I’ve been thinking about my mother a lot lately. That isn’t out of the ordinary for me. I was raised by a remarkable woman, a proud single mother who went to work every day in a boat factory and never missed an opportunity to tell me that one day, I wouldn’t have to. That I could do anything I wanted to, if I worked hard enough for it.
She was my age when I was born. That is entirely bizarre to contemplate. While I am in many ways reliving my youth in my early 30s, by this point in my mother’s life every decision that she made was for my older brother and me.
I think about all the things I still want to do with my life, and remember that my mother never had those choices. That was just fine, her family was all that my mom ever wanted. She was funny and sweet, tough and loyal. She died a couple of weeks after her 58th birthday, after spending the last several months of her life battling a stage four liver cancer diagnosis.
Life, and its inherent unfairness.
Unfortunately, my mother knew too well that life just is not fair. There are some things we can’t plan for or control, and one of those things is who we love.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that recently as the news from Texas has been…fucking terrifying. Having essentially banned abortion across the state, the far-right has switched gears, from talking about the supposed sanctity of life to advocating for laws that don’t just allow abusive husbands to exact vengeance in a court of law if their ex-wives seek abortion care, they make it easy.
It’s a new cottage industry in Texas, and one of the first attorneys on the vanguard of obliterating bodily autonomy for women in Texas is the same state representative who copy-and-pasted the language from a special interest group that is now the law of the land in Texas.
That dystopian what-the-fuckery is one thing, but there has also been a movement quietly building among conservative talking heads to end no-fault divorce in Texas, an issue recently brought to the foreground by far-right commentator Stephen Crowder’s messy divorce and public comments about it.
The concept is simple: in Texas, if your marriage isn’t working out you don’t have to jump through hoops to appease the court. You don’t need a mountain of incontrovertible evidence that your relationship is fractured beyond repair. You can just go to court and say “enough.”
Voices on the right, almost all of them men as best I can tell, want to do away with no-fault divorces, to make it more difficult for women to leave bad or abusive relationships.
Why? Well, just like every other piece of anti-woman legislation that’s ever been authored, it’s about control. Far-right commentators with a wildly patriarchal view of marriage think they should have a veto card on their spouse’s mental health or physical well-being.
And they’re all too happy to push narratives that just aren’t grounded in fact. Sure, marriage is a commitment, and for most people, it is a sacred bond. You should want to save your marriage, you should be willing to work for your partner and change for the better to make both of your lives better.
That’s not what the far-right wants. They want women to be obedient to their husbands. They want to restore a way of thinking that was hopelessly outdated 70 years ago. They want to be the kings of their kingdoms, in complete control of their domain, and they consider their wives to be part of that domain. They do not see them as human beings, they see them as furniture.
Which brings me back to my point. Praise Jesus and pass the biscuits, my mother never married. Despite being hopelessly in love with my father, she declined each of his numerous proposals, but like a lot of women who love the wrong person, it came with a catch.
If my father could control his temper or his drinking, maybe things would change. If he took his love for my mother more seriously and showed he could prioritize the family she desperately wanted to build with him, maybe things would change.
What is it about men that makes people see possibilities instead of probabilities?
My mother never needed a no-fault divorce because she knew she could never marry my father. That despite his promises and temporary attempts to reform, he was who he was.
I didn’t meet my father until I was eight years old. A few years later my mother told me the true reason.
Like a lot of nights in the late 1980s, one night my father came home from work a few hours late, absolutely hammered. My mother, at her wits end working a full-time job while caring for my older brother, who was just over a year old at this point, expressed her frustration.
My father clenched his fist and punched her in the face.
It wasn’t the first time. Over the course of their long relationship, my father frequently abused my mother. Eventually, either she or a neighbor would call the police. My father would spend a night in jail, be released, pick up some flowers on the way home and apologize.
My mother would drop the charges. It was a societal phenomenon so common that eventually, we would reform laws around domestic violence around the country to give prosecutors more power to go after abusers, even if those abusers were able to charm or otherwise coerce their partners to stay.
What made this night different for my mother was very simple. As my father reared back to hit her for the umpteenth time, she was holding my one-year-old brother.
And she was pregnant, with me.
So my mom left. She took my brother to my grandmother’s house and she never looked back. She changed my brother’s last name from our father’s to hers, and a few months later I was born in the hospital my grandmother worked in as a nurse.
Despite the ways my father terrorized my mother, I’ve never thought of her as a victim and I don’t think she did either. From the time I was a teenager, I’ve always understood that my mother was a survivor.
I’ve also always understood that fate and consequences await us all. My father died a few days after his 38th birthday from cirrhosis of the liver. A lifetime of hard living ended earlier than anyone would have thought.
My mother was able to leave. She could pick up her things and go. There were steps she could, and did, take to protect her children from our father. We never talked about it, but I know in her heart she always loved my father. I remember being a child and seeing my mother lean over the casket to give my father a final kiss on the forehead goodbye.
It was the second time in my life I had seen my mother cry. She found a way, in death, to forgive my father for the monster he could be. I never understood that. I wish it weren’t true but in my heart, I’ve gone on holding that grudge for her for the rest of my life. That man didn’t just bruise my mother’s skin, he broke her heart. After she left my father, my mom never so much as went on another date.
This brings me to what might be my final point on this topic. For years, my father abused my mother. Black eyes and fat lips and bad excuses at the bar to try to cover for him in front of their friends.
Everybody knew. Nobody did anything.
Years later, when my mother was on her deathbed, we asked a family friend to help us get her affairs in order. He is an incredibly kind man, who came to the hospital on a busy day to help my family. I walked him to the elevator when we were done to thank him, and he told me how my mom and dad had gifted him and his wife a baby blanket for their firstborn’s birth.
He almost choked up when he told me they still had it, what a meaningful gift it had been in their lives.
And then he looked at me and said “You know, Joe, your dad was the best guy. Really, the nicest person. When he wasn’t drinking.”
For a moment I was grateful that someone remembered my father that way. All of his friends would tell you the same thing. Everybody loved Tim, even if they couldn’t make eye contact with his partner because they couldn’t hide the fact that her face was bruised.
For the better part of a decade, all of my father’s friends looked the other way. The boys at the bar did not care to inquire. His employer forgave him for missing work when he was in the drunk tank. His family never laid down any tough talks or difficult ultimatums. He would spend his evenings bending elbows and downing drinks with the same cops who would book him for beating the shit out of my mother.
Everybody knew, nobody cared. If they did, they kept it to themselves. So how much could they really care?
That’s the life that the far-right envisions for women in Texas and beyond. They’ll never come out and say it, but they’re doing everything they can to keep women trapped in abusive relationships. To protect the frail psyche of the fuckboys amongst them, who would never make a sincere effort at self-improvement because that would require first admitting they were the problem, they want to make it even harder for women literally running for their lives.
There is nothing pro-life or pro-family about that, especially when you consider that the leading cause of death for pregnant women in the United States is, and for a long time has been homicide committed via intimate partner violence.
Their husbands, boyfriends, or exes are killing them.
We should not make it harder for a pregnant woman to run for her life.
Joe brings over a decade of experience as a political operative and creative strategist to Texas Signal, where he serves as our Senior Advisor and does everything from writing a regular column, Musings, to mentoring our staff and freelancers. Joe was campaign manager for Lina Hidalgo's historic 2018 victory for Harris County Judge and is a passionate sneakerhead.