What I Learned Walking Down The Aisle Without My Mother


Although the common narrative around single parent and non-traditional families typically revolves around absent fathers, I grew up with an absent mother and semi-present father. My parents divorced two months after I was born, leaving my grandparents to raise me in a modest home in Las Vegas. Through a combination of welfare and food stamps, they provided what they could for me despite cultural barriers, health concerns and their limited English abilities. For that I will always be eternally grateful.


As a child, every show, advertisement, and in-store photo frame featured a mother and a father. I remember in Elementary school, each year we would make Mother’s Day and Father’s Day cards. In the past decade, on every Mother’s Day, I would scroll down Facebook past the endless dedications and odes to strong and loving mothers. Throughout my years away from home pursuing higher education, I always watched friends and roommates call home or Skype with their families to talk about school or to say I love you. Admittedly, when I was younger it was hard not to feel resentment toward the idea that I would never know or relate to that feeling. People often would understandably say to me that “as a mother I could never imagine leaving my child or how your mom could do that” in efforts to console me, which deep down only exacerbated the hurt. I can probably count on my fingers the amount of times that I have met my mother.

After divorcing my father, my mom moved to California with her new husband. It was during this time that I gained my half-siblings. Due to the nature of her new relationship, she only kept in contact with my half-siblings. Her interactions with me were limited and I would remain hidden from her husband. Our meetings usually were a mixture of initial joy followed by guilt and disappointment. Through the years, my feelings of anger and resentment have transformed into disappointment and empathy. As hard as it was to for me to grow up without a mother, I am sure that it was difficult for her and I could never know what it would be like to live with the difficulty of the decision that she had to make. I used to reconcile by telling myself that I was “over it” and that I didn’t care anymore, but my recent wedding proved that I will probably be never truly be “over it” as much as I would learn to accept it.

It was quite the dilemma when it came time to send out wedding invites. Do I be the bigger person and invite her or do I avoid the risk of potential disappointment on what would be one the happiest moments of my life? I waited and asked close friends and family for advice. Ultimately I waited until about two months before the wedding before calling her to at least let her know that I was getting married. It would be the first time that we had spoken in years. We played a bit of phone tag before speaking and she informed me that she would try to make it but I think both of us at that point already knew that she wasn’t coming. Throughout the week of the wedding I got a lot of questions from both sides of the family about my mother or where she was or who would take her place in parts of the ceremonies that typically involved the mother.

A month after the wedding I received a phone call that made clear to me that the reconnection that I spent my whole life striving for could not be reality, at least not in the near future. I used to always think that we would reconnect and create a kinship that somewhat resembled a mother-son relationship. When I answered the phone, she apologized for not making the wedding but then abruptly transitioned to her talking about recent car and mortgage problems. I quickly knew where this was heading. I could hear her crying and trying to hold back tears as she asked me for money. The absent mother that I wanted to reconnect with my whole life was now asking me if I could help co-sign a vehicle with her. I felt no anger or resentment but my heart dropped knowing that the relationship that I had hoped for would never come to fruition. I felt a strong sense of sadness for her imagining what type of situation she could be in for it to come to this.

In a lot of ways, I am glad that we had that conversation. It provided a messy conclusion to a lingering sub-plot that allowed me move on as I get to now redefine what family means to me with my wife. We do not plan to have kids anytime soon despite everyone’s insistence and we are still on the fence whether we would consider it in the future but whether we have kids or not, we are still family.


Ava Love,

David To

This piece was inspired by our “Love Letter to Non-Traditional Families” feature on Angry Asian Man: Link

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