Wissot: You can call me a mama’s boy — I don’t mind
When I was in junior high I was ashamed to be seen with my parents. There was nothing wrong with them. There was something wrong with me. They would drive me to school and I would hide on the floor of the backseat and then sneak out the car door to avoid being detected by my friends.
I’m not exactly sure what I was trying to accomplish. Probably something to do with making sure my friends knew I was too old to be driven to school. Or maybe it was an attempt to prove that I didn’t need parents anymore, that I was old enough to be on my own. Strange of me to think that, given the fact that I was only six or seven years away from being toilet-trained.
The most influential man in my life was my mother. We are not talking LGBT here. My mother wasn’t transgendered. It’s just that she taught me everything I needed to know about functional masculinity.
It’s not that my father wouldn’t. He couldn’t. He worked seven days a week to support us. I hardly saw him growing up. When I did he was too exhausted to play with me and teach me the skills others boys my age were learning from their fathers.
When I wanted to learn how to catch a hard baseball thrown at me without flinching, my mother was there to teach me. Ditto for riding a two-wheeler. I didn’t learn to swim until I was 10. I was afraid of the water. She was the one who dragged me into the water and forced me to learn how to float and eventually swim.
I’m always keenly aware of the many professional athletes, in many instances African-American men growing up in households where the often abusively stereotyped “absentee father syndrome” existed, who pay tribute and thanks to their mothers for their success. I can identify with them, albeit not as a gifted athlete.
Kevin Durant, superstar player for the Golden State Warriors, in an emotional, tear-driven speech upon receiving the NBA’s MVP award for the 2013-2014 season, pointed to his mother in the audience and said: “You’re the real MVP.”
I owe my mother the same amount of gratitude that Durant gave to his mom. She had to push back against my attempts to push her away from me. I blamed her for my fears.
For sure, she was an overly protective mom. But mainly that was due to the fact that I exhibited a great many neurotic anxieties which worried her. I was a nerdy, introverted kid, who didn’t make friends easily, and lived more comfortably in my imagination than I did in the world of real people and real experiences. She challenged me to not be a wuss and I accused her of being the cause of my wussiness.
Eventually, I cut my ties to her apron strings by drifting angrily into anti-social, defiant, rebellious behavior. I failed my school subjects, shoplifted, stole hubcaps with newly-found delinquent friends, smoked, drank, and cursed like a drunken sailor at every petty annoyance.
All of this drove my father crazy. He gave up on me out of exasperation. At one point he said, “We know you aren’t going to amount to much, but for God’s sake don’t wind up in prison.”
My mother saw me differently. She didn’t think my indiscretions were fatal. Where my father saw hopelessness, she saw hope. Before I developed confidence in myself she showed confidence in me. Slowly her faith in me succeeded and I began to stop blaming her for my weaknesses. I took responsibility for confronting my need to change.
Mother’s Day is this weekend. I won’t be sending her flowers. She has been dead for almost 21 years. But that doesn’t mean I won’t be thinking of her and thanking her this Mother’s Day, as I always have and always will. She is without question my real MVP.
Jay Wissot is a resident of Denver and Vail. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.