U Magazine, March 2008
As it’s soon to be Mothering Sunday, the day in which all us kids stop what we’re doing to honour the woman who brought us into the world and made us the treasures we are today, I thought it was a good time to write a little appreciation of the mother and son relationship. I don’t want to over-analyse things – I know how you’re prone to concentrate harder on Ready, Steady Cook when I get all philosophical – but our special bond deserves a review and an overview. Yes, it’s not what you had in mind for Mother’s Day, you’d probably prefer a tepid breakfast in bed and a box of Terry’s All Gold, but if it really is the thought that counts, you might want to read this. Your little boy has (sort of) grown up, and there are some things he’d like to say.
I know what you’re thinking: it doesn’t seem like any time at all since you were bouncing me on your lap in front of Button Moon, force-feeding me mashed egg-in-a-cup, trying to remove stubborn Ribena stains from my pyjamas and reading me Rupert Bear stories at bedtime. But enough about my student days, we’ll get to those later.
I was actually trying to work out what it was about our relationship that made it work – and sometimes not work – and how best to explain it to someone who might not get it. Like girlfriends, for example. You know, that devoutly feminist streak some girls have, where they want to sever those invisible apron strings that are supposedly turning all us men into lazy, handless, kept idiots? Well, I’ve never really let them, and I always defend you to the death. But I think you knew that already.
I can’t imagine how it must feel when women you’ve never met start blaming mothers for all the problems they have with men – all you did was to lovingly bring us up to feel like we were the most important people in the world. Where’s the problem with that? They talk about men’s fears of commitment and dependency because we apparently have unresolved separation issues with our mothers. Separation? I may have left home but I never once separated from you. When you can’t find any clean socks and they shout at you, ‘why don’t you go back to your mother? I’m sure she’d have plenty of socks washed and ironed for you!’ – well, it only hurts because it’s true.
I mean, there’s a technical aspect you may have neglected but it was only through love. Whereas you taught my sisters all about self-sufficiency, you always reminded me that home was where the easier life was. Whether you were cooking for me, tidying up after me, ironing my clothes or sewing missing buttons on to my coat, you always made me feel like it was a pleasure for you to look after me. Even when I left home and would drag all my laundry back to you at weekends, all you’d do was subtly remind me that one day I’d have to find myself a wife capable of taking over these little jobs. I’m not sure why the feminist lobby get all agitated and up in arms about mothers doing these things, you always looked quite relaxed when you were washing and sewing. You still do, actually.
Looking back, I appreciate that the first time I brought a girl home to meet you, it was a bit tough on you; you may have felt like I was suddenly growing up, you probably thought you weren’t my number one woman anymore, and you were, perhaps rightly, worried about the fact that she was due to start school a year before me. But you took it in good heart and told me what any responsible mother would tell her son – that she just wasn’t good enough for me.
Still, it was you who took the responsibility to educate me about ‘the birds and the bees’, wasn’t it? (By the way, should you not have educated Dad as well? Whenever I asked him, he always said, ‘dunno, ask your mother.’)
Everything we did at the most sensitive time of my life was a less-than-subtle and highly humiliating lesson; opening a packet of plant fertilizer, explaining why the dog was acting strangely, slicing a red pepper and finding there were no seeds in it (you even called it an ‘idiot’ for being unable to reproduce), and the night you walked in on my bath and started chastising me for not having announced the arrival of my pubic hair – you did it all. And then there was that lovely little Family Circle pamphlet you handed me over the dinner table one night – For Growing Boys. I’m kind of glad you didn’t read that to me at bedtime.
It’s not just girls who have tried to tear us apart, though – psychologists and dramatists have had a go throughout the years too. Freud had his lovely theory was that the ‘Oedipus complex’ was a governing metaphor for masculine development, and that men who maintain a close relationship with their mother risk being stigmatized as a “mummy’s boys” for life, and not thought of as ‘real men’.
Oedipus was, of course, the hapless chap who, on his way to being King of Thebes, inadvertently murdered his estranged father and married Jocasta, believing her to be a nice bit of mature, rich totty but who turned out to be his mother. We also had the Tragedy of Hamlet, the unfortunate Prince of Denmark who got obsessively upset about his mother Gertrude marrying his uncle; he was so haunted by an unconscious Oedipal conflict that he went through hours of hesitation and guilty turmoil before finally bumping off his father’s murderous brother. And let’s not even start to deconstruct Tony Soprano’s relationship with his mother Livia – the most messed up mummy’s boy in the history of TV.
These are all for dramatic effect, of course, the reality is quite different. I keep reading that so-called ‘mummy’s boys’ make better husbands – and thankfully they always say ‘like Brad Pitt’ which shows women what a good thing it can be.
Of course, I’ve a few things to apologise for; I’m always ashamed of my impatience with you when you fuss over the slightest thing, make comments about the dust in my house or the state of my fridge – but we can always get over these things. And those times people came to knock on our door to say I’d been up to no good. Sorry about them.
But I’ve everything to thank you for. From a very early age, you taught me civility, respect, how to recognise women as equals, how I should never be afraid to love, or to speak my mind and stand up for what I believed in, and that football wasn’t actually the most important thing in life. You gave me the gift of self-respect and the heart-felt feeling that, whatever I did, I never wanted to let you down.
And if girls can’t deal with that, they can stick it. Happy Mother’s Day, mum.