Today is my mother’s birthday.

MargaretAnn Phillips is the quintessential ‘childult.’

She was born in a coal mining camp, raised in Appalachia, overcame the most oppressive circumstances imaginable. She is a renaissance thinker and doer, and the most exceptional listener I’ve ever met, caring and compassionate in a way that almost doesn’t exist today.

Even the most reserved people open up to her. Not because she tries to make them. Because they want to. Because they feel like she’s maybe the parent or sibling they never had, one who really cares, with no hidden agenda.

Can’t imagine having a better mother.

Like my father, the late Alexander Phillips, she never makes excuses. If she wants to accomplish something, no matter how many setbacks, she achieves it.

Perseverance personified.

I’ve asked myself of late lots of questions since my father’s tragic passing — how is it that all of her gifts imprinted on me, as well as the best qualities of my father (if I do say so myself), of discipline, hard work, ‘no excuses,’ and yet did not make an impression on others close to them, tragically close to them?  How? I know I’m far, far from alone in posing such questions.  More and more, such people abound — they even run for the highest office in the land, and have the support of many millions, they are such effective hucksters.

How is it possible that some who started out life healthy can become rotten to the core over time, relatively late in life, betray the most sacred trusts imaginable, for (what else?) none other than personal gain? How could I have been so blind, have trusted so completely, only to be betrayed? Shakespearean questions of which the best and most jarring tragedies emerge and are written.

These are questions that have been with me since my father’s passing, and that I’ll wrestle with the rest of my life.

Meanwhile, my daughters, who child me every day, and wife, incomparable childut, and I just called my mom and regaled her with American adn Mexican ‘Happy Birthday songs’ in Spanish and English. Daughter Cali played clarinet, and Cybele sang like a pro when she was making kissy noises and telling her Grandma how much she loved her.

And on Thursday, I had a book event in Newport News, and had everyone on hand sing Happy Birthday to her. The smile on my mom’s face could have lit up the world.

I would love to post a photo of my mom, who looks decades younger than she is, but she wouldn’t agree to that. Too modest and self-effacing for that. But just picture a ray of light, a piece of the sun, shaped like a heart, with the kindest and most loving smile and most open disposition, and you can begin to imagine what she looks like.

Happy Birthday, Mom.  I love you so much. Without you, my success would never have been possible. Without you and my family, I would not have made it through these sadly difficult times with the pain that never goes away (a pain that, sadly, makes the hollow and empty ‘perpetrator’ happy to have caused, in all likelihood).

Thank you for teaching me all about strength to endure the unendurable, and modeling for me what love and compassion are truly all about — and how to feel such feelings even for those ho are incapable of feeling them themselves.

Te amo.