She grew up poor in Brooklyn in the 1950’s but she didn’t know she was poor.
She married David Katz in 1968 – went straight from her childhood home to living with a man at age 22. Never went to college. Became an incredible, hysterically funny, super-cool, highly emotional stay-at-home mom for the first decade of my life.
It was during those formative years that we became best friends.
Mom never had much in the way of boundaries. If she had a thought, she’d express it.
She nearly got arrested on a family vacation for telling off airport security. She let my father know frequently that she didn’t like how much he worked and traveled. And when the strain of marriage reared its ugly head, she’d tell me about their relationship issues.
This wasn’t an ideal dynamic but it was my normal. The young son as therapist.
Thus, the die was cast.
I became a highly sensitive and prematurely mature adolescent who was deeply committed to the idea of maintaining a happy home environment.
Despite the fact that my parents fought a bit too much, my childhood memories were idyllic.
I remember the Little League games, the pool parties, the sun-drenched beaches of Puerto Rico on Dad’s business trips. The arguments are in the background, not foreground.
Which is why I decided, in my teens, that I wanted to have a life like my parents – but better.
I was going to choose a partner who was as cool as my mom, but less emotional and critical.
I was going to be as successful as my Dad, but have better work/life balance and help out with housework and childrearing more than he did.
In my mid-thirties, I finally achieved my goal…but Dad didn’t get to see it. He died on New Years Eve, a few weeks after my parents’ 30th anniversary. He was 53. Mom was only 51.
I had just been home from LA for Christmas for one unusually incredible week with my family. I even wrote a poem about it, dated April 13, 1999. No one has seen this – until now.
Never More Perfect
It was never more perfect
Than it was last year
Our family was strong
Our connection was clear
In the blink of an eye
Everything has changed
The foundation was shaken
The surroundings seemed strange
A loss so abrupt
So senseless, so unfair
Left us wounded and reeling
Yet the world doesn’t care
Our own private hell
Alone in our heads
Alone in our hearts
Alone in our beds
We retreat to our clan
His finest creation
And prepare for a future
With no destination
The days now seem dark
The nights last forever
Resurrecting our lives
Our greatest endeavor
Aborted, the dreams
Cemented, the past
Confirmed were our fears
It was too good to last
Our memories will live on
Through pictures, through pens
But it will never be as perfect
No, it will never be again
I know this is long, but I’m sharing this for a reason that will become apparent shortly: That Christmas was a unique moment when we spent quality time together, when we were all happy and when love and family felt like everything.
None of us knew how good we had it until it was over.
Mom’s life had blown up and she had no plan, no education and limited work experience. So she did what Jews do when they want to leave New York; she moved to South Florida.
After a few years of being single in West Palm Beach, my lonely mother announced she was getting remarried to a man she’d known for less than a year. I walked her down the aisle, supportive, but silently fearing she was making a mistake. Sure enough, Mom left her second husband two years later because, although he was nice, she wasn’t actually happy.
Then my sister, who had been living in San Francisco, moved to North Carolina with her husband to buy a house and start a family. Mom quickly moved to be near her, under the belief that being a Grandma would give her meaning and purpose.
That’s not quite how it played out.
Turns out Mom had given her all to her two children and didn’t relish the selfless babysitting duties required to help out my sister. She wanted to live again on her own terms, unencumbered, starting in her mid-60’s.
And so Ellen Katz, began to rebuild her life, for the third time, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
She started gardening and painting, taking pool aerobics, and hosting card games (with lots of day drinking) in her new home.
Her indomitable personality, which once made her head cheerleader at Lincoln High School, now led her to being a social connector in her 55+ community.
While Mom was still single, at least she was happy and I was proud of her for persevering.
Naturally, I wanted her to date – even gave her a few online dating lessons – but she didn’t have the stamina to pursue love.
I wished she’d have someone to take care of her as she got older, but, at the end of the day, it’s my Mom’s life, not mine.
She’s always marched to the beat of her own drum; the fact that I was a dating coach wasn’t going to move her to take action. I resigned myself to accept that Mom would remain alone.
Then, one day, when I was driving here in LA, I got a call from my mom.
She said she was in love and had been for a year.
I expressed my surprise. I didn’t even know she was dating.
She told me she wasn’t dating. She’d simply fallen in love with her best friend.
Her best friend’s name was Ann.
That was five years ago.
Since then, Ann has become an essential part of our family.
She’s bright, funny, good-humored, successful and loves the hell out of my Mom.
My sister and I joke that Ann got the good qualities of both of my Mom’s husbands – without any of their bad qualities.
So, at age 74, my mother is the happiest she’s ever been.
She’s retired, busy, and blissfully married to her best friend – who happens to be a woman – a fate none of us ever would have imagined for the poor girl from Brooklyn, born in 1946. Fast forward to December of 2020.
My family and I hadn’t seen Mom and Ann throughout the pandemic, so we rented an AirBnB in Raleigh in order to quarantine and spend Christmas and New Years together.
And you know what? It was perfect.
We ate, we drank, we danced, we played board games, we opened presents, we watched movies, we laughed with the kids, we stayed up late talking like college kids.
It was the first time in 22 years since my Dad died that my family felt whole again.
My wife and I.
My sister and her husband.
My mom and Ann.
The 4 kids, playing together, ages 5-10.
It brings me to tears just to type this because the symmetry was so spot-on.
Before I left, I told my Mom how it felt like old times, with Ann replacing my Dad. Mom said she felt it too, hugged me, and excitedly talked about how we should do this again.
Then, in late March, I got a text from my mom: “Hi, honey, please give me a call when you’re finished working.”
I already knew what we’d be talking about.
Mom has colon cancer.
It runs in our family. Her mother died of it as well. They think they caught it early because of her annual colonoscopies. I’m scheduling one later this summer. So is my wife.
For an emotional guy, I’m strangely calm about this. And I’m trying to figure out why.
Here’s what I’ve concluded – and here’s how it circles back to you, me, and my new website.
My Mom has lived a good life – an unexpected life – on her own terms.
She gave her 100% to her husband and got a good (not great) 30-year-marriage out of it.
She gave her 100% to her children and both turned out successful and happily married.
She kept reinventing herself – from poor Brooklyn girl to upper-middle-class housewife to grieving widow to Palm Beach retiree to second-marriage-divorcee to not-so-doting grandma to happily married lesbian.
It’s a remarkable story because she NEVER gave up, and always took the bold steps necessary to take control of her future and strive towards happiness.
It wasn’t always easy. It wasn’t always fun. It was sometimes scary and lonely. But Mom put her life back together and made it better than it’s ever been.
So now she’s going to have surgery in two days to get rid of this cancer.
And her wife, Ann, is going to take care of her.
And her daughter and her family are going to see her every week.
And her son and his family are going to check in by FaceTime every Sunday.
And our three happily married families are going to reconvene in North Carolina next Thanksgiving to celebrate our most remarkable lives.
Because what we all discovered – at different points in our lives, with different people – is that NOTHING matters more than love.
If my Mom had to raise me on her own, imagine what she’d have missed – the laughter, the closeness, the Christmas parties, the vacations, her most cherished memories.
If I never met my wife, imagine what I’d have missed. A best friend. My two kids. This unusual career. My entire existence as I know it.
If Ann (who got cheated on by her previous wife) never met my Mom, imagine what she’d have missed. To be a part of a beautiful, loving family who genuinely likes each other, supports each other and wants to spend time together. To be a grandmother – something that she, as a lesbian, had never even considered.
I’ve been writing this email for over two hours now and I’m emotionally exhausted.
Because it’s never been so obvious who I am, how I got here, or what I stand for.
I am love.
I believe in love.
I believe in you.
I believe that you can have the love that I have.
And I am committed to giving you my all, because that’s what I’ve ALWAYS given to the women in my life, starting with my Mom when I became her unofficial therapist at age 10.
I’m so excited to share my new website with you on April 20th and help you get the life of your dreams.
Put a note on your calendar now so you can be the first to check it out, apply to Love U, and get the love you deeply deserve!
Warmest wishes and much love,
P.S. I’ll be going live today on Facebook at 10am PT/1pm ET. Join me here.