LET’S HEAR IT FOR MOTHERS….That Misunderstood, Maligned Species

| June 15, 2012 | Comments (0)

Mama eroina.png

A level-headed, no nonsense friend of mine, breadwinner for a showcase family – three model children and a gorgeous trophy wife whom he describes as “hot, intelligent, a great mom and a major fag hag” indicating that she is no fuddy-duddy stick in-the-mud ! – recently revealed to me the shockingly dysfunctional side of his seemingly perfect family.

For thirty years I had only been aware of the tip of the iceberg that displayed a Norman Rockwell portrait of happy parents and smiling siblings, gathered together for festive events,  harmonious at the  table as Dad carved the Thanksgiving turkey, radiant around the Christmas tree opening gifts. In fact, his family is a nightmare of recriminations and scapegoating where the favorite sport is the blame game, the onus for everything perceived wrong being blamed on his parents.

In the time-honored American way, when problems began to develop, my friend’s parents sent him and his siblings to a shrink for help.  And this is where his sisters – he being sensible enough to resist and see through the psycho-babble, claptrap blah-blah – learned to hate  their parents. As the “analysis” unfolded over months of probing consultation couch interviews, blame for the problems experienced by the children was laid at the foot of the parents. In a  world where no human is perfect, how easy it is for a “professional”, a psychoanalyst, to point the finger at a “bad” mother or an “insensitive” father, thereby  relieving the (juvenile) patient in question of any responsibility for his or her own actions.

American culture unwittingly reinforces this image of bad parents. Even in light-hearted sitcoms  the time-honored “put-down” by offspring of parents is standard fare with Junior  often  saying, “Jeez, Dad, you got it all wrong again ! When are you gonna learn (how to fix a widget !)” Snarky teenage attitudes toward parents have come to be regarded as “cute”, funny and “with it”; how could it be otherwise when many, if not most, screen-writers are under 30 ?

I fell into the “hate your parents” trap early in my childhood. Since my father was an absentee parent, working long hours, almost never involved in family affairs, closeted in his study even when he was at home, the brunt of raising the children fell on my mother. More than half a century later, I see my mother as a well-meaning person who tried too hard and loved too much and never got in return what she considered her due. When problems arose in their marriage my mother committed the cardinal sin of confiding in her children, seeking their commiseration for what she considered  to be a fast-collapsing relationship with my father. She tried her best to make us hate him. She succeeded in her mission and in the bargain we ended up hating her too. The messenger who carries bad news is never loved. My mother desperately wanted us to like her; she wanted to be our “pal.”

Americans make a grave mistake in trying to be “buddies” with their children. Children don’t want a “friend”; they want a mother and a father; they need and desire GUIDANCE, they want to respect the two people who are responsible for putting them on this earth. Children don’t  want to “hang out” with their parents; they want to love, admire and emulate them; to be told what to do and what NOT to do. As a stern but kind teacher friend of  mine pointed out: where on your birth certificate does it say “friend”? It says “mother”, “father” and “child” !

Having spent most of my life in Asia and being partnered with an Asian who is part of a large family from West Java, perhaps I am unduly influenced by the “Eastern” way of life in so far as the culture of family is concerned. It is a culture where parents are REVERED. My view is that RESPECT is the keystone in human relations and these relations begin and are learned in the family. America has gone adrift in the past fifty or so years having lost, on its dizzying journey to greater affluence and  instant self-gratification, the meaning of respect, both self-respect and respect for others, especially parents. The “permissive” camp would say that respect is somehow authoritarian, that it has  an anti-democratic reek about it. I beg to differ.

I especially differ after an incident in the subway yesterday. As I ascended the stairs to the street, I was aware of a pair of giggling, F-word-spouting teenage girls behind me. They were waving Puerto Rican flags, it being Puerto Rican Pride Day in New York City. Suddenly I felt a sharp object penetrating my anus. The pain was intense. I turned around and realized that one of these girls – probably 14 or 15 years-old at the most – had shoved the sharp flag pole into my behind. Perhaps to an on-looker it was a funny sight: an old white dude getting messed over by two chicks with big hair, big earrings and lots of tattoes. But to me it was humiliating and painful. As I stumbled up the stairs in agony, thinking this incident might be a good teaching moment, I said to them, “Keep up this kind of behavior and you’ll end up in jail !” My remonstrance only produced added abuse in the form of a violent verbal assault telling me to “go F-ck yourself, old man ! ”

Limping home, bruised physically and emotionally, I took refuge in that maligned phenomenon known as Facebook, hoping to find some instant friendship and consolation on its pages containing my 300-odd “friends” (I hardly know most of these Facebook people and I’m not really sure how we ended up “friending” each other !) Within minutes I found myself messaging an old pal from high school days. Millicent is a successful writer of “cozy” mysteries; she has written a dozen who-dunnit best-sellers with titles like “Death, Lies and Apple Pies.”

Somehow we got on the topic of driving with Millicent reminding me how I taught her to drive in 1953 when I was thirteen and she fifteen. I had commandeered my family’s 1950 Ford and we had made a beeline to a deserted old Japanese airstrip (we were living in Okinawa, Japan)  where I instructed Millicent in the basics of shifting gears and operating a clutch. After a few minutes of reminiscing and laughing, Millicent suddenly said to me, “I never told you how nice your mother was and how much I loved her !” Totally surprised by this unexpected revelation, I asked her why she loved a woman I thought everybody hated.

What Millicent said touched me deeply. Years after we left Okinawa and had gone our  separate ways, ending up in places that adulthood pulls us to, Millicent had a baby. Not long after the birth of the child, she received a gift in the mail from my mother with a note saying: “Here’s a little something for you, Millicent. When babies are born, everybody seems to forget the mother. This is for YOU.”

With tears in my eyes, I remembered what a forgotten person my mother had been and how I had scorned and avoided her when I was a mixed-up adolescent. Now I realized sixty years later that maybe she wasn’t so bad after all.



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