuing might be, since there is little or no peer group support in the community. Joyce has also been integral to my success, by being a total confidant and friend, and a person with exceptional wisdom and judgment. Beyond that, she has been a role model for our children, me and many others for her community work, having worked on a charter school board, the Boy Scouts Board, and Children’s Aid, among others. She has also been involved in children’s health issues, as well as being a donor of scholarships for many young people in our community.

What David Bornstein, in his great book How to Change the World, said about social entrepreneurs, could equally apply to great mothers:

“Many…spend decades steadily advancing their ideas, influencing people in small groups or one on one, and it is often exceedingly difficult to understand or measure their impact. Often they become recognized only after years working in relative obscurity.”

It is very tough for any woman to forsake a full-time career to become a full-time parent, because the rewards and recognition are deferred, and because the accomplishments are more indefinable. For example, my mother undoubtedly was most exceptional in raising my foster brother because he finished high school, got and kept a job, and supported a family, all highly improbable at the time he joined us. Many of Joyce’s contributions were subtle and high-leverage, but, in her mind, did not seem that profound, although they were.

So today, I am taking the opportunity to thank them and all other mothers like them publicly to recognize their great accomplishments and the joy and success they have brought us!