Mother’s Crazy But She Runs the Family

“Mother’s crazy but she runs the family.” This is the first line from Toy Matinee’s song, There Was A Little Boy, which discusses everything wrong with growing up in a single mother family. My parents divorced around the time I was 12, and it was then that I became intimately familiar with my mother’s unique brand of tough love (some might say, psychosis). As I was growing into a young adult, I remember being shamed and ridiculed into silence everytime I made a bad remark about my mother. Perhaps this was a symptom of the area I grew up in – lovely old Bellingham, Washington, one of the most liberal (and feminist!) towns I’m aware of – but mother worship is just another fact of growing up in the West. Even bad men love their mamas – so why didn’t I? After all, she went through the pain of birthing me and so on and so forth. I quickly learned to just keep my mouth shut about my awful mother. In private, I’ve known several men who have admitted to having an antagonistic relationship with their mothers, but it’s something you rarely see proclaimed loudly.

You may have noticed that I’m something of the “music man” around The Spearhead – several of my posts are analyses of songs. I’ve found that music captures and expresses emotional sentiment far better than I could ever manage to. Thus, songs serve as a sort of crutch for me when I’m discussing emotions, that most unmanly of conversational topics. Toy Matinee only ever released one album, in 1990, and the frontman/singer for it was Kevin Gilbert. Kevin Gilbert was involved in producing some of Madonna’s tripe, if memory serves, but much more importantly he released a few albums of his own. He passed away in 1996, but you could say he went out with a bang – having died of autoerotic asphyxiation. I suggest you check out There Was A Little Boy for yourself before you read the rest of this piece, but if you don’t, I’ll be copying the relevant lyrics as we go along. For example, here’s the first verse:

Mother’s crazy, but she runs the family
Two older sisters, and the boy who’s nine years old
He’s old enough to see the way it’s going
Somewhere the birds are singing
But Mother’s all alone

This isn’t a perfect mirror of the way I grew up, but it’s fairly close. I had an older brother and a younger sister in place of “two older sisters,” and as I mentioned, my parents were still together when I was 9. Nevertheless, even when my parents were together, my mom definitely “ran the family.” My father was in charge of finances, but that was about it. If ever we needed a parent’s permission, we knew to get our mother’s, because our father had no authority in our home. The third line is interesting because I think – perhaps due to my own personal experience – that people begin to form their first very clear memories around the time they are 8 or 9. (Sure, some people claim to remember even their infant years, but that’s considered exceptional.) I take the “birds are singing” line as a metaphor for the mother being crazy, and “but Mother’s all alone” seems to imply that even though the mother might be physically present, she is emotionally distant. (Obviously the line implies she’s single, too, but I like to take my analyses deeper than that.) Second verse:

He needs a father, but she takes a lover
This man is not a friend, shows no friendship
This man just waits around to play with Sister
But he plays too serious, he plays too rough

Again, this isn’t a perfect mirror to my circumstances, but it’s fairly close. Much has been written about how children need fathers, so I won’t go too much into that subject. The first two lines of this song are a succinct reference to the preference for alpha male jerks controversially observed in, for example, the Roissysphere. The man my mother tried to settle down with after a few years wasn’t much of a father either – and had already been divorced, with kids of his own – but thankfully he wasn’t a sexual predator like the step-father in this song. I’m certain I’ve read an article recently about how step-fathers are more likely to be sexual abusers, but for the life of me I can’t find it. Anyway, I don’t think the assertion needs too much proving around here, though obviously there are exceptions and some step-fathers are great men. The chorus:

How can you expect a child to understand the sickness of a world whose eyes are blind?
The dying man inside this boy is questioning his once upon a time
(There was a little boy)

There’s not much intelligent or cogent that I can say about this chorus. It comes up later with some additional lines, but the first two are powerful. It took me 21 or 22 years to “understand the sickness of the world,” and I’m still coping with the fact its “eyes are blind.” The dying man inside me started questioning my once upon a time right around the time I hit puberty. I am not an isolated case. Next verse:

He leaves home early for a loveless world
And he finds what he needs with an older boy
He’s got a couple things to hide from Mother
He hopes she’ll understand, she hopes he’ll change

I’ve read some articles that talk about how a child learns intimacy and how to love from their parents, and that if a child fails to learn this from his (or her) parents, then he (or she) goes into adulthood with a crippled ability to relate to and trust other people. (I wish I had some links to these articles, but I didn’t bookmark them.) Such a world is certainly loveless. I can also relate to finding what I needed with an older boy – although, this implies the boy gets involved with a gang or something similar, which I never quite did. I idolized my older brother for a time, and then befriended many older male friends through the internet. (By older, I mean 4-8 years my senior.) I sometimes felt as though I had things to hide from my mother – though, that was more just childhood tomfoolery than the sort of gang trouble implied in this song. Even still, as the years have worn on, I always hoped my mother would understand me better, and I am sure she hopes that I would change and include her more in my life. The chorus returns at this point, its potency alliteration-enhanced:

How can you expect a child to understand the sickness of a world whose eyes are blind?
A world he cannot hope to conquer, insecurities that fester in his mind
No choice, no fault, and no way out, no blame, no guilt, no friends, no cure, no crime
The dying man inside this boy is questioning his once upon a time
(There was a little boy)

As before, there’s little of merit I can add to these powerful lines. My mother made me feel disastrously insecure as I was growing up. I remember one particularly bad argument with her. One of my best friends and his family had agreed to take me into their home, because the situation in my own was getting out of hand. I approached her about this and she flipped out, as was her modus operandi. The conversation veered towards (as it usually did) how much of a failure I was, and I remember how she asserted that I could never make it on my own because of how hopelessly pathetic I was. The sad part was that for a few days, I internalized this and believed her. Thankfully, I had some decent (great, really) friends who helped reassure me, and shortly thereafter I resolved to prove her wrong. I effectively ran away at the age of 17 and relocated to Utah to start over.

The “no choice, no fault” line sums up how I felt growing up and what I think a lot of boys are feeling in this age. For example, all of the forces that are arrayed against them are not their fault, there’s rarely a way out of it (we men can talk of expatriating, but what is a 12 year old boy with a single mother and abusive step father to do?), it’s hard to find blame with any one person or thing (and even if you can, what good is assigning the blame?), and friends can seem hard to find if you’re being shamed about your “mommy issues.” Final verse:

This boy was once a strong man, but getting weaker
He carries more than just the shame inside
His mother stays away and faces nothing
She blindly wishes for a happy ending

This verse stands out to me, as well. As the years wore on with my mother, I got wore down. Where once I dreamed big – becoming a famous novelist, becoming President, having a big happy family and so on – I later actually devised ways in which I could fail and disappoint. At the apex of this mindset, I enlisted (for convoluted reasons not worth examining here), which I did in part to spite my family. All the while, my mother could never own up to what she did to us children, waxing sentimental about how we could all get back together some day and be “a real family again.” Excuse me while I vomit.

On that note, I hope your holidays went well and that you have a good New Year.

J. Durden aka Dr. Deezee is the chief architect of the Internet Hate Machine and has hated the holidays since at least 2004. Bah humbug.

Inspiring Men: My Grandfather

(Below is a mostly unedited letter I sent to someone a few months ago. The only changes I have made were grammatical and removing my grandfather’s name for operational security purposes. Even though, at time of writing, I hadn’t had some of the epiphanies I have had recently, I still think my story may be of some use to some of the readers of the Spearhead.)

Nothing – absolutely nothing – in life is permanent. If you spend your entire life dreading the loss of something, you might not ever get to fully enjoy that thing. This is a lesson I’ve had to learn the hard way, and I think it might help you to hear a story from me, maybe so you can learn the same lesson I did.

Part of the reason I enlisted in the Marine Corps was because my grandfather retired as a Lieutenant Colonel from the Marines. Growing up, he had always been something of a hero to me – even if I didn’t really understand much about the Marine Corps, or felt like I knew him much. In fact, he once made it very clear to me that I was the son of the black sheep of his family – he still loved me, I felt, but my exposure to him was limited. I take my middle name after him.

After I enlisted – and saw what the Marine Corps was really like – my love and admiration for him sky rocketed. It’s something people could never understand unless they go through it. I can’t even try to put words to it, I know it’s futile – others have tried and failed. I heard that my graduation photos from boot camp had circulated back to him, and that for the first time in a long time, his family saw him cry, he was so proud.

Training in the Marine Corps is lengthy and intense. I wanted very much to, when I was first able, take leave and meet with him, to talk about the Marine Corps and give him a chance to talk to someone who could understand. As I continued to work on my own memoirs, I realized that my grandfather had stories – amazing stories – that he had probably never told anyone. He had fought – and survived – on Iwo Jima! He never talked about it much with anyone, and after being in the Marine Corps, I can understand why… people on the outside just don’t get it.

As my training was nearing completion, I received bad news. My grandfather was coming down with Alzheimer’s. By the time I graduated, members of my extended family, who were with him, made it clear that his memory was pretty much gone – he couldn’t remember his own children anymore. I had missed my chance – forever – to really talk to him and understand his life.

I grieved, candidly, in my own fashion. I grieve now, as I recall. Grieving is natural. You just can’t get stuck on it. What I realized, as I became stuck on it, was that I couldn’t control the situation – I had no ability to influence his disease or his memory. Furthermore, I was sure that I would do his spirit no honor by remaining paralyzed in grief. Instead of grieving, I took the time to drudge up a deep introspective dialogue – sifting through my own memories for my memories of my grandfather.

And as I did this tough work, rather than remember with grief and regret and longing, I focused instead on cherishing each memory, remembering it to the fullest and enjoying it as though I were there again. Some memories I enjoyed for the “first” time, having, as a child, not enjoyed that particular experience, but as a man with new understanding, cherishing it in a new way.

Part of my healing process involved investigating my family history. I tried to learn as much about him as I could – being that I hadn’t known him very well, and what I did know came from youth. He was a beautiful man. (I’m crying a bit right now, but it’s not painful. I am proud to be his grandson.) The trials and tribulations he went through – being one of MANY children from a very poor family, suffering through abuse, disowning his own family much like I have had to do, paying his own way through college, entering the Marine Corps as an officer in lieu of what he could have done with his education, and serving in World War 2 and the Korean War (he proposed to his wife and got married shortly before reporting in for The Basic School, right after receiving his commission – he would not see his wife again for two years…they stayed married until she died of old age), retiring in order to become a public servant in another way – by being a teacher and then principal at his local high school.

Did he do everything right? No, perhaps not. My father claims the way he was raised by my grandfather was not fair or healthy – but my grandfather’s other children seemed to have turned out better than my father, so who is to say who is right? But the struggles he went through, the pain and adversity he must have felt, resonated with my own life, and I felt very close to him. There was nothing that I could do for him in his final days, but that was okay, because I could live the rest of my life in his honor. I used to want to change my name in order to disown my family, which I had come to hate. But learning about my grandfather this way, after he was already effectively taken from me, restored my faith and pride in my family name.

Now, when times are dark and when I wish I wasn’t in the Marine Corps or doing other things, I turn my thoughts back towards Bill, and it gives me strength and resolve.

This turned out longer than I intended. A lot of my coping with Bill’s situation was done on a more subconscious, nonverbal level, also. This is the first time I’ve told ANYONE – even my few close friends – about this. The lesson I learned was to not be consumed by grief over loss; to instead channel that grief into something more positive. Everything must eventually come to an end, so it does not make sense to dread that time and to waste your energy being full of regret and sadness. Let the passing of something you’ve cherished be a cause for remembrance and cherishing. Let it be a new beginning – something to live the rest of your life for, rather than spend the rest of your life mourning.

These philosophies dovetail also with the revelation of thought I had while in the more intense training phases of my Marine Corps career, where I literally trained for every waking moment to kill and be killed. Life is so fragile and transient. We are all so very fragile and vulnerable. It makes no sense, none whatsoever, to dedicate your life to seeking achievement or seeking material gain over emotional depth and well-being. There will always be more work to be done tomorrow, and there will always be another achievement to seek or another record to break. Eventually, we will all pass our peak, and in all likelihood, have things left we still want to achieve or accomplish that we cannot. However, we may not always have a second chance to tell someone that we care about that we love them, or another chance to get to know that someone interesting just a bit better. Take risks in the name of enriching your relational life – strip everything else away and the measure of your life, I think, is the impact you had on other people and on the bonds you forged with them – on the families and communities you forged or were a part of.

Dead Men Tell No Tales: The Keesler Saga I: Arrival

What is Dead Men Tell No Tales? It is a selection of (hitherto) undisclosed, private ruminations and epiphanies. Most take the form of (slightly) edited letters to unnamed recipients, but some have been scavenged from the depths of private journals recently rediscovered. Over the next little while (however long it takes – days, weeks, months, years?) I’ll be posting them in episodic fashion for the reading pleasure of my nonexistent audience.

In The Keesler Saga, our melancholy author reflects on his experiences at his MOS School. Arrival was a reflection from a few scant days after reporting in to the detachment.

Every so often, I think it would be a good idea to start a journal. I have a bad memory, you see, and even though I sometimes hate my life, I’d hate even more to forget it. And yet, so far, most of the important details ARE forgotten. Where to start?

I used to hate my family. That used to define me, shape my very being. I couldn’t recall much of why – my mother was cruel and emotionally abusive; my sister was a dramatic, trust-betraying bitch; my father was an empty-promise flingin’ wreck full of self pity, if he was around; my brother was a tortured alcoholic with so much wasted promise. I don’t speak to them much now – my mom seemingly realized her mistakes after I left almost two years ago, so we’re on better terms.
I don’t get along with, understand, and most of the time, desire the company of women. I have, as most males have, been smmitten with my fair share of girls. I had a girlfriend. I even think I fell in love, once (may still be in love, in fact), though it was an unrequited one. I know all of the right things for my friends to say, but rarely know the words for myself.
I have few friends, and the roster grows slimmer as years go by. Even before I left for boot camp, Kai and I had grown apart. Katie tolerates me, at best. Nick, Jake, Nate…all buddies, but little more. Rachel could have been good, but I messed that up by wanting more. Abigail? Never had much of a chance.
Which brings me here, to the Marine Detachment on Keesler Air Force Base, serving as a Private First Class in the United States Marine Corps. Where else was I to go? Give me free time, and I brood. See?
There is much to write about, and at the same time, very little. Odd? Perhaps. The two most important things in my life – Sara, and the novel – seem so far away. I miss them.
Today was the end of my first weekend at KAFB. On Friday, I went to the mall with Sierra (arrived last week), Bravo (buddy from boot), and Kilo (cool guy from Chicago). Kilo had to drive Ruthy, his Navy broad, back to base, so we rendezvoused with Zulu (shares similar views, good music taste) and Whiskey (wrestler) and ate at El Ranchos. Saturday I saw Step Up 2 with Bravo and Sunday I spent watching movies on T.V.
I am unfulfilled. 20:57.