Sons and Mothers (Red Flag Warning)


Emerson wrote that “men are what their mothers made them.” Unfortunately, there are a few too many men out there whose mothers seem to have been guided by a manual from Ikea. Not everything has come together quite like it was supposed to, and there are a couple of possibly-important pieces lying unused on the floor.

My first experience with a careless craftswoman was in high school. Junior year, I started dating a Sophomore boy who looked like Eddie Furlong from the Terminator movies, which in the early 90’s made him a dreamboat. He was my second boyfriend ever – and my second trombone player. (Brass players have great lips; go kiss one as soon as possible.)

Eddie’s mother did not like the idea of him dating “an older woman” at all. Even though our high-school-band-geek sexuality was at roughly the level of an Archie comic, she was determined to keep him safe from my harlot ways no matter the psychological cost. She made him take his twelve-year-old sister with him wherever possible, including on dates; our friends’ pools and hot tubs suddenly became contagion zones that must never be entered, especially with exposed skin; she even insisted that tickling was a form of physical abuse only practiced by the worst bullies and rapists-in-training.

Eddie and I did not last through my Senior year, and I still feel bad when I think about him. Not because we broke up, but because I worry that he is out there somewhere in a hands-free marriage, unable to fathom the concept of privacy, and too scared to take his family for a swim when it’s hot out. He’s probably still a good kisser, though.

There are other ways for a mother to mess up her creation, and over-working the clay is a major one. In college, I fell in love with a Canadian boy who possessed all of the stereotypical politeness his nationality would imply. His mother, on the other hand, was German, and she exhibited a bit too much of that classic German fastidiousness when it came to her child.

At first, I thought it was really sweet that his favorite sweater (and mine – it was a gorgeous cable-knit fisherman’s sweater) was a handmade original from his mom. When it turned out that most of his sweaters, and shirts, and clothes in general were made by her, it didn’t surprise me because I knew that she owned a sewing shop back in Canada. Making clothes is what she did. Then I found out the true depths of the statement that “most” of his clothes were made by his mother – specifically, I learned that he did not own, and had never owned, a single pair of store-bought underwear.

The fact that I didn’t see a mother making all of her twenty-something son’s underwear (and him being fine with it) as a giant red flag can only be chalked up to the stupidity of being nineteen. A giant red flag it was, nonetheless. This woman was literally and metaphorically so involved in her son’s intimate business that there basically was no independent “him” to speak of. I really shouldn’t have been surprised when he broke up with me the next spring because she didn’t think I was good marriage material. (Again, I was nineteen.) Turns out he did marry his next girlfriend, and I hope his mother makes all of her underwear now too.

Mothers can do damage in so many ways, and it really isn’t fair that we have to deal so much with them in addition to their often jacked-up creations. Being seen as competition is messed up, but so is being overly valued; I have had several mothers who loved and doted on me, and each time it has turned out that their son was kind of an ass. I can only imagine that they knew the end product wasn’t so great, and were desperately trying to distract me in hopes that I wouldn’t notice and leave. But to all the past, present, and potential mothers (like myself), we have to remember: it is a poor craftswoman who blames her tool.

Happy (belated) Mother’s Day!

4 thoughts on “Sons and Mothers (Red Flag Warning)

  1. A.PROMPTreply

    Oh, my…now you have me second-guessing my parenting with my boys….thankfully, one has already married! But come to think of it, they did move ALL THE WAY ACROSS THE COUNTRY two weeks after the wedding……was that me?

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