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.